So you’ve been persecuted…

church-christian-persecutionLately I have been trying to push my mind to the other side of the aisle on the issue of Christian persecution in America.  I know that for most of my readers you will wonder what for.  Maybe it’s because my mother is a Christian and feels that this is the case and so I always like to take what my mother says with more consideration, because I respect her.  My mom, for instance feels, that forbidding certain Christmas songs to be sung in class is an example of going too far.  The holiday is after all a Christian one and about Jesus Christ.  When she was a pre-school teacher she says that mothers of multiple nationalities didn’t have a problem with it back in the day, so why should it be a problem now?  Then I came across this article that tries to be academic, by Mary Eberstadt, about the situation and was recently in Time magazine.  I have not read her book, It’s Dangerous to Believe (Religious Freedoms and It’s Enemies), but tried to get a more expansive idea of her views by reading a longer article she wrote on religious intolerance.  I do find there are some legitimate cases where things have been carried too far and these are referenced in her articles.  That being said there are some big picture things that I see being ignored in these articles and are typical of many opinion pieces even when written by scholars discussing what Christianity faces in an increasing secular America:

  1. not-persecutedThere is rarely a discussion about why some people might feel anti-religious or anti-Christian sentiment.  Perhaps you are one of the good Christians out there and that’s wonderful, but given the history of Christian oppression in this country and in the west in general, might there not be some reasons for concern?  If we are going to talk about legitimate instances where good Christians were punished simply for a harmless expression of their belief, should this not be balanced against instances where those who claimed they were Christian also caused harm to others?  If we compiled a list of those two types of instances, who would have the most?  And I’m not saying two wrongs make a right, but I’m saying there has to be a more honest discussion, because if Christians fail to understand why might not want their beliefs in the public sphere anymore, then it will appear to others that they are uninterested in taking responsibility for the harm their belief system has caused or how alienating it might make some people feel.  Again, this always brings someone out who says, well if they were causing harm they weren’t really Christians, because Jesus said this or that.  All that is great, but it’s of little consequence to those being marginalized, hurt, or oppressed, when the perpetrator claims their actions are justified by their religious beliefs.  It means your belief system isn’t making friends, and if you truly believe in the peaceful message of your religion it as much your responsibility as anybody else to oppose people wrongly using your religion.  We don’t see this as often as we should, from any religion.
  2. In a transcript of one of my favorite speeches given by Douglas Adams he says the following:

“Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.”

I think this is a very real thing to remember.  Religious beliefs are protected in a way that other ideas are not.  It is a relatively new thing to simply be able to challenge religious ideas.  I think it’s a good thing.  Notice the language that Eberstadt “…a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs”.  That phrase itself implies that there are certain rules which apply to religious beliefs that don’t necessarily apply to others.  Now I’m not saying that uncivilized criticism is effective, but you would hardly see a lot of angry protests for uncivil criticism for highly tested scientific theories.  There are no biologists out there claiming there is a war on evolution and complaining about the mean things Christians have said about people who accept the evidence for evolution.  And while I do get upset when I see atheists insulting and demeaning religious people, in the end these are just words.  The past and present is full of less than tolerant reactions by the dominant religion to even civilized criticism which Eberstadt is asking for from others.  So as much as I would like to see people with religious beliefs not attacked personally and only the ideas, this has not been the case historically when religious ideas have been criticized in the past.  Just looking at the past 100 years, the Scopes Trial in 1925 had a teacher jailed for teaching evolution, and it wasn’t until 1966 that the Supreme Court deemed state statutes unconstitutional that prevented teachers from teaching evolution in public schools.  Presidents have to be open about their Christian beliefs to have a reasonable chance to be elected.  Currently 7 states have it in their state constitutions that atheists can’t hold public office.  And while this is clearly unconstitutional, the fact remains that this is a much higher brand of intolerance than that which is being shown towards Christianity.  In such states, trying to fight those unconstitutional state constitutions will simply alienate yourself from voters even more. How many politicians can be openly gay?  How many people of other religions can make it to office in the U.S.?

