photo by 4028mdk09, source: Wikimedia Commons

Apparently, each year when December 1 rolls around and some Unitarian Universalists (UUs) begin celebrating Chalica, other UUs get all het up about it. I got into a discussion about it on Facebook and needed to go look up a couple of things. When I clicked on this site, to my surprise, it carried a link to a sermon of mine. Gosh, what did I say about Chalica? Turns out I had a lot of nice things to say about it. The fact that it completely slipped my mind that I’d even written this sermon, I attribute to the arrival of my daughter a few months later. My memory, not great to begin with, has never recovered.

There are a lot of things I like about this holiday. I like the fact that it was started by laypeople and took off as a grassroots phenomenon, with little nurture by the UUA or ministers. I like that it was originated by a young adult, a demographic we claim to want to attract but often chase away through our actions or inaction. I’ve heard that it spread largely through social media and I think that’s great: UUs using the technology of our day, as our 19th century ancestors used pamphleteering, to reach each other and newcomers.

I like that it is a home-based ritual. We have too few of those. I grew up Jewish, and religion saturated our home and family life, making a natural bridge between what we studied and prayed about in the synagogue and what we were trying to practice in our daily lives. In Unitarian Universalism, most of our practices take place in church, and it makes it harder to bridge the gap between Sunday and Monday. Chalica is a way to bring our principles home.

I admit to liking that it seems to tick off the establishment. I haven’t followed too many of the debates, but reliable reporters suggest that UUA staff and ministers are more likely to line up at the con microphone, so to speak, and that laypeople are more likely to line up at the pro mike. When a religion is alive and thriving, the people generate their own forms, spontaneously and often without the leadership, or even blessing, of their ordained or professional guides. This holiday makes me know that ours really is a living tradition.

I like that it is new. Like the chalice itself, it echoes ancient practices and symbols, but its specific form and use are very recent. The lighting of a chalice at the beginning of services was a rarity, if it happened at all, 70 years ago; it has since become all but universal. The Water Communion was first celebrated in 1980 and is widely celebrated, having gained layers of meaning and the kinds of nuances that come about only through lived experience. If Chalica meets a need, it may take the same course.

I like that it meets a need I feel myself: for my religion to have its own holiday at this holiday-rich time of year. I find Christmas meaningful (for that matter, I can find meaning and beauty in just about anything, hence the name of this blog) and I enjoy celebrating it with my congregation, but if it were up to me alone, I would not choose the birth of Jesus as a focal point for a family celebration. (It is not up to me alone; my wife, Joy, lobbied heavily for presents at Christmas and she won. I reluctantly–ha!–accept mine.) We celebrate Hanukah because we want the munchkin to know her heritage (Joy grew up Jewish too), but I can’t say the significance of the holiday speaks to me very much. We don’t celebrate Kwanzaa because we’re not African-American. Of all the winter holidays, solstice may be most meaningful to me personally, and I created a home ritual to celebrate the return of the light with my daughter, but it doesn’t feel any different than taking her outside to see a lunar eclipse, or showing her the constellations, or any of the other things we may do to mark the seasons and the rhythms of the earth. In other words, I’m not a Christian, a Jew (at least not theologically), an African-American, or a Pagan. I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and although I don’t know if we will ever add Chalica to our busy December, I appreciate that it is a festival that celebrates what I hold dear.

I like that it provides an opportunity to delve into the principles, which are sometimes criticized as shallow but for my money, are ideals I strive to live up to (and never can quite attain). We’ll need to be flexible, as the principles are not written in stone and if they are not to take on the authority of a creed, we need to be able to revise them and let them go in time. Maybe that process could even be built into the holiday. How about an eighth night for a conversation about what other principles we might want to affirm and promote . . . ?

I like the suggestions about using the days of Chalica to act upon our principles, not just speak them. Kathy Klink-Zeitz suggests that for the fourth principle, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, we might want to learn something new from someone else, give a book, or read a book. Jeff Liebmann, in the first of his 2012 Chalica videos, suggests that to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, the first principle, we might make amends to someone to whom we’ve shown disrespect, or give thanks to someone who has helped us.

I apparently wasn’t bothered enough by my one serious objection to this holiday to mention it when I wrote that 2006 sermon, even parenthetically. Maybe along with my Parenthood-Induced Memory Loss Syndrome, I’ve gotten more persnickety. But it does bother me, and as long as I am in the good graces of the Chalica fans I will send forth this plea:

Please find a different name for it.

It can’t be coincidence that it sounds like Hanukah. So how can I put this? It is tacky to the point of offensiveness–no, past the point of offensiveness–to spin off the name of another religion’s sacred celebration. I know that Hanukah is a minor holiday, but it is still a sacred festival and it and Judaism deserve our respect. I have tried to think of the name as playful. Playfulness is a wonderful quality for a holiday to have, and I smile to imagine folks sitting around a table talking about a new UU holiday that bears some resemblance to Hanukah, and joking, “We could call it Chalica!” But when it goes public and takes hold, I stop hearing it as playful and start hearing it as trivializing instead. It trivializes both Unitarian Universalism and Judaism. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the celebrations, but the name grins behind the back of a hand and whispers, “This is really just a joke.” Even worse, it says that Hanukah is a joke. I know we wouldn’t adapt the day of atonement to Unitarian Universalism and call the result Yom KippUUr, so please. Let’s call it something else.

We’re a creative bunch and I’m sure if we put it out to fans of Chalica as a challenge–name that holiday!–they could come up with a name that honors the values that gave rise to the holiday to begin with. In fact, let’s do it right here. I’d love to read your ideas in the comments.