A Case for Drunken Holy Days and Gluttonous Sacred Rites

Siduri, Nin-kasi, Teshub, Aegir, Dionysus, Bacchus, Bast, Shiva, Pan—some of these names you’ve probably heard of. Some may be new to you (they were to me). What do they have in common?

They were all associated with alcohol or partying to some extent.

Whether they were the deity that passed down the knowledge of how to make beer or whether worshipping them brought with it the expectation of getting high, to one extent or another, they encouraged the occasional . . . debauchery.

In other words, to pantheonic people, partying was considered sacred too.

We don’t live in that kind of world anymore. Within Judeo-Christian culture, excess is met with guilt and shame. We’ve been taught that indulgence in alcohol, food, fun, etc. is all or nothing. Our “health” books are riddled with extreme diets. Our exercise programs are built on the idea of making people feel bad about their bodies. Our lives are compartmentalized into stages of immaturity and lack of control vs. maturity and rigidity.

With regard to spirituality, self-control ranks as one of the highest virtues. The sacred is that which is somber and very often the opposite of pleasurable. The “holiest” people, in general, are seen as the ones who lead the most ascetic life, giving us abstemious monks in every major religion.

But what if even moderation needs to be practiced in moderation?

I’m thinking that the pantheonic peoples had it right. Some“holy days” are meant to be days of being wasted, stuffed, and lazy.

I’d go so far as to suggest that it’s good for us!

I’m not saying that a constant state of pursuing pleasure is healthy or wise, nor am I advocating all of the practices that were associated with these party gods and goddesses. But it seems that ancient peoples at least recognized the value in having decadent days interspersed throughout the normal, subsistence days.

Even Christianity has a measure of allowed debauchery built into its system (think Mardi Gras). Unfortunately, it’s an indulgence that is followed by shame and extra abstinence later. It’s not considered holy in itself, despite the fact that Christianity’s god took days off, created wine for a party, and used feasts as illustrations for heaven A LOT.

Maybe . . . maybe having planned days to let our hair down as a sacred rite would help bring a little more balance to our lives. Maybe all those healthy things that we all promise to do more at the beginning of the new year wouldn’t seem so goddamned burdensome if we also included promises to be a little indulgent and a little crazy every once in a while.

Maybe excess wouldn’t be so appetizing as a constant way of life if indulgence wasn’t considered a character deficit.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking of spirituality as encompassing more than just the serious stuff. Maybe a spiritual life is a life lived fully, in balance, with room for both self-control and self-indulgence.

This post sponsored by my wild partying in celebration of the new year, my escape from a cult, and my anniversary with my partner. Five years of life and love. Hangovers are welcomed without guilt. 😉

Navigating the Holidays without Commercialism

Thanksgiving is over, and the winter giving is in full swing. Everywhere you go you see lights and trees, mangers, Santa Clause, and of course, merchandise that stores are hoping you will buy as gifts for someone else.

Commercialism.

Do you feel like it’s ruining the Holidays?

Even with my adoration of Yule, I’m not blind. Commercialism is definitely there, attempting to drown the joy in ribbons and stocking stuffers.

However, it’s possible to give gifts without participating in commercialism. Below I list a handful of ways to “save Christmas” from the demonic Santa machine of Wall Street.

Robot Santa from Futurama! No thanks, I'll take the one from Miracle on 34th Street instead!

Robot Santa from Futurama! No thanks, I’ll take the one from Miracle on 34th Street instead!

Handmade Gifts:
There is very little that is more gratifying to give or more special to receive than handmade gifts. They take time and forethought, but they possess a special magic because you are putting a piece of yourself into the gift energetically.

You don’t have to be a master knitter or whittler in order to make gifts. If you have a hobby or craft that you enjoy, by all means put it to use; however, there are plenty of simple gifts to make that don’t require a ton experience beforehand.

Massage oil, bath salts, room spritzers, and dream pillows are all easy to make with some basic kitchen/household ingredients and a few drops of an essential oil. You’ve got an economical gift basket right there, and the quality of the items will blow that Wal-Mart gift pack out of the atmosphere.

From My Honeys Place. Doesn't this look so indulgent? Make sure to make enough for yourself because you won't want to give it all away.

From My Honeys Place. Doesn’t this look so indulgent? Make sure to make enough for yourself because you won’t want to give it all away.