  1. And finally, it’s a point that many make, how many Christians would be equally sympathetic to the teacher that was suspended for giving a Bible to a student if it was a Koran?  How many Christians in this country would be okay if a coach decided to lead them all in a Buddhist meditation session before a game?  How many people would care if that City Fire Chief was let go if he published a personal book saying Sharia Law is great, even if it didn’t impact his work?  The work of the Satanic Temple has formed to challenge this attitude, and we find that all of a sudden, a lot of Christians don’t believe in freedom of religion, only the freedom of Christianity to go unfettered, remaining unchallenged in a position of privilege.  Now it may be that Christianity is under attack more than other faiths but it is only because it is the faith in a position of privilege in this country.  Most secularists would have an equal problem with any religion enjoying such privileges.  When one faith or ideology is proselytized over others in the public sector, that depends on faith and belief, without evidence, this is a dangerous path to go down.

Can a push from one direction go too far?  Certainly, and we do need people to keep that in check.  Nobody should be persecuted. But losing privilege is not persecution. It also seems there are parallels between the reaction to the loss of Christian privilege as there are to the loss of white privilege or male privilege.  So any conversation about how Christianity is treated should include a discussion about how other religions are treated, and see if they are on equal footing.  And I don’t mean just according to the law, but from a cultural standpoint.  Because even if the law did allow a teacher to give a Koran to a student, I think we can agree that this teacher, even if not punished might be in a lot more danger in certain communities than he would by passing a Bible to a student.

Perhaps a question that might lead to further posts, is how easily can religions be inclusive to other religions and consider them equal if by definition a religion sees their beliefs as the true ones, while others are false?

Eternity

Our story today is set in heaven.  It is a glorious place.  The light of God shines everywhere and God is at the center of it all, and sort of everywhere just soaking it all in as countless souls experiences the joy and happiness of being in His presence.  And as it says in Revelation “There is a constant chanting of angels that are heralding Holy, Holy, Holy over the throne of God.  The Mercy Seat in heaven where God sits is surrounded by angels full of glory and power that profess and bless the holy name of God continuously.

Bill sits among the multitude of souls reveling in God’s glory.  It’s unclear how much time has actually passed but things have started to feel a little bit different for Bill.  He hears a voice.

“Psst…hey!”

Bill breaks out his reverie and looks over to the source of the voice and sees a vague form there. “Are you talking to me?”

“Yeah…well you’re the only one that can seem to hear me, but then again with all the singing maybe it’s just heard to hear. Ha!”

Bill watches as the strange figure starts to look more and more human shaped.

“Yeah we’re just souls, but since you seem to look the way I feel, I sense we are both transforming it something more resembling our old selves.  I’m Hank.  It’s nice to meet you.  I’d shake your hand, but…uh…well we’re not of the body and all that.”

Bill nods dumbfounded.  Nobody had ever talked to him since he walked through the gates and from that point on it’s just been constant singing.

“Listen,” says Hank, “I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can take this anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Bill responded, still slightly shocked that the conversation is happening.

“Do you have any idea how long we’ve been up here?”

“No”

“Well I do. 14, 325 years!”

“Really?  I thought there was no time in heaven.  How do you even know that?”

“First of all,” said Hank “There’s definitely time passing here, you just can’t measure it by watching the Earth go around the Sun once a year.  And the reason I know how long we’ve been here, is that I happened to ask a passing angel last week.  Difficult buggers to get a hold of really.  It’s like trying to find an employee in a Wal-Mart to find out where they keep the slivered almonds.  It’s a big place Heaven, with not a lot of those angels about.  I mean the ones that are singing are obvious, but you know I figured its best not to interrupt.  Anyway the angel tells me what year it is on Earth.  I’m impressed we even made it as a species for that long.”

“Hmmm…well that’s interesting, but what do you want with me?” Bill asked, wondering if he shouldn’t be getting back to his bathing in the joy of God’s light.

“Well mainly you were the first person that seemed to hear me.  And quite frankly, I was bored!”

