by Evan Austin
Christmas is in just a few weeks. That simple phrase about one of the most widely-celebrated holidays in the world can thrill us with sugary imaginings, wet our eyes with tender memories, choke us with consumer anxiety, and more.
This fabulously complex holiday has as many beautiful and life-affirming origins as it does curious twists, unlikely engineers, and shady overwritings…but the decidedly religious and specifically Christian themes that saturate the modern Christmas are unpalatable to many – especially parents who are trying to raise free thinking young humans.
You may feel stuck between ditching the holiday completely (with all of the social implications for both yourself and your children), undertaking the task of researching, understanding, and conscientiously observing the original pagan traditions, or just gritting your teeth all the way through elementary school, when you’ve decided you’ll reveal all and have a good laugh with your kids over all the years of magic and dishonesty. Maybe there’s more; I’d like to introduce you to Chalica.
CHALICA (pronounced CHA-li-ka) is an unofficial holiday in the Unitarian Universalist tradition – it’s been made up, just like all holidays have. This one was conceived by a young woman in around 2005 as a way for she and her friends to specifically celebrate each of the UU faith’s Seven Principles – one a night, for seven nights.
The celebration begins on the first Monday of December, and is marked by the lighting of a chalice or candle each day (or evening). The focus is on mindfulness, service, and action, NOT GIFTS! Chalica is NOT intended as a replacement for Christmas, or even its competitor in the already-stuffed “holiday season”. Although it was devised intentionally as a winter holiday for the same reasons as most other winter holidays – themes of community, darkness-to-light, etc – people all over the world are celebrating Chalica anytime they want, for periods that are longer or shorter than the “official” one, and many families are reporting that it serves them well as a more deeply meaningful augmentation to their regularly scheduled Christmas observances.
Stripped only of the two occurrences of the phrase “with/in our congregations”, the Principles which we affirm and promote are (the children’s language version is in parenthesis):
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person (Each person is important)
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations (Be kind in all you do)
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth (We’re free to learn together)
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning (…and search for what is true)
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in society at large (All people need a voice)
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all (Build a fair and peaceful world)
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part (We take care of the Earth)
Is there really any part of that which you cannot bring yourself to endorse, or even just aspire to in an idealistic way? I’m not trying to convince you that you’re a Unitarian Universalist if you nod your head while reading the Principles…just that they’re intentionally inclusive and accessible. They stand as a call to our brightest hopes for our world and for each other…and that’s something anyone can celebrate; no chalice required.
Do you have to be a UU to celebrate Chalica?
Of course not…just like you don’t have to be Christian to celebrate Christmas! While Chalica is growing out of the Unitarian Universalist tradition and celebrates the faith’s specific, official Principles, we believe that their beauty and accessibility lie in their, ahem, universal nature. The chalice itself is a classic, powerful symbol which combines fire and water to represent such ideals and practices as sharing, generosity, sustenance, love, witness, sacrifice, testing, courage, and illumination. It’s been used by Unitarian Universalists as their primary symbol since the 1940’s to represent faith in action and a life of service.
If you need something more out of your holy days; if you want a little structure within which your family can turn into action those values and ideals which you already hold dear; if you want to celebrate something beyond the accumulation of more stuff, maybe Chalica is worth a try. Join our vibrant international community on Facebook at facebook.com/UU.Chalica for support and resources. Visit chalica.blogspot.com for tons of goodies and Chalica news, and check out ChalicaVids on YouTube for some fun holiday songs.