Farmington Unitarian Universalist fellowship celebrates new holiday

James Fenton
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Move over Christmas, Solstice, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa — there's a new winter holiday in town.

Created in 2005 as an alternative to the commercialization of the holidays and called Chalica, the grass-roots, week-long holiday runs during the first week of December. Though it has yet to be formally adopted by all Unitarian Universalist churches nationwide, the San Juan Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Farmington decided to embrace the holiday for the first time this year.

Mark Lewis, a member of the San Juan fellowship, read about the growing holiday online and shared what he learned with the 30 or so members of the UU congregation.

"I read about it online, on a Facebook page a while back. I did it by myself last year, and I thought I'd try to share it," Lewis said. "It allows you to apply each of the principles to your daily life. They're not dogma and not doctrine. They're guidances, to ask how each (principle) fits into your life."

The San Juan Fellowship is a lay-led organization, without a minister, and Lewis liked Chalica's personal application and the opportunity it brings throughout the week to reflect on a principle in his daily life.

The first UU principle, which values the inherent worth and dignity of all people, was celebrated on Dec. 1.

"There are times I don't agree with everyone — at work, in social settings — but it helps me remember that they have a viewpoint, too, and I should remember to think about where they're coming from," Lewis said. "It does help find common ground."

Other principles, which comprise the UU core text, include "justice, equity and compassion in human relations," "acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations" and "respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

Joe Rivas, who is the fellowship's board president, sees the holiday as an enriching experience with practical benefits.

"It's like a way to check and explore the seven principles — guidelines for spiritual growth, not a set of rules," Rivas said. "My partner and I have a chalice at home, and we light the chalice, review the (day's) principle — how we interpret it at that moment, what we hopefully can do with it to carry it through the day — and basically (hold) a small meditation and then extinguish the chalice and start our day and leave the house with our best foot forward."

Isabelle Montoya, the church board vice president, said she celebrates Chalica a little differently, as a testament to the diversity of spiritual beliefs and practices in the UU church, she said.

"Our tradition (at home) is a little bit different," Montoya said. "When we have dinner, we have a reading from one of the UU books of blessings, basically inspirational quotations, one for each day and read one before dinner."

Rivas said the Internet and especially social media sites like Facebook and Youtube have helped the burgeoning holiday grow in popularity.

"It's such a new tradition that's trying to find its foothold, and social media, especially for rural areas, helps a liberal religion to stay fresh, I feel, and continue on," he said. "It's evolving, and it seems each congregation and their individual members can adapt it as needed or relevant for them. It's developing."

Rivas said the congregation plans to continue practicing Chalica next year, with possibly a change of the name of the holiday itself.

"We're trying to give it a little unique name unto itself, call it Chalice Days instead of Chalica," Rivas said. "There has been a grass-roots movement to change the name. More people, since it is so new and getting started, are calling it Chalice Days. It is gaining acceptance more and more. We'll see."

A neighboring UU fellowship in Durango, Colo., hasn't formally adopted the holiday, but the church's minister, the Rev. Katie Kandarian-Morris, sees the holiday as a positive thing for congregants and the community in which they live.

"I think it's great that the Farmington fellowship are doing this," Kandarian-Morris said. "It seems to be a clear way for folks to see if they are really living the principles in their lives."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and

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