“Bored?  This is heaven!”

Are you trying to tell me all this joy and happiness hasn’t lost its edge a bit?  I mean this feeling of joy and happiness in the glory of God and all that has been going on for a pretty long time…I mean I don’t even remember why I’m happy anymore.  I mean don’t get me wrong, God’s great and all, but to feel really good, you need to remember what it was like to feel bad.  It’s been a long time, I was lucky to remember my own name.”

“I’m…Bill but the way…I think, and yes you may be on to something.  I have noticed lately that there isn’t quite as much bliss as there was before.  Although I can’t say exactly when it all changed.  I just assumed this was how I always felt and that I hadn’t remembered properly how happy I’d been feeling.”

“Bill, that is exactly what went though my mind.  But you know what knocked me out of my reverie?”

“No. What?”

“As I’m just enjoying the scene of Jesus sitting next to his Father on the throne, I notice Jesus take a sip of something from a golden chalice, and it hits me like a tsunami.  I had completely forgot the sensation of just how refreshing a drink can be when you’re thirsty.”

“So?”

“So?!  Listen I am not saying God isn’t amazing, but so are a lot of other things.  I mean when was the last time you saw field full of flowers, a waterfall, or just a great movie?  Or that great feeling you get after a good cry.  I would kill to see Forrest Gump, or Beaches right now.”

“But you get to feel great all the time here.  You don’t need to cry.” Bill looked at Hank with a matter of fact expression on his face.

“I mean sure you can say that about anything, but where’s the flavor?  Joy and happiness is not built on one thing alone, they are built on a myriad of experience of the course of time.  I mean when was the last time you woke up from a kick ass great night of sleep?”

Bill’s expression now changed to one of incredulity “God’s light is everywhere.  You don’t need to sleep?”

“Exactly, it’s always light.  Do you think that’s normal?”

“Isn’t it?”

“Think about it Bill.  It took me a long time to remember too.  Don’t you remember something called night?  You know stars?  The moon?  Sleep?”

“It rings a bell.  But sleeping is for when you’re tired.  I’m not tired and haven’t been since I got here.”

“And you think that’s normal?  What about that good kind of tired you got from a good workout or jog?  What about that good kind of tired you got from a satisfying day of work?”

Bill, looked down for a moment, a look of deep concentration on his face. “No I don’t.  I think I sold office supplies.”

“That’s not the point!”  Hank became more animate and grabbed Bill by the shoulders only to find nothing to grab on to and then backed away with a look of disappointment.  “Listen, the point is I am sure there was something that brought you joy.  Look I love God, you love God, that’s how we got here, and I think that’s fabulous.  But there’s got to be more to it than this.”

Bill still looked apprehensive, “I don’t know.  God’s light is pretty great.”

“Of course it is.  If you had asked me 5,000 years ago if I would get tired of this, I would have said you were crazy.  No one is more surprised than I am to find myself in this position of being a bit dissatisfied.  Now if you ask me could I take all of this for another 1,000 or 2,000 years, I would say sure, but eternity?  Really?  That same angel that I asked about the year to, you know what I asked him next?  How much longer do we have?  You know how he responded?  He just laughed.  That’s messed up.  I mean don’t you remember getting up here and all the excitement of it?  I was thinking, I can’t wait to see my family.  And you know I realized, I haven’t missed them once. And I don’t know how long you’ve been here, but I also started to remember how excited I would be to get here to meet Him and all the question I was going to ask him.  I mean think about it Bill, weren’t you all excited to meet God, and ask Him a bunch of questions?”

Bill nodded.

“Yeah, me too.  But have you got to ask Him one question?”

Bill shook his head.

“Me neither, and I love asking questions.  But I got here and it was just like praise, singing, glorious light, and I forgot everything!”

“So, what, do you want to ask Him a question?”

“Yeah I want to ask him a question.  Like, ‘Can I go back and do some more good works on Earth?’, because I’m sure there are still problems.”

