The winter holiday celebrations can be as divisive as politics. Which is sad given what they celebrate. There are some Christians who say Santa, trees, etc. have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, and non-Christians who say most traditions of Christmas were stolen from pre-Christian celebrations. Some Jewish people put up Christmas trees, others say that isn’t right. There are