Other handmade gift ideas include yummy edibles like truffles or cookies, potpourri or incense, candles, mosaic picture frames, fishing lures, calendars, ornaments, and . . . seriously anything that you can think to make yourself. Slap a ribbon on it, Merry Christmas!

Gifts based on need:
It’s kind of an old concept, but I think it’s a good one. Rather than packing the tree with shit that will be played with and appreciated for a month and then forgotten or given away, consider fulfilling someone’s needs. Groceries, gas, car bills, mortgage payments, student loan payments—who wouldn’t appreciate someone whipping out a credit card to take care of those for once?

Gifts based in need carry the special message that you think someone is worth investing in. When people are struggling, that act of faith and the financial boost can be far more meaningful than a bag full of clutter.

Of course, gifts based on need can also be expensive, but I never said a commercialism-free gift would be cheap. If you’ve got a nice cushion right now, splurge a little and make someone else who is struggling have a wonderful holiday by taking on one of their burdens for a while.

Regifting:
I’m not talking about giving away that grotesque figurine that you got at a work party last year . . . okay, I am. Go ahead and give that away at the next work party.

However, if you’re looking for a more meaningful version of regifting, consider passing on more than just junk.

We’ve gotten so used to cheap crap that needs to be replaced every few years that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to have something that can be passed down from person to person. Heirlooms, jewelry, furniture, and collectibles have been time-tested regifts through generations. It’s a great way to pass on memories as well as items!

One of my friends recently suggested having a clothing exchange party, and I actually think that would be an awesome Christmas activity for a group of people interested in keeping the holidays simpler. It provides the togetherness that really makes winter giving special and allows those involved to get “new” things without spending money.

Clean out your closet and make someone else happy at the same time.

Fair Trade, Artisan, and Local:
I saved the retail option for last, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. In fact, to some extent, I think it’s more important than all the others. How does this fit in as a suggestion of how to avoid capitalism? When you buy a gift through a fair trade, local, or artisan dealer, your money isn’t lining the pocket of a CEO who is making money off of underpaid workers halfway across the world and whose employees have to take up donations to eat Thanksgiving dinner. You’re putting money into the hands of people who actually rely on that money to live. It’s not about making huge profits. It’s about livelihood.

Very few people will say that they don’t care about child or slave labor, but if you don’t take the time to make sure that you know where your money goes, you may be participating in it anyway. Society has a kind of selective blindness to the repercussions of our spending habits, and it’s hurting both our own economy as well as those across the globe.

I try to do all my gift-buying at locally owned or fair trade stores—or through direct craftspeople and artists. I like knowing that my winter giving contributes to the welfare of those who crafted and sold me the items.

The Phoenix Goddess (from Carioca Witch) that Kristen gave me a few years ago is one of my all-time favorite gifts; although it's hard to pick my favorites because she's such a good giver.

The Phoenix Goddess (created by Carioca Witch) that Kristen gave me a few years ago is one of my all-time favorite gifts; although it’s hard to pick my favorites because she’s such a good giver.

My friend Kristen over at Vaguely Bohemian compiled a great list of artisans that do gorgeous, unique work (see picture above)–along with valuable tips on how to pick just the right gift. Some other retailers to keep an eye out for include Hope for Women and Ten Thousand Villages. And I encourage you to check out local craft fairs that tend to pop up this time of year. Treasures are waiting to be found!

It might be hard to avoid the commercialism of the season, but with a little effort and thought, you can turn this gift-giving season into something special, both for you and your loved ones. I hope these suggestions have given you some good ideas. Feel free to share any tips that you have found to avoid commercialism in the comments below.

A Retail Worker’s Thank You

This is the time of year when customers can be at their best and at their worst. As anyone who’s ever worked retail has quickly learned, there are times when retail is torture; there are also times when retail can be amazingly fulfilling. Today, I want to take some time to express some of the things that I appreciate in customers as a retail worker.