“Yeah…come to think of it, I feel a bit idle.”  Bill started to feel like maybe he was coming out of a dream. “So do you think we should go up and talk to Him?”

Jesus-at-the-right-hand-of-the-fatherBoth Bill and Hank looked towards the throne.  A throng of angels and beasts singing praise.  God and Jesus were just smiling magnanimously at everybody. Hank turns to Bill, “I don’t man, it doesn’t look like a scene to have a conversation in.”

“Yeah.  So what do you want to do?”

“Let’s just get out of here Bill.  We’ll talk to somebody at the front gate and see what our options are.

“Sounds good Hank.  But where is the front gate?”

“Hmmm….I don’t know.  It’s been like 14,000 years I don’t remember which direction we came from?  Do you?”

“No.  So what are we going to do?”

“I don’t know…let’s just start walking and try to find it.  I mean the one thing we do have, is time.”

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Thank you for reading.  Thought I’d try my hand at a little satire.  Whatever your thought are about heaven, eternity is still a really, really, really, long time. 🙂

What Makes A Good Human?: An Introduction

If you read the title you are probably wondering, who am I to write prologues, or preludes, or introductions?  What’s all this about?  Your blogs are only marginally interesting to begin with, why should I read anything doesn’t really tell me anything?  All fair questions, and the best answer I can come up with is that, good things come to those who wait.  Of course it’s also true that sometimes good things come to people in an instant, but this is not one of those occasions.

A fellow blogger I met when I first started my blog asked me what I was my goal in having a blog, because clearly it’s not all for yourself or you wouldn’t be putting your writing on the internet.  I knew the answer at the time, but was modest about saying it aloud, and I guess I still am, but ultimately I do want to inspire people.  Inspiration is an interesting topic in itself, something worth having a blog post about someday, but the truth is I don’t know that anybody could say how to inspire others.  It’s something you can’t really predict.  Sure there are ways you can communicate more effectively, more enthusiastically.  Inspiring someone through written word I think is more difficult than face to face, and I am not sure that my writing is that good yet.  But I believe inspiration comes also through expressing ideas and asking questions and that is the route I have taken.  Given the number of followers I have that read my blog I can tell that my writing is limited in how it has impacted others, and that’s okay.  Ultimately some of the blogs I enjoy following the most are ones that have a nice sense of community, and it would be nice to get to that point and just have a handful of people that regularly comment and read my blogs who have interesting things to say and interesting and well thought out points of view.  I think I’m moving closer to that as I have met some wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful bloggers over the past couple of years.  But that doesn’t mean that the blog  isn’t also for me.  It is also where I can explore, where I can get my thoughts out and help me sort out things in my own mind.  So while I hope the things I write mean something to others, I am also happy in the way that it helps me grow and learn.

My next series of blogs, which this is an introduction for, are what I consider to be the essential qualities of a good human.  These qualities that I am going to write about represent a culmination of years of thought on the matter.  So while it might seem overly bold, and though there may be disagreements, these are not qualities I have arrived at quickly or arbitrarily.  I make no claims that such a list may not change as I continue to learn and grow, and I have also, through careful thought, tried to condense it to as small a list as possible.  Not because that is necessarily important, but because over the course of my life I have come to see connections between certain qualities and realized that perhaps such qualities might exist under a much larger umbrella.  These qualities have been alluded to in my writing before and blogging thus far has helped crystallize ideas in my mind.   I also don’t make the claim either that these are overly original either, but I hope to make people think about these qualities in a slightly different way, specifically to try to broaden one’s views of this quality as very often people have a very narrow definition.

I like to have pictures in my blog posts, but really couldn’t think of any. I’m Canadian though and there will be 7 qualities. Boom.

