Opinion: A Surefire Cure for the Holiday Blues
What to do if all this forced frivolity, gratuitous gluttony and crass commercialism have given you a serious case of the holiday blues? You could consider Festivus, a holiday fabricated by Frank Costanza during a "Seinfeld" episode. It revolves around an unadorned aluminum pole and the "airing of grievances." Festivus is now heartily celebrated by "Seinfeld" fans all over the planet. Or for the more sensually inclined, consider resurrecting Saturnalia, a sort of role-reversing festival and carnal carnival celebrated in ancient Rome.
But if mindless debauchery or being a curmudgeonly humbug isn't really your cup of tea, consider another way to conquer the holiday blues: Wander on over to your local cemetery.
What? The cemetery? Yep.
There's nothing quite like an excursion to the boneyard to put a little gratitude in your giddy-up. Mexican Nobel laureate poet Octavio Paz refers to a trip to the cemetery as a time that "allows us to throw down our burdens of time and reason." And Jews celebrate Yortzait (the anniversary of a death) as a time to perform acts of kindness and giving.
If going to a cemetery still seems a bit morbid, chew on this: Before the establishment of expansive public parks in the middle of the 19th century, cemeteries were popular places for rest, relaxation and sightseeing. Indeed, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn was such a popular recreation site that it led to the establishment of Central Park in Manhattan. And on the left coast, Forest Lawn in Glendale was Los Angeles' most popular tourist destination before the establishment of Disneyland.
Don't be afraid. Cemeteries are decidedly unscary. Get out of your furnished rut and try something new. Here are some thought-provoking reasons why visiting a cemetery will help you get rid of the holiday blues.
1) Need an angel fix? There is no better place to find phalanxes of these fluttering heavenly messengers. You'll almost always find the most at Catholic cemeteries.
2) If you are fortunate enough to live in a locale blessed with a fresh dusting of crystalline snow you'll find gorgeous, untrammeled landscapes in the cemetery.
3) The holidays are supposed to be a time of peace. There is no place more peaceful and serene place than a cemetery.
4) No matter how desperate your situation, those around you are in much more dire straits than you are.
5) No holiday crowds.
6) One word: free.
And, finally: You actually enjoy visiting your relatives.
So at this time of year, perhaps it's best to look at the past to get a better view of what we want in our future. Reflect on these two quotes, one by one of America's founders and another by a four-time British prime minister.
"Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what kind of people you have." -- Benjamin Franklin
"Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high deeds." -- William E. Gladstone
Our time in this realm is fleeting. Take a quiet moment in a cemetery, and be grateful you are simply alive.
Douglas R. Keister is a graveyard guru who Sunset magazine said "has done for cemetery exploration what Audubon did for birding." His 39 books include four on cemeteries, including "Stories in the Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography." Read his blog on Red Room.