Image: Shiny blue ornaments surround a small white tea light.
Reader Teme reminded me that a lot of people are suffering from holiday blues.
Holiday Blues happen to both Christians and Jews. I don’t know if they happen to Hindus and to Muslims but I suspect they do, because they’re really just an outgrowth of human nature.
Holidays come with many associations, baggage along for the ride. We have memories of actual holidays past and a lot of programming for how holidays ought to be.
Good holiday memories can be a blessing to treasure forever, but if they contrast sharply to our current situation, they can be painful. Remembering good times with a loved one is more complicated after that loved one is gone.
Bad holiday memories (the year Aunt So-and-so said she didn’t like her present, the year an obnoxious cousin made everyone cry, the creepy guy under the mistletoe, the year everything went wrong) can spill into the present moment. It’s reasonable that gift-giving might be fraught after Aunt So was nasty, or that the taste of latkes brings back memories of the obnoxious cousin.
Expectations about a holiday can be particularly difficult. When the bar is set too high, there’s no way actual experience will measure up. If you are convinced that “every normal family has a beautiful Chanukah with tiny, perfect gifts and no grease fires in the kitchen, no crying babies, nothing but cozy warmth” then of course your Chanukah will be a disappointment. Same for Christmas: if it’s supposed to be “the most magical day of the year” you are set up for failure. When cranky old Uncle Ned starts in about politics, or the kids start fighting over a toy, or the special food flops, then yeah, it’s depressing.
And even more so, if you are alone for the holiday, or childless again this year, or this year there isn’t money for special anything – the holidays can be painful.
So what can we do? How to fight back against the holiday blues?
- Let reality be real. If there is a specific grief ruining your holiday this year, it may be that all you can do is accept it. Feel the emotions, don’t fight them. Be honest with anyone who asks. Stay away from people who demand cheer from you and hold close those who understand your particular pain.
- Count your blessings. Especially if the issue is more diffuse, notice the good things in your life. Instead of holiday cards, write thank you cards. Tell the people who have been good to you specifically why you are grateful for them. Choose to notice what’s right, instead of focusing on what’s wrong.
- Look outside yourself. Focus on what you can do for other people. Soup kitchens and shelters need extra volunteers on holidays, so that those who celebrate those days can do so with their families. Call around, and see who needs volunteers. Say kind words to people who need kindness. If you have money, share it. If you have food, share that. Looking outside ourselves can break cycles of destructive thoughts.
- Take care of yourself. If you have health issues, do what you can to take care of yourself. Be sure to eat and sleep – but don’t live to eat or sleep. If you need to see a doctor, and that’s possible, then see a doctor. If you can’t afford to see a therapist, remember that the Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call 1-800-799-4889. It’s OK to call: You are the person they are waiting to help. And yes, if you take medications of any sort, take your meds!
- Take a chance. If there’s something you are sort of looking forward to and sort of not, take a chance and go. Reframe “it could be awful” as “it could be pretty good.” Then give yourself an out: it’s OK to leave quietly if it makes you miserable.
- Get some exercise. Move more than you have been moving. For some that might be a walk around the house. For others, that might be a six-mile run. Choose something do-able that will push you a bit. You will sleep better and feel better.
- Put on some happy music. Hate Christmas carols? Put on some music that YOU like. Maybe dance to it (see #6 above.)
- Meditate. When did you last try meditation? The website gaiam.com offers a nice primer for beginners which lists several ways to meditate. Meditation is good for body and soul; for some people, it’s like a “reset button” in their day. Even if it hasn’t worked for you in the past, what do you have to lose?
- Pray. One of the great resources for Jews, and for Christians as well, is the Book of Psalms. There are 150 of them, and they address every emotion of which a human being is capable, from quiet happiness to rage. Dig around in there and see if you can find words that express your feelings. Naming a feeling is powerful. Praying that feeling is even more powerful.
- Go to services. Unlike the High Holy Days, you don’t need a ticket for Jewish services in December. See what the prayers have to say to you. Listen to the Torah portion (if it’s a daytime service) or the psalms in the evening service. Sing any songs you recognize, even if you are not a singer. Breathe with the congregation. For Jews, services are a respite from the relentless Christmas message in December.