One of my first posts when I started my blog discussed the dangers of categorization.  We are species who constantly makes poor correlations as a result of our tendency to make Type I errors, which is to find patterns and connections where none exist.  As I have also written before I grew up in two cultures being biracial and this helped me see from an early age that the innate goodness of a human being had little to do with religion or culture and yet these are characteristics that we seem to tie to goodness or badness most often.  And of course as I grew older I have seen even more judgments of character based on gender, class, job, education, etc.  It might be natural that we make these poor assumptions simply because we are bound to make determinations about a person’s quality based on the people we know throughout our lifetimes.  I have often observed that most prejudice of any kind comes from a lack of exposure to diversity, not because of it.   If I were to say something positive about myself, it’s that I do always try to look for the goodness in all people. As a result I have never shied away from getting to know somebody from a different walk of life because it seems the more people I get to know, the more I am convinced that they way we separate ourselves from others is false and ultimately harmful.  In that vein I have thought a lot about what are the qualities that good people have in all those different walks of life I have encountered.  This, in addition to what I’ve learned through my education has led to me to conclude that there are 7 things that we must all have.  The fact that 7 became the number has me already a little worried that I’m not right, because the number 7 is full of romance, but try as I might I couldn’t think of any more or any less, so I’m just going to go with it.

Finally I just want to emphasize that all these qualities I will blog about over the coming months are equally important.  So much so that missing even one of these qualities can be problematic.  While the degree to which each of us has these qualities may depend on the individual I believe that all are qualities we must demonstrate and develop every day.  There were times that I thought there was a ranking to these qualities, but now I am not so sure.   Anyway, enough of this introductory business.  I shall end this by thanking you for reading this and my blog and hope to hear your thoughts in the coming months as I complete this series of posts.

Christmas in times of war

What is this war on Christmas I keep hearing about?  Is it real?  And if so, how will it lead to the downfall of the United States?  My feeling is that both sides of the argument are both a bunch of scrooges, so let’s take a look.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I am not going to spend a lot of time going into the detail of the origin of Christmas.  And when I say origin I don’t mean the birth of

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Christ.  Scholars agree that he was not born in December.  Using December was classic early Christianity.  A time when many already celebrated the solstice, Christianity took the day to celebrate the birth of Christ to make it appear as though everyone was celebrating it.  A celebration in December goes far back into human history.

Moving closer to the present we see the celebration of St. Nicholas’ day in Early December where gifts are given starts to overtake Christmas as a popular holiday.  Martin Luther, hero of the reformation and part-time door abuser, decided that the celebration of St. Nick be moved to Christmas eve, and even suggested that instead of St. Nick bringing presents it was the Christ Child (ChristKindl).  I find it interesting that Santa has been usurping Christ for some time.  The attempt to have a cherub-like Christ Child deliver gifts didn’t really work.  Unknowingly many North Americans mock Martin Luther’s attempt to keep the focus on Christ by calling Santa, Kris Kringle.

It’s important to remember that historically, wishing someone a Merry Christmas was only done on Christmas day and not in the weeks preceding.

Fast forward to the recent past what was life like in America before this war on Christmas?  Well anybody who has been around long enough can tell you that corporate America and marketing has been taking over Christmas for some time, and this trend has only continued.  The way Black Friday has become so ridiculous in terms of now trumping Thanksgiving is a good example of what I mean.  Jesus Christ and St. Nicholas would be turning over in their grave (or heavenly cloud shelter) knowing that the kindness, compassion, and generosity they tried to live their lives in accordance with has been replaced by the stress and greed.  So if you haven’t noticed Christ disappearing from Christmas slowly over the past 50 years you haven’t been paying attention.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

So we now live in this age of political correctness and people being easily offended.  We also live in a country that has been dominated by

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Christianity for some time and has been used to justify slavery, segregation, preventing interracial couples from marrying, and most recently homosexual couples.  We’ve never had a non-Christian President, nor does one appear to be electable in the near future.  So it’s perhaps not completely out of the question that people might be worried about Christmas being shoved in their face.

That being said, should wishing someone a Merry Christmas really be offensive?  In India, even many Muslims celebrate Diwali (the festival of lights) and wishing people a happy Diwali is not a national debate even though there are certainly a diversity of people in that country who may celebrate different holidays.  As the American population grows it makes sense that businesses should try to not be exclusionary around this time of year.  Hanukah and Kwanza are around this time and you are likely getting time off from work for so this does represent the holiday season.  So if you don’t know exactly who you are addressing as a business why not try to be more inclusive in your marketing and advertising.

As individuals though should we really be that offended if someone wishes us a Merry Christmas and we aren’t Christian?  Should we call the emergency number at Fox News because our favorite department store now says Happy Holidays and not Merry Christmas?  Perhaps I know all the wrong people but any time someone has wished me a Merry Christmas I never got the impression that the subtext was apparently “convert to Christianity you heathen pond scum”.  People seem sort of friendly when they say it and have good intentions.  I am an atheist but I grew up in Canada and my mom celebrated Christmas so we all did.  My memories of Christmas are filled with warmth, togetherness, lots of cookies and chocolates, presents, and decorations.  There wasn’t a lot Christ mentioning at Christmas for me but my parents were charitable people, and we often had wayward international students who couldn’t go home for the holidays at our Christmas dinner.  I’m pretty sure Christ would be pleased at the way we celebrated his day.  One of Jesus’ big things was tolerance.  Perhaps getting easily offended isn’t the best way to keep Christ in Christmas.

And here’s the thing war on Christmasers©, how is your Christmas going to change in anyway?  Is the day going to be less fun?  Are you going to love Jesus less on that day?  Are you going to give or get less presents?  Are you going to have to drink even more now to tell your sister she is too fat and that’s what she gets for getting knocked up when she was 16?  You can still have the best Christmas ever without nativity scenes on your capitol building lawn.  And since it tends to be Fox news and other conservatives carrying the banner of this war on Christmas you might also take a look at your own hypocrisy because you also support corporations, capitalism, intolerance towards minorities and other religions, and turn away from the plight of the poor.  These are some very non-Jesus-like qualities.

Holidays are about relaxing.  This is something we desperately need to do in a society that doesn’t value leisure time in favor of the pursuit of money.  This is a shame because the pursuit of happiness is far more fulfilling.

The Ghost of Christmas Not Yet To Come

So there are two possible futures my dear Scrooges.  One involves many angry atheists and other minorities being wished a Merry

From http://www.andrewbradley.com

Christmas by well meaning people.  The years of offense that these poor souls who have been wished a Merry Christmas endured will lead to aneurisms causing us to marvel at the power of two simple words.  The angry secular battle will win out in the media, business and government.  Everywhere you go there will be signs that say Happy Holidays and you will look up in despair because you know that even though it is the holidays, Jesus has all been forgotten by everybody, except for all the millions upon millions of families who will still be celebrating Christmas in this future which still makes calendars available to the general population.  These will not be happy Christmases though because you won’t get to hear about Christ because whenever you turn on the TV it’s just filled with advertisements, trying to convince you to spend your money on presents you don’t really need by a rotund man with a beard that has got to make it difficult to drink a bowl of soup.  People in need of help around Christmas won’t get it because after all it’s only the holidays and not Christmas.  And since there is no love for Jesus anymore (except for about half of the American population) what is really the point of being nice anybody anymore?  What day is it today?  The 25th?  Oh whatever.

The second choice is to remember that Jesus was a good human regardless about how you feel towards his divinity.  He cared for the poor, showed tolerance towards others, and was kind.  We should be like this all year, but these qualities are worth celebrating at least once a year.  Peace on Earth and good will towards men (and women).  What more can summarize the Christmas spirit better?  What could honor Jesus better if that is what you believe?  Shouldn’t such words be the central tenet of everyone regardless of race or religion?  If Christmas is to have any meaning on the 25th or on any day of the year it is in what you do to make things merry for your fellow human and not just saying the words.

So I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!  Take time to rest.  Spend it with family and loved ones if you have them.  Help people as your time and budget allows.   If you are feeling sad during the holidays, giving is a great way to fill any emptiness you might feel.  Try to spend your time around joyful people, because in this cold and flu season joy is the best contagion worth catching. 🙂

Sincerely,
Jacob Marley