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Asking the Clergy: Are holiday celebrations essential to spiritual growth?

Father John Vlahos, Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Resurrection, Brookville:

Yes. Each holiday must become a holy day for us where we celebrate, remember and make present today the events that occurred in the past for our benefit and salvation. Passover, Christmas, Easter . . . are events that happened at a specific time, but are relevant to all times. By remembering specific points each year, we transform our calendar and infuse it with meaning and purpose.

The spiritual need for celebrating and remembering these is that these are actions and events that God Himself has performed. By making them present today and part of our lives, they become real for us. We tap into the life of God and His divine plan. Whether we acknowledge God, he's still there. Those celebrations help us to thank him and acknowledge him in our lives.

Realizing how much God loves us and has done for us, both personally and throughout history, we thank Him through our prayers and worship services. We, in turn, offer that love to all with whom we come into contact. Then, spiritual growth will occur without us even realizing it.

Rabbi Arthur Schwartz, Kehillath Shalom, Cold Spring Harbor:

Yes. One of my teachers said ritual is there to help remind ourselves of what we want to be reminded of. That applies to holidays. Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us that wonder at what's around us is the beginning of the spiritual attitude. That's what slowing down and taking account does for us. If you look at the fullness and the sadness as well, we will be in awe of our personal spiritual narrative, and that moves us to pray and connect with our spirituality. As we get older, we become more aware of our need to understand more of the depth of our spiritual connection to each other, to the world around us and to divinity, however we conceive it.

We live in a very busy, chaotic world with 10,000 tasks every day and the same amount of errands. Holidays help us pause and reflect. Some holidays give us a special opportunity to remember how truly fortunate we are, and to take a proper assessment of our lives. If I asked my mother, she would tell me to always thank people for the gifts you receive. When I pause and reflect on the love around me and the blessings that are mine, it always moves me to pray.

The Rev. Dominick Scibetta, Assembly of God of Center Moriches:

Yes, especially in terms of remembering things. On the weekly Sabbath - the first "holy-day" - we remember that "the earth is the Lord's and everything in it." At Christmas, we remember that "God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son." At Easter, we remember and celebrate Jesus - the "Resurrection and the Life." Even national holidays such as Thanksgiving, Veterans Day and Memorial Day remind us to "give thanks in all circumstances." Thanksgiving is easy. Memorial Day and Veterans Day, we should give thanks for those who gave their lives for our freedom. Martin Luther King Day also is a day to give thanks, for our freedom and our civil rights.

Hopefully our holiday celebrations will help us develop habits of giving and serving and loving that carry on throughout every day of the year.

Ben Valle, Faith Alive Ministries, Central Islip:

Yes. Whether you're in front of a Christmas tree or in a park flipping burgers, it is God's desire for us to be together and to remember him in all things. Even before a Christmas present is opened, do you pray for others and remember the gift of the birth of Christ? Do that before you open your presents.

I'm not against giving presents. I'm out there shopping with everyone else. There just needs to be that spiritual balance, that we not allow materialism to eliminate God from Christmas, Easter or other holidays. That will strengthen us in our spiritual life.

For example, Valentine's Day is between two people, a man and a woman. But, it also talks about love, so I can see God in that holiday also. Even in holidays where there is no overt spiritual connection, there is spirituality. So, during celebrations, by remembering those holy gifts given to us, we are strengthening our spirituality. With the holidays coming up, it is especially important to be thankful for those ultimate gifts - before we open those other gifts.

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