When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness” this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits. Yikes! Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel. Madness in such a situation is a choice. We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom. It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.
The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.
Ahimsa–non-harming. Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.
Satya — truthfulness. Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.
Asteya — non-stealing. Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).
Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma). Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.
Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness. Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.
Sauca — cleanliness, purity. Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.
Samtosha — contentment. Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have. Contentment is a practice.
Tapas — fire, ardor. Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.
Svadyaya — study of text, self-study. Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.
Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit. Let go a little. Surrender to a sense of fullness. Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words: “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.
I was first taught how to make cranberry sauce in 3rd or 4th grade. We made the recipe off of the back of the bag, which recipe I am fairly certain is still on the bag of “conventionally grown” cranberries. The recipe is: One bag cranberries + one cup water + one cup sugar. Bring all ingredients to a boil. Maintaining a vigorous simmer, stir continuously until most of the cranberries have popped and the liquid has thickened. Allow to cool. OK to make in advance; store in refrigerator. From that time on, we did not eat cranberry sauce from a can, which was a big deal in the late 60s, early 70s.
This year’s variation is organic and uses some local ingredients. Three generous cups (this is about the same as the typical bag of cranberries) of cranberries + one cup apple cider + 1/2 cup sucanat + a splash of cognac or brandy. Maintaining a vigorous simmer, stir continuously until most of the cranberries have popped and the liquid has thickened. Allow to cool. Optional: add another splash of cognac while cooling. OK to make in advance; store in refrigerator.
Variations: (1) use pomegranate juice instead of cider; include a vanilla bean and a sliver of lemon rind while cooking. (2) replace cognac or brandy with Calvados and include a cinnamon stick while cooking. (3) replace the cider with orange juice, the cognac with triple sec, and use turbinado sugar instead of sucanat. The variations are many. Just have the types of fruit, flavorings (spices and liquor) meld with eachother, and make sure there is enough sugar to gel the sauce.
Of my friends on facebook, several reveled in staying inside because of the rain yesterday. Others complained about being unable to do things that would have been better on a dry day. Reporters and anchor persons seemed to think it newsworthy whether the rain will impact football or baseball games. How about telling us whether the rain we are getting is optimal for the native flora and fauna and how it is impacting the farmers? We seem as a society to have forgotten the relationship of the weather to food.
As I walk around the neighborhood seeing all the pumpkins on stoops, like Proust with his madeleines, I remember the scent of roasting pumpkin seeds and the salty taste on my tongue, and I return to the place of my childhood. My mother wasn’t much for holidays, but she very much enjoyed arts and crafts projects. The jack-o-lantern, was something then that showed up when we were little kids. I don’t think there was ever a jack-o-lantern carved when we did not eat the seeds. Part of the project was cleaning the seeds, oiling a cookie sheet, spreading the seeds out on the sheet, salting them, and roasting them until golden, and then enjoying the seeds as a special salty treat. I think it unlikely she has decorated a pumpkin at home since I was in early elementary school, but if she were to do it now, in addition to roasting the pumpkin seeds, I am sure she would decorate the outside instead of cutting it into a jack-o-lantern, so that the pumpkin could also be used for soup or pie.
About a week ago, maybe even a little earlier in the month, daylight savings time started feeling artificial. My body started insisting on sleeping nearly an hour later, and I found that I wasn’t really using the hour of light at the end of the day. It was time to go inside and cook or read or otherwise move inward. When we change the clocks this weekend, I will already have shifted, and the clock will feel as natural as living by a clock can feel. Part of the refinement of a deeper yoga practice is learning to pay attention to such subtleties, to learn what is most optimal and when, both time of day and time of year. This applies to asana practice (i.e., when to emphasize forward bending v. backbending),what we eat and how much, and what kind of activities we choose.