We are in the flume of the holidays, like logs in a river drive: entering slowly, then jostling, then picking up speed, colliding and ending up out of control. We land like hung logs, waiting for the new year to deliver us from the delirium of frantic holiday celebration.

After Thanksgiving’s secular kickoff, Christmas is all-pervasive, so much so that those who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other religious holidays in December are also profoundly affected by the frenzied buying, wrapping, partying and overspending, ending in puzzlement about how the joy fizzled out so fast. Workplace parties, neighborhood gatherings, and decorations in retail and TV ads can be overwhelming. There is a discomfort for many about how to avoid parts of the “holidays” that don’t personally fit.

There is plenty to make us cranky about the holidays. Even the fact that we don’t want to be cranky can make us cranky. Choosing or receiving gifts can provide hurt or pleasure. Fragmented families need a project manager and a judge to schedule who will be where and when. Exhaustion, combined with a sugar high, makes anyone comatose or hyper – not just the kids.

Another type of crankiness permeates the religious holidays – spiritual crankiness. More and more Americans are religiously disenfranchised. Many belong to a group known as the “nones.” This name stands for the religiously non-affiliated, and it comes from wording in the U.S. Census that asks to name a religious preference. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that 27 percent of U.S. adults think of themselves as spiritual but not religious. Thirty-seven percent of “spiritual but not religious” Americans are religiously unaffiliated – and both groups are rapidly rising segments of the population.

In August, Pew reported why over 1,300 “nones” chose this designation. The most common reason given was that they question many religious teachings. Next was opposition to the social and political positions of organized religion. Most “nones” come from a family that was part of a religion and its practices, and the average “none” is not an atheist. Many say they still believe in God and pray daily.

Some “nones” are indifferent to all things religious. For them, religious holidays are not a problem. But many “nones” who are spiritual or formerly affiliated with a religion do struggle with the religious part of the holidays. So how can “nones” avoid the spiritual crankiness of going to a midnight service when they harbor no vestige of their previous belief? How do “nones” honor their choice to distance themselves from the religion of their childhood while honoring their parents’ traditions and beliefs and answering their children’s questions?


One way is to be clear about what is social and what is spiritual, and don’t expect the two to mix well. Enjoy all the social festivities for what they are – a coming together with friends and loved ones. Celebrate making it through the darkness of the season and enjoy the food, fun and traditions of your family culture.

Don’t necessarily give up religious services because you are afraid of being a hypocrite. Give up judgment and don’t focus on your own need for a perfect alignment with your belief system. All religions support giving to others – connect with this. Compassion is the bedrock of religions and of unaffiliated spiritual growth, so practice it well.

Another way to nourish the spiritual is to carve out time for retreat and silence: They are a mainstay for nourishing the soul and sanity. Above all, be gentle with yourself. You may be a spiritual pioneer, observing, exploring and experiencing how all religions periodically re-create themselves to be more relevant to the changes in society.

I am no Grinch. I love to decorate and cook. I enjoy each ornament. I get great satisfaction from giving a “just right” gift. And I find deep spiritual satisfaction in the stillness and anticipation of Christmas Eve, “something good is coming.” But the undercurrent of spiritual crankiness remains, and it needs to be named. Conversation creates the new. All faiths are in a time of historic transition. May they let go of what is broken, burnish what is essential and create the new that is needed.

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