  • Thank you for coming prepared with shopping lists or ideas. I really appreciate the customers that understand that I am not an on-demand psychic. Finding a gift takes mutual effort. When a customer comes in knowing what they are looking for, or at least a good idea beyond “I heard about it on the radio but don’t remember what it was exactly,” it makes it so much easier for me to help them. And the customers that are willing to interact, give feedback, and put in their own efforts to finding something are such a pleasure to work with. I’m thrilled when we finally arrive at the perfect item for them.
  • Thank you for treating me like a human being. Simple things like saying ‘hi,’ responding to my greetings, and acknowledging my presence and efforts can really make my day easier. With the hi-tech culture we live in today, I am especially thankful for those customers who refuse to talk on their cell phones when checking out. It’s nice to know that they remember that I am not one of those self-checkout machines but a living, breathing human standing there ready to help them in any way I can.
  • Thank you for watching your children in the store. Sometimes I wish I could outright hug parents who actually keep an eye on their children while they shop. I can’t thank such customers enough for not expecting me to babysit and for not viewing the store as a play pen. Even if a store is for or contains a section for children, that doesn’t mean the store is safe to play in, and it definitely doesn’t mean that merchandise is available for play right that moment. Customers who keep their children away from danger and prevent them from damaging merchandise deserve some sort of super-customer award.
  • Thank you for respecting my time. While I love to spend a half hour or more with a single customer during the slower months, that’s not always possible during this time of year. I love it when a customer tells me, “thank you, that gets me started. You can go help someone else now.” That allows me to slip away while they’re still looking without feeling horribly rude that I left them hanging. It lets me know whether I’ve met their needs sufficiently instead of having to guess that I helped and apologetically take my leave. Perhaps that’s just a personal thing for me, but I really appreciate that tiny little cue that I am okay if I need to leave.
  • Thank you for recognizing the limits of my power. While at the place that I work, my co-workers, boss, and I willingly do whatever we can to make a customer happy, there are limits. I cannot magically conjure up items that I haven’t been given enough time to order. I don’t control the weather. I’m not consulted on the design or layout of books, cards, or toys. I’m not even in charge of price or whether there’s a sale. I do feel responsible if a customer is unhappy though . . . even if it’s not my fault. I want to help, but there are limits to what I can do. Sometimes the best I can do is offer empathy. And it’s easier to empathize when I myself am not being unfairly attacked. I’m so glad that there are customers out there that can see I’m not the one they are angry at (e.g. customers who don’t yell at me because of the design logo on the back of the card).
  • Thank you for respecting closing times. I love that Planet Fitness, before they were open 24/7, explained they closed because their employees had lives too. That’s a very fitting description. I have a life outside of my job. Sometimes I have really important obligations to get to; other times I just really need a night with friends. I’m not going to kick anyone out because they stayed one second beyond closing time, but when a customer shows a conscientiousness regarding the time and makes an effort to let me close when I am supposed to, it really makes me feel valued. Especially closer to the holidays . . . like on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve . . . I try to respect that some people are desperately finishing up last minute errands, and I love it when they respect that I have family celebrations later too.
  • Thank you for handing me your payment. I have to smile a little wider when someone actually puts their money into my hand rather than tossing it on the counter. It’s just a tiny little thing that goes a long way to letting me know that they see me.
  • Thank you for not waving your decision to come to a local store rather than go to Amazon in my face. I can’t even begin to express how much I loathe Amazon. I love people who make an effort to shop local and fair trade, but I don’t appreciate people who use that decision as a coercive tool to try to get something out of me. Telling me Amazon has it for cheaper doesn’t do anything other than remind me that Amazon is playing dirty. If a customer wants to come in and tell me they saw something on Amazon and are wondering if I have it or can get it, that’s great! I’ll do my best to find what they want. If they want to come in and bitch about Amazon, I like that too. But more than anything, I love a customer who understands that buying local isn’t like buying from Amazon—and that’s the point. They don’t mind paying the extra cost (which isn’t really “extra” when you take into account that Amazon often sells below cost value) because they know it goes to benefit their local economy, pay good wages to workers, and fight the monstrous corporations that are trying to systemically suck the life out of the entire world. And I feel passionately enough about this that it just might turn into a blog post of its own later, but for the time being, thank you for not going to Amazon, and thank you for not expecting me to be like Amazon.

If you’re a retail worker, what are some of the things that you appreciate from customers?

As a shopper (because we’re all shoppers at some point), what are some of the things that you do to try to make the exchange with a retailer rewarding for both of you?

Happy shopping! Happy working! Happy Holidays.