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All the religious parables at the heart of the holidays are about awakening joy in times of darkness. They are about hope and hopelessness; home and exile; celebration and grief. They are never just about joy. Joy is the gold we mine on the spiritual path, but that path traverses all sorts of uncertain and difficult terrains. So when you feel the darkness of the season settle in your heart, you can connect with a whole lineage of spiritual seekers who have wrestled with the human condition throughout history. Turn to the spiritual teachings of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, winter solstice and the lesser-known December holidays. You probably didn't know that December 8 is Rohatsu, which commemorates the day in 566 B.C. when the Buddha attained enlightenment. Like Mary and Joseph who found no welcome at the inn and birthed the baby Jesus in a manger, and like the Maccabees who reclaimed the desecrated temple and lit the miraculous light of Hanukkah, the Buddha awakened his joy after a long struggle, under the Bodhi tree, alone and hungry. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Father writes: "Truth and goodness are not always found at the top, but often on the edge and at the bottom. … Not in the center of empire, but in the backwaters of Bethlehem. Not among the established, but clearly among those who are dis-established." Christmas is the ultimate story of outsiders finding sanctuary, creating family and birthing joy against all odds. If you are feeling alienated, or anxious, or full of grief—or if the despair of the world is weighing heavy in your heart—you need seek no further than the stories of the season to help you find light in the darkest month of the year.

Why it's never too late to have a happy holiday

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