- Keep Shabbat. And keep on keeping it. Part of what happens to us with holidays is that we build up those expectations and load them onto one day, or one week a year. Then, as I pointed out above, they are doomed to fail. However, Shabbat comes to us every week with its warmth and light. Figure out what “keeping Shabbat” means to you, and practice it faithfully. Some weeks will be wonderful and others will be “meh.” Some may be a bust – but there’s another Shabbat right around the corner, there to give you rest.
- What else? I’m sure readers can suggest some other treatments for the Holiday Blues. What works for you?
I’m sorry you have the Holiday Blues. I am having a nice Chanukah this year, but I have had my years when Christmas or Chanukah or Passover or the High Holy Days have worked on my last nerve. The feelings are real. I hope that something on this list helps.
Image: A portrait of Maimonides, also known as the Rambam.
“I committed iniquity before You by doing the following. Behold, I regret and am embarrassed for my deeds. I promise never to repeat this act again” (Hilchot Teshuva 1:1).
Everything else is commentary.
Image: Woman reading from her computer screen with cup in hand. (Shutterstock 377318731)
As the Days of Awe continue, sometimes we can get a kind of soul-freeze. We know we need to atone for something, but we can’t think what. Our minds go blank. What did I do? What did I fail to do? Why can’t I think?
One traditional approach to this situation is to look at lists of mitzvot or lists of sins. That is the way the Vidui is structured, for instance, to help us go through an “alphabet of sins” and realize our own. It is a prayer, but it is also a catalogue, designed to help us see ourselves more clearly.
I recently learned about an interesting resource online that can be a real help with heshbon hanefesh, the accounting of the soul. That resource is AtoneNet.com. It is a place where people anonymously confess their sins, which are then posted to the scroll of sins.
Some are heartrending. Some are trivial. Some aren’t really sins. But they can be remarkably effective at shaking loose that soul-freeze, showing us our own sins in the words of others.
For example, this confession gave me plenty to ask myself:
Translated, it means:
“I’m sorry I wasted so much time on social media, engaging in timewasting that could have been spent learning Torah, gossip, spreading rumors and unnecessary talk about others, and filling my own mind and heart with negativity that doesn’t actually help anyone.”
As a person who uses social media a great deal, this one gave me a lot to consider. Do I waste time on social media? Do I talk more than I learn? Do I engage in gossip there? Repeat poorly-sourced rumors? What AM I doing with social media – am I spreading Torah or indulging an addiction? And what is social media doing to or for me? Could I make better use of my time?
Should you choose to confess a sin on AtoneNet, it is important to remember that when a sin is against another person, it is not enough simply to confess it anonymously. For sins against another person or against ourselves a complete process of teshuvah is important.
Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between a person and God, but for a transgression against one’s neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he appeases his neighbor. – M. Yoma 8:9
However we choose to do heshbon hanefesh, this is the time! Examine our hearts, check our calendars and checkbooks, think deeply about the patterns in our lives, and do the great work of teshuvah, which ultimately heals not only ourselves, but the world.
ClickImage: A video screen. A man touches the red arrow to start the video. (panuwat phimpa/shutterstock)
A number of synagogues now stream their services live online. Schedules and links are listed below for eight different congregations.
- This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. If you know of a congregation offering services, you can add that information with links and schedule in the comments.
- While I’ve done my best to verify all the information here, I don’t have all the information I’d like. Please forgive me if something doesn’t work out.
- I got the information from the synagogue websites. If you are confused about anything, the first place to look is at the synagogue website.
- I can’t help with tech questions.
- I recommend attending in person if at all possible. That said, not everyone can get to services or sit through them. I offer this list as a substitute for anyone who needs it.
- I understand some of the links did not work last night. For more listings, take a look at the article in MyJewishLearning.com.
Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek, Chester, CT (Eastern Time Zone)
9/20 Erev RH 7:30pm
9/21 RH Morning 9:30am
9/29 Kol Nidre 7:30pm
9/30 Yom Kippur Morning 9:30am
9/30 Yom Kippur Afternoon/Yizkor/Neilah 3:30pm
Congregation Beth El, Sudbury, MA (Eastern Time Zone)
9/20 Erev Rosh HaShanah 8:30 pm
9/21 Rosh HaShanah – early 8:30 am
9/21 Rosh HaShanah – late 11:30 am
9/22 Rosh HaShanah (2nd day) 10:00 am
9/29 Kol Nidre – early 6:30 pm
9/29 Kol Nidre – late 8:30 pm
9/30 Yom Kippur – early 8:30 am
Yom Kippur – late 11:30 am
Minchah – afternoon service 3:30 pm
Yizkor – remembrance 5:15 pm
Neilah – closing service 5:45 pm
Shofar 6:40 pm
Congregation Beth Emeth, Wilmington DE (Eastern Time Zone)
Erev Rosh Hashanah 9/20 8pm
Rosh Hashanah 9:30am Traditional Service
1:30pm Contemporary Service
Kol Nidre 9/29 7pm and 9:15pm
Yom Kippur 9/30 9:30am Traditional Service
1:30pm Contemporary Service
3:30pm Afternoon/Yizkor/Neilah Service
Temple Shaarey Zedek, East Lansing, MI (Eastern Time Zone)
Schedule and Steaming link at http://www.shaareyzedek.com/
Both Reform and Conservative services.
Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Baltimore, MD (Eastern Time Zone)
Rosh Hashanah Sept 20, 8pm
Sept 21, 10am
Yom Kippur, Sept 29, 7:30pm
Sept 30 10am
Music and Meditation 12:30pm
Afternoon Service 2:45pm
Yizkor, 4:30 pm
Congregation Emanu-El, Houston, TX (Central Time Zone)
Streaming video: https://emanuelhouston.org/streamingvideo
Erev Rosh Hashanah Sept 20 6pm
Rosh Hashanah Sept 21 10:30am
Shabbat Shuvah Friday Sept 22, 6pm
Kol Nidre Sept 29 7:15pm
Yom Kippur Sept 30 11am
YK Afternoon 1:30pm
Healing Service 3pm
Temple Beth El, San Antonio, TX (Central Time Zone)
Wednesday, September 20
6:30 p.m.–Erev Rosh Hashanah Service (early service)
8:45 p.m.–Erev Rosh Hashanah Service (late service)
Thursday, September 21
9:00 a.m.–Children’s Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
10:30 a.m.–Rosh Hashanah Morning Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
10:30 a.m.–Rosh Hashanah Morning Service (Barshop Auditorium)
12:30 p.m.–Tashlich Service with Apples and Honey at San Pedro Springs Park
Friday, September 29
6:30 p.m.–Kol Nidre Service (early service)
8:45 p.m.–Kol Nidre Service (late service)
Saturday, September 30
9:00 a.m.–Children’s Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.–Meditation and self-study with music for adults
10:30 a.m.–Yom Kippur Morning Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
10:30 a.m.–Yom Kippur Morning Service (Barshop Auditorium)
1:00 p.m.–Yom Kippur Symposium
2:30 p.m.–Yom Kippur Afternoon Service
4:30 p.m.–Yizkor-Memorial Service
4:30 p.m.–Program for school-aged children
5:30 p.m.–Neilah-Concluding Service
Mountain Time Zone
Currently none listed – if you know of streaming services in the MT, please add that information with links and schedule in the Comments.
Congregation Shir Hadash, Los Gatos, CA (Pacific Time Zone)
9/20 8pm Erev Rosh Hashanah
9/21 10am RH Morning Service
3:30pm Family Service
Erev Shabbat Shuvah 9/22 7:30pm
Shabbat Shuvah 9/23 10:30am
Kol Nidre 9/29 8pm
Yom Kippur 9/30
10am Morning Service
3pm Afternoon Service
5:45pm Concluding Service
Temple Sinai, Oakland, CA (Pacific Time Zone)
Services streamed on the Facebook page. Click “Videos” on the left of the screen.
Image: A woman holds one hand to her head, another raised as if to say, “Stop!” Photo by RobinHiggins/Pixabay.
Before I learned to read Hebrew, the High Holy Days could wreck me. The language of “sin” and “repentance” that I learned as a child sent me into a tailspin of despair. Avinu Malkeinu [Our Father, Our King] was a fearsome image before which I cowered, a failure. A whole day of that, plus fasting, sent me into a black pool of depression. Even the relatively lighter “hit” of Rosh Hashanah was hard.
