A friend and I went out to celebrate Fat Tuesday the other night and we couldn’t help but smile at how Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, and the Lunar New Year bumped up against each other in the décor at this popular Cajun eatery in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday. Chinese New Year. I love this convergence zone week of high holy days, especially in matters of love and loss & feast and fast.
This conjoining of three calendric events has significance in ritual terms. With Valentine’s Day, we celebrate love in all its many forms. With Lent, we take a thing we love, often something we over-consume like sweets or wine, and we offer it to the sacrificial altar for 40-ish days as an act of abstinence, discipline, and soulful purification. And for Chinese New Year, we align ourselves with the lunar calendar, sweep away the inauspicious, and welcome all the good tidings shiny new years promise us.
Each is a spiritual discipline and lends us the opportunity to consider how the power of love, loss and light shape us. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of Love, Lent + Lunar festivity-inspired ideas to turn this late winter season into one where you’re paying forward your heart, pruning your excesses, renewing your wish list, and being a lamplighter for others with small daily acts of kindness and generosity.
- Love Notes – I’m a sucker for love note projects. Whether they’re slips placed in a jar to pull randomly each day, or left for your loved ones to find, putting time and attention into crafting love is the best way to inject joy and fun into your relationships.
- 40-Day Challenge – Embarking on a 40-Day challenge takes discipline but it’s do-able. Inspired by Courtney Carver’s Project 333, it entails letting go of one item a day for a 40-day period. There are other variations to this – pairing your diet down to 40 items for 40 days, or downsizing your wardrobe to just 40 things for the next 40 days are but two examples.
- Random Acts of Kindness – This endeavor borrows from the scouting tradition by asking you to do one good turn daily. Compliment a stranger, open a door, help a neighbor ~ the list of kindness options is endless but integral.
- Gals & Pals – Did you miss out on ‘Gal’entine’s Day? It’s not too late. Consider throwing a Red Tent potluck party – everyone wears red, brings a small wrapped gift of empowerment, and that’s all I’ll reveal for ideas. If you want others, you’ll need to hire me to craft a Red Tent event that will stay with you always.
- Read All About It – Cultivate a poetry or wisdom reading practice. Modern Love, On Being, This I Believe and Gratefulness.org are filled with stories, poems and written inspirations to help you ruminate on love and compassion.
- How Do I Love Me? – What do you love about yourself? Pick 40 things (and if you need help, ask friends), make a list of slips, and then choose one slip a day from a bowl or box on your desk. This is a pick-me-up ritual for those less than stellar days of late winter.
- To Me, Love Me Letter – A personal love letter is a fabulous ritual to enact annually in and around this mid-February time frame. Craft a letter of appreciation to yourself. Give yourself kudos for your soul learnings and heart leanings, and proffer wisdom to yourself, as you would a cherished best friend. Sign and seal the letter and then entrust it to a friend to mail back to you in 40 days’ time.
- One a Week – Consider choosing six special self-care activities to indulge in between now and the beginning of spring. And then go do those six things – one a week. Anything health-related or self-nurturing works.
- Love Manifesto – What are your thoughts on love? Spend some time engaging with #6 and then dare to draft your own list of beliefs about love, loss and constant new beginnings in matters of love and loss. This can take the form of an essay or a list of truths, imperatives, and instructions.
- Heartfelt Gift – Turn February or March into a giftapalooza time. Pick a person in your life and set about crafting them something homemade and heartfelt. It will do your heart good and their heart even better!
- Hearts in Nature – Make a point to notice love and photograph it. Heart-shaped rocks and leaves or more obvious images in storefront windows help us to attune ourselves to seeing that love is all there is.
- Drive-by Hearts – I have a Facebook friend who sends random heart emojis to everyone in her friend group. It’s a fabulous seasonal ritual she’s been engaging in for a couple of years now, and I’ll be darned if her hearts don’t arrive on just the day I need them. Try borrowing her heart emoji idea and see how your text and messenger list responds.
- Roses for Riverton – I know another Facebook friend who undertook an ambitious project to gift every teen of the 2000+ students at Riverton High School in Utah with a rose, with the help of an army of volunteers and donors. Artist and author Mary Anne Radmacher encouraged the good folks at Compendium to donate cards for the initiative, and an unforgettable community love project was born. Happening, as it did, on the same day as a mass school shooting elsewhere in the US made it that much more poignant. May this become an annual tradition.
- Sweet Sensations – Dedicate a day to making sweet treats – cookies, chocolates, or chocolate-dipped fortune cookies (check out this link for some love-inspired messages) – and send them to your friends, family, and/or neighbors.
- Lost & Found – Try to come up with 40 examples of times in your life when love found you or when you lost something or someone dear to you. This is a powerful way to reclaim old memories, reconcile yourself with long-ago losses, and to remember that love and loss are constants on this human continuum called living.
- Letter to the Dearly Departed – Writing a letter to an ancestor or other dearly departed loved one is a powerful way to honor your ongoing relationship with them while at the same time, shifting your grief. Aligning it as a Lent activity is about recognizing what you most miss about them, and how you’ve learned to go on since they’ve died.
- Shift Your Grief – Choose a thing or person from your Lost & Found list in #15, and consider how you might transfigure that particular grief through ritual. It might be that you burn an item, embark on a walk or journey in honor of that loss, or craft a commemorative thing (my niece just sewed a pillow from the plaid PJ material her sister, who recently died, gave her years ago).
- Curb Your Enthusiasm – Soul-search a list of your excesses and in Lenten-ish style, cultivate a daily practice of curbing your enthusiasm for that thing – be it too much screen time, work, an unhealthy habit, or a dietary item.
- Purge & Package 40 – Start an annual Lent-inspired tradition of purging 40 cherished items from your belongings and package those with a special note to pay forward to loved ones as just-because, birthday, or other holiday gifts in the year to come. Keep a basket handy in the new year and if you don’t know 40 people, seek out your neighborhood Buy Nothing Project gift-exchange group.
- Art With Heart – I have a friend who, for years, custom-designed heart cards with her husband and children each Valentine’s Day to mail to their loved ones as an innovative variation to the sending of New Year’s cards. It’s a unique collaborative tradition and became something I looked forward to receiving in the mail each mid-February. Her children are now in college so the tradition is on hiatus, but may it inspire you to consider how you might want to start a similar tradition.
- Red Envelope – I love the red envelope tradition of Chinese New Year. Make it yours by slipping in wish and blessing notes, a custom Chinese zodiac card that pairs with your loved one’s birth year, a small gift card and/or a tiny gift or toy, and then pay these forward to your closest peeps.
- Wishes & Kisses – The Lunar New Year invites us to consider new ways of being and doing. Writing our wishes on slips of flying wish paper and sending these out into the ether, perhaps at the same time as you light a Sky Lantern, is a celebratory way to honor the beginning of this festive season. Or borrow a page from fellow celebrant Alisa Tongg, who hosted an innovative Shower of Blessings ritual to honor Chinese New year with her Bacon + Lox Society.
- Chinese Feast – Throw a Chinese New Year potluck, choose cultural elements to celebrate, and try your hand at making a paper lantern centerpiece.
- Letters to Loved Ones – And saving the best for last regarding rituals of love, loss and new beginnings; why not make this the year you craft a love letter to those closest to you? You can choose to either mail it to them, gift it to them for a special occasion, or save the letter to be read upon your death. This Love Letter assignment is a homework activity that each Willow student undertakes to complete as part of Willow’s Love Letters + Heart Wills workshop.
These are just a few of the countless ways to inspire you to sprinkle more love, gratitude and presence into these late winter days of feasting or fasting. May they spur you to consider what new love tradition you might like to call your own in these weeks before spring.