The best holiday events I’ve attended are those that had a sense of the Sacred about them. I’m not talking about the High Mass sort of sacred where it feels like I’m watching a holy ritual, although those aren’t bad either. I’m talking about the ones where there was a sense of warmth and joy, lightness and intention, as if the energy of the party were being gathered and directed toward a joyous and wondrous time for one and all. Those are the kinds of events that create a wonderful sense of belonging. Those are the kinds of events that live on in memory with that warm, nostalgic magic that feeds the soul for months or even years to come.
The question is, how do you create that kind of Sacredness for your gatherings?
When I say cleaning, I’m not necessarily talking about major housekeeping, scrubbing the baseboards, and organizing the pantry. I’m really talking about shifting the energy of your space such that you make it ready for your guests. Most often for me, that includes a quick run of the vacuum or a wee-bit of straightening, but sometimes even that falls by the wayside in the frenzy of other preparations. If I don’t run the vacuum or straighten, hopefully because we managed to actually keep our space tidy just prior to our gathering but even if we didn’t, I at least light a stick of incense or set a few drops of essential oil on the aromatherapy burner or spritz the space with a light mist of organic, natural room freshener spray to shift the energy of our space. As I do so, I focus my intention. That right there is the real key: Focusing Intention.
Focus Your Intention
When you focus your intention, whatever action follows helps to shape the energy of your space. If you run through your home tidying with your mind on the upcoming gathering and all the many preparations you have yet to make, you shape the energy of your space with chaos and fast-moving energy, not the kind that makes for an enjoyable, relaxed, festive environment. Instead, give yourself a moment to be still. Take a deep breath. Imagine the feeling you want your guests to have when they’re in your space. Then, hold that intention firmly in mind as you do whatever you’ve chosen to do to clean your space. Even if that action is short and sweet, like lighting a candle, it will alter the energy of your space accordingly.
Use Symbolic Items to Set Sacred Space
We’ve all been to parties where the religious tones have overwhelmed us to the point that it’s felt like being in church, right? If that’s what you want to achieve, that’s fine. Hopefully your guests are already in alignment with your religious beliefs and iconography. If you’re like me, however, your crowd tends to be more diverse in spiritual expression. That’s when setting space without imposing on others is essential to the success and ultimately well-being of your gathering and its participants.
So, how do you achieve a level of spiritual expression that conveys your message without alienating your guests? Some of the most effective rituals I’ve held and attended have been those where the sacred details been small and deliberate. As you prepare for your gathering, set out a small number of symbols that communicate your intentions. For instance, a wreath on your front door decorated with chili peppers, pine cones, and cinnamon sticks offers up the energy of warmth and new energy flowing. A branch of Holly set on your altar or mantle with a candle and maybe pretty brass bell speaks to the ringing in of new energy and protection of the embers of solar or seedling energy that we hold close through winter’s cold, dark nights. Even making a deliberate choice about the foods or drinks you offer, such as warmed, spiced apple cider to offer your guests aid in digestion and a wish for good health, can make a difference in the space you’re creating.
Not every detail of your gathering needs to be planned with sacred space in mind. The key is to make at least three or so choices with spiritual or energetic symbolism in mind, and then to not forget why you’ve chosen as you have. Although the chances are none of your guests will ask, being able to answer the question of why you’ve chosen as you have helps fortify the strength of your intentions and therefore the power of your work.
Choose Your Ritual Action Wisely
Many families include ritual action in their gatherings. The family prayer before a meal is a fine example. Whether you’re drawing on established family traditions or creating your own, making space for some kind of ritual action at some point in your gathering creates a sense of sacredness and depth that most people appreciate, so long as you’ve chosen wisely.
Consider the level of participation that most of your guests are likely to want when you’re planning your ritual action for the gathering. If you’re working with a select group of people, all of whom share a common interest in the kind of spiritual practice you’d like to use, a greater level of participation may make sense. For instance, if you’ve invited a group of friends and family to celebrate the holidays with a sacred circle ritual, they are likely to expect to participate in some form of musical expression, like singing carols or drumming. Or, they may well expect to take time for a prayer together.
If the gathering is larger and potentially more loose, you may want to keep the level of required participation to a minimum. If your party is a larger one comprised of co-workers, family, friends, neighbors, or others who don’t necessarily share the same religious or spiritual background, choosing a more demonstrative ritual action may be more appropriate. You can light a candle in a ceremonious manner or share a toast, for example.
Another option would be to set up a low-level participation ritual in which guests can chose to participate or not at any point during the gathering without any pressure. A good example of this would be the New Year Wishes Ritual. This ritual allows participates to take action or to skip it without reprisal or pressure. It also gives them the whole of the gathering to make their choice, allowing those who are a bit shy to loosen up and feel comfortable before taking action while those who feel more bold or outgoing can jump right in. Whether they actively participate or not, this kind of ritual offers an element of the sacred to your event at a level that’s appropriate to your audience.
Take Time to Explain
Most families don’t take the time to talk about their ritual with guests or family members. It’s easy to forget to explain why we’re doing what we’re doing and to take it for granted that everyone understands. If your gathering is going to be attended solely by those who share your customs and religious or spiritual practices, it’s still wise to take the time to say a few words about the significance of your traditions or ritual actions. When you hold gatherings that include people of diverse backgrounds, practices, and beliefs, taking that time is essential.
When you take time to call attention to your ritual action or decorations, you offer a connection to the sacred to each of your guests. This can be as simple as a toast at the beginning of your meal or at a specific point early in your event, or it can be as complex as asking one or more assistants to help you by narrating to your guests as you perform a more staged sort of ritual action. At my winter solstice gatherings, I take a few moments to talk about the significance of the Winter Solstice to the natural world and to our human world before I light the candles for dinner. Some years, I ask my man to help with that, other times I just do it myself. I generally think a lot about what I’m going to say for the week or so before the event, then completely forget what I’d planned out and just wing-it in the moment. However you do it, the important part is in calling attention to the way in which our actions map to our intentions. That’s the part that connects the spiritual and sacred with real life. It’s the part that offers a sense of true sacredness to your guests and your gathering.
Creating a sense of the Sacred for your next gathering, be it a holiday feast or a small gathering at some other time of the year, takes a bit of clear intention, but it’s well worth the effort. The steps are truly simple, and the results can create the kinds of memories that live on for a lifetime. A little ritual done right adds a sense of warmth and Holiness that speaks to the deepest levels of the human soul.
New Year Wishes Ritual
This ritual offers guests the option of participating or not as fits their comfort level. Take the time to talk about the symbolic nature of writing your wishes out, which moves the power of The Word driven by need or desire into the material plane, and of letting attachment to the outcome go by casting them into the fire. Tell your guests that this ritual is all about helping each other as much as ourselves to generate the energy needed to help all our wishes come true in the new year.
Set a table or space with the following:
- Slips of paper
- Small envelopes
- Pens or pencils
- A dish of loose incense, rice, or confetti
- A decorated box (optional)
- A bonfire or similar open fire (optional)
At Your Gathering
Instruct your guests to:
- Write out a wish on the slip of paper.
- Put it in an unmarked envelope.
- Add a pinch or two of incense, rice, or confetti.
- Seal the envelope shut.
- Place the envelope in the box (if you intend to complete the ritual yourself later)
Place the envelope in the fire.
Close Your Ritual
At the end of your event, let the fire burn out if you’ve chosen to have participants burn their envelopes themselves. Take a moment to give thanks to the fire for helping you and your guests gather the energy needed to make your wishes come true this year.
If you’ve decided to complete the ritual yourself, close the box. Later, once you’ve rung in the New Year, open the box and cast the envelopes into a natural body of water, off a high cliff, or into an open fire with the intention that the energy of those wishes be increased and offered to all those who attended your gathering that they might have the energy needed to make their wishes come true this year.