I have several students who are diabetics. Each has a highly personal way of managing their blood sugar, and it is critical to their well-being. Allowing the blood sugar to get out of whack isn’t just uncomfortable, it can be life-threatening.
I know a woman who struggles with eating disorders. For her, the talk about fasting for Yom Kippur has a siren edge to it. The Rosh Hashana table, laden with sweet dishes seems to her like a giant honey trap.
For those with a physical or mental illness, the High Holy Days can be a difficult time. The basic and most important rule is that we must choose life: in other words, do what we need to do to survive. Without life, there is no holiness.
Here are some things I have learned. I share them for the benefit of anyone who needs them:
PIKUACH NEFESH (pee-KOO-ach NEH-fesh) means “preservation of life.” It overrides nearly every other commandment. Do whatever you need to do to take care of your body/soul this week. If that means go to the beach for your Yom Kippur “service,” do it. If that means eat, take your meds, go to a meeting, or call your therapist, DO IT. Don’t wait to collapse, or for permission – just do whatever it is you need to do for your health.
FASTING – Fasting isn’t good for everyone. It’s bad for diabetics, pregnant women and people with a history of eating disorders. If there is some reason fasting isn’t good for you, DON’T FAST on Yom Kippur. (Again, pikuach nefesh!) All you have to say to anyone is “health reasons.” (They should not be quizzing you, anyway.) One strategy for dealing with feeling left out of the fast is to take one or more meals with someone else who doesn’t fast. Trust me, there are many Jews in that category. You are still welcome at the Break-the-Fast, don’t worry!
The Yom Kippur fast is not a weight-loss opportunity. The point of Yom Kippur fasting is holiness; we can seek that holiness in the discipline and humility required to follow medical directions.
MEDICATION – If you are on medication, take your meds and take them as your doctor has directed. If you are supposed to have food or water with meds, take what you should take. Messing around with medications is sinful: take them the way the doctor says to take them. There is no shame to taking them, and they have saved lives. I take mine every day, including Yom Kippur, and I say a blessing when I take them.
LANGUAGE – If you grew up in a Christian household, the language of prayer of the High Holy Days can be intense. “Sin” is an English translation for a range of Hebrew words, which mean everything from “mistake” to “malicious wrongdoing.” “Repentance” is the English translation for teshuvah, which covers a much larger concept than merely being sorry. It means turning, changing course, and sometimes, coming home.
If you find the language of the High Holy Days upsetting, I can suggest two things to do, one immediate and the other long-term. One is to schedule some time with your rabbi or another teacher to talk about Jewish approaches to “sin” and “repentance.” The long-term solution that worked for me was that I studied Hebrew and set myself free from clumsy translations. This doesn’t require full fluency in Hebrew, just enough to let you say and understand the prayers.
DON’T BE SHY – Don’t be shy about taking whatever action you need to take about your self-care. Remember it is a mitzvah, a commandment, to take care of yourself and to stay alive! If services are too upsetting, don’t go. Go for a walk, go to the beach. Maybe this year your teshuvah, your turning, will be to give your rabbi a call after the holy days are over and get the name of a good therapist.
Whatever your situation, know that you are not alone! Many of us deal with some health issue over Yom Kippur. Help is available if you reach out for it.
Image: A tallit (prayer shawl) sits on an open prayer book. (MstudioG/Shutterstock)
A Machzor (or Mahzor) is a Jewish prayerbook for a major holiday. Usually when people talk about a Machzor, they are talking about the prayerbooks for the High Holy Days.
If you are unfamiliar with the Machzor, here’s an introduction: What is a Machzor?
MyJewishLearning.com has a wonderful article, Mahzor Contents: A Guide to the High Holy Days Prayers. I recommend it highly.
I just got an email from Sefaria.org about their new High Holy Day resource: Machzorim (High Holy Day Prayerbook texts.)
If you are unfamiliar with Sefaria, you can read about them here on the blog at Meet Sefaria! You may want to spend a little time playing with the interface – it’s worth the effort.
Also, if you are wondering about the extra day of Jewish holiday (“2nd day of Rosh Hashanah,” etc) Judaism101 has a good explanation of the tradition.
Some other articles on this blog:
The Hardest Prayer in the Book (Unetaneh Tokef)
Have you found any High Holy Day resources online that you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments!