Picking up the plush and fuzzy figure of a rotund, bearded man wearing a red suit with white trim, my three year old broke into a smile. “Buddha!” he declared proudly as he waved the jolly stuffed Santa in my direction. As we string up lights, bring in holly boughs, burn sage, and stuff the advent calendar I can understand his confusion. The winter holidays are a bit of a mish-mash in our home.
Both raised in the Christian tradition, and living in a society where Christmas is nearly unavoidable, my husband and I choose to join in the celebration of Jesus’ birth though to us it is more the birth of a wonderful man and peace worker than of a deity. We will also recognize and celebrate the winter solstice as I feel most spiritually connected with rituals tied to the cycles of nature. There is a secular elf of Indian descent who wreaks havoc around our house every night. And though my husband’s Buddha figures don’t garner any special attention at this time of year, they remain present in their constant places of honor.
In the midst of all of that, there is one more very important holiday display to be laid out: Chalica.
Image courtesy of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Toledo, OH.
Chalica is a little known and comparatively new winter holiday that celebrates service, compassion, and respcect, but in the middle of a season already bursting at the seams with celebrations, why would anyone consider adding another holiday to the mix?
For our family, it’s because Chalica is a perfect complement to all the wonderful parts of the Yultide while also serving as an ideal counterpoint to the negative that so often accompanies this time of year (materialism, segregation of beliefs, etc.). Chalica also offers a simplicity and flexibility enabling it to meld seamlessly into other festivities. Seven days, seven candles, and seven principles, and from there it becomes whatever you need it to be.
Each day of Chalica calls us to light a candle and focus on a different concept, encouraging participants to think about and discuss that aspect of their lives while taking actions, small or large, to further the principle in question.
- Monday – The inherent worth and dignity of every person (or being). Child version: Everyone is important.
- Tuesday – Justice, equality, and compassion in human relations. Child version: Be kind in all you do.
- Wednesday – Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual (or personal) growth. Child version: Our freedom to learn together.
- Thursday – Free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Child version: We’re always searching for the truth.
- Friday – The right of conscience and use of the democratic process. Child version: All people need a need a voice.
- Saturday – The goal of a worldwide community of peace, liberty, and justice for all. Child version: Building a fair and peaceful world.
- Sunday – Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part. Child version: All beings share the Earth.
A traditional Chalica candle display or alter features a central Chalice and seven additional candles arranged around it. On each night of Chalica, one of the seven candles (each representing one of the seven principles) is lit from the center chalice so that on the seventh night all eight candles are lit.
There is no single mandated standard for how the chalice or Chalica display must look. Last year, ours was made up entirely of used candles that no longer had places in our home. The Chalice was a big globe shaped Yule candle and the rest of the candles were tea lights and stumps. It wasn’t the prettiest display, but that didn’t matter. Pretty isn’t the point of Chalica – and in using old candles that might otherwise get thrown away, we were honoring the seventh principle!
Common methods for creating chalices (a fun holiday craft and great way to introduce the holiday to your family!) include decorating a champagne coupe (a wide, shallow, stemware glass) or decorating a flower pot and saucer then turning the pot upside down and gluing the saucer on top to create a chalice. A display can consist of one chalice and seven smaller chalices, eight chalices all the same size arranged so the central chalice is offset from the others, or one chalice and seven separate candles. Or anything else you like! You can also purchase chalices from several sites like Flaming Chalice and UniUniques.
A Chalica celebration starts with the lighting of the candle. This can be at any time of day that works best for you. We prefer either lighting the candle in the morning or the night before the assigned day. This is because the candle lighting is the time to discuss the principle of the day, its meaning, and what we will do to honor that principle on the day in question. It is also a time to discuss how the actions of the previous day went and how we honored that principle.
On Sunday night, the night before the first day of Chalica, we will light the chalice and the first candle and discuss the inherent worth and dignity of every being. We will talk about what exactly that phrase means and brainstorm ways we might honor that principle. We might come up with special ways to show our loved ones how much they mean to us or seek out the positive characteristics in people (or animals) who we don’t like very much. This is a great day for writing holiday cards (but be sure they’re sustainably sourced)!
Traditionally, Chalica starts on the first Monday in December, but for the second year in a row, our family will be celebrating Chalica starting on the second Monday in December because Mommy (that would be me) tends to forget to write Chalica on the calendar – especially when it overlaps with Daddy’s birthday…
For seven days we will continue discussing the principles and finding ways to use those principles to make the world a better place. We even try to find ways to fit dinner to the theme every night. The seventh night is easy, a vegan meal from local sources and a discussion of Ethical Eating and food justice. Other nights can be more challenging. On Friday, we might vote on what the meal will be. On Thursday maybe we’ll discuss the meaning of religious meals in various faiths. The only limit on Chalica is your own creativity (or that of Google…).
Chalica is not about gifts or decorations and can be celebrated across religious lines. It does not compete with or exclude other holidays taking place at this time, and only asks that we take time to focus on how we can make a difference. We even put Chalica activities in our Advent Calendar.
We are a young UU family, and we are building our holiday traditions and finding our individual faith paths as we go. For us, Chalica is a perfect way to live our beliefs. It is anything but “just another winter holiday.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Chalica, or finding ideas for how to celebrate it in your home, check out these resources:
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