Holiday is a contraction of holi (holy) and day, and originally referred only to special, religious days. In modern use, it means any special day of rest as opposed to normal days off work or school.
Vacation. In the United Kingdom, vacation once specifically referred to the long summer break taken by the law courts and later, universities – a custom introduced by William the Conqueror from Normandy, where it facilitated the grape harvest. The French term is similar to English; “Les Vacances”. In the past, many upper-class families moved to a summer home for part of the year, leaving their usual family home vacant.
Many holidays are linked to faiths and religions. Here, in North America, what is known as “spring break” was originally created to release children from school in order to help their family plant that year’s crop. (In 1900, 90% of Canadians were involved in agriculture). Summer holidays were also for the purpose of the incredible amount of work at that time of year required in the fields (remember that most work was done by hand, especially weeding and no poisons were used for bugs or weeds). Oktober Fest in Germany was and is still very much a festival centred in harvest, around which people would enjoy the bounties the earth would bring, including wine from grapes, and of course, beer from barley and hops.
So what has happened to our holi-days, traditions and observances? And what has happened to the cultural events and festivities that connected us to the earth, sun, moon, seasons, cycles of nature and life itself? These “observances” (read: observations) maintained the connectivity between humans and mother nature. It maintained the inter-relatedness between farmer, food and ultimately survival. It helped people to understand that if they were to eat, seeds would need to be planted and animals would need to be tended to. They innately knew, in their bodies, that if they were to keep warm rather than freeze to death, wood needed to be cut (by hand) and put up for the winter. Fruits, vegetables and meats needed to be dried, smoked, salted, canned and even buried for sustenance through the winter months.
Oh yes, this article is supposed to be about holidays and lowering our carbon footprint! My seeming digression acts well, I think, as a backdrop of what holidays used to be more about. Granted, these hard working folks also played: they hunted, fished, boated, rafted, swam, explored, hiked, went camping, had countless picnics and they had regular public dances with lots of music and singing. One would ask then, what has really changed, since many of us still do (at least some) of these activities? The difference, I think, is more a matter of culture and attitude; that is, why we take holidays or go on vacation.
It seems now that the primary reason is that people “need a break”; they “need to get away”. My question is, from what and why? In what way are we living our lives that we are so stressed that we “need a break”? Where and how are we living our lives that we need to “get away”? After answering those questions, how much sense does it make to work yet harder and be more stressed to make more money in order to take yearly and bi-yearly trips that are costly to you (financially and otherwise) and to the earth?
I believe that one of the key principles of this century is the concept of “local” or and in this case, “re-localize”. More and more individuals and families are discovering the many excellent benefits of doing our recreation, holidaying and getting away more locally. I think it is worth considering one’s purpose for engaging in these activities.
Is it for rest and relaxation, like laying on a beach? Is it a working holiday, like rebuilding an earthquake torn area in a developing country? Is it for personal development, like a spiritual retreat? Is it for health, participating in a bootcamp to lose weight and improve physical strength? Is it for education, like going as an exchange student to another country?
For me, and I believe for many of us, what we are looking to create are experiences that create memories that are registered in us as feelings. If this is true; that is, we are looking predominantly to be left with a feeling of some sort, does it then make more sense to create those feelings through a means that is more harmonious?
What I’m suggesting here is that one of the most (if not the most) powerful forces within modern human beings, which have so many means at their fingertips for their basic survival, is to feel good. In 50 years of life experiences, which include driving all the way to Key West and back in my 1972 Datsun 510 (four speed!) at the age of 19, my trips to Germany, Thailand, Bali, Japan and Hong Kong; my local trips, in their essence, that is on a feeling level, have been every bit, if not more powerful.
I’ll share a prime example of how this looks and what embarrassed me to realize my blindness and the folly of constantly seeking experiences hoping they will lead to feelings which are re-experienced again as feelings in the future. This new found awareness began for me a number of years ago listening to CBC Radio’s yearly spring call-in show where people share their favourite camping spot in BC. I felt very silly, when out of the many phone calls and the expected references to Rathtrevor Provincial Park (which, by the way, is the first park in all of BC to be fully booked every year), many of the phonecalls went like this: Hi, my name is Christina. I live in Whiterock and I have this amazing campsite I go to every year. I get on the bus, then I transfer to another bus and then to another bus, and then I go on this amazing ride on a BC Ferry to Nanaimo. It is so beautiful! When I get off the BC Ferry, I get on another bus, get off downtown and walk to a little foot ferry that takes me to a place called Newcastle Island.”
After that broadcast, I saw the light. Here, I live in one of the most beautiful places on the earth. People from all over the world want to move here and I’m taking it for granted. So I made a commitment right then and there that rather than travelling so far – the driving, the flying, the stress, the consumption of nonrenewable fossil fuels and the now more obvious contribution to climate change, the sliding of the ice sheets into the ocean and the eventual extinction of polar bears and penguins – to re-localize my “holi-days”.
A wonderful example was our annual September outing to Newcastle Island for my partner’s birthday. We start off with a bite to eat at Penny’s Palapas, the floating restaurant on our incredibly scenic, lively waterfront. Then with a short ferry ride to the island, there are so many things to see, smell and do. Two of our many memorable experiences (besides our encounters with eagles, otters and seals) was that of going out on the rocks and sitting quietly for an hour until two mink got used to us being there and we were able to observe a mother mink and her youngster! Her wanting just to rest in the sun and the young one, full of energy, relentlessly rolling and playing over, under and around her. After this, a large family of five raccoons climbed high into an arbutus tree above us to get at the ripe, red berries. Suddenly, one of the young ones lost its footing and fell from high in the tree, hitting several branches on the way down, finally grabbing onto a lower branch, narrowly avoiding falling on the rocks below.
What I am suggesting, is that we sit down and honestly consider and contemplate what our reasons, purpose and goals are, that we are attempting to achieve in this process. This conscious approach to holidays and vacations will more likely create the results you really want while at the same time reducing your fossil footprint.
Admittedly, yes, I have some amazing memories from the experiences that I’ve created in my life. True. Having said that, the most powerful and amazing moments in my life that have had a profound and therefore permanent affect on my being is a simple picnic in the park or on a beach, running and playing with children wildly. The memories and lasting feelings I possess from these experiences are held in the warmest spaces in my heart. They are easy, simple, fun and can be enjoyed while treading more lightly on the earth. Have a wonderful and more conscious summer!
Dirk Becker is an organic farmer, agricultural advocate and public speaker who gives workshops on many topics incuding how auyervedic body types and birth order affect our communication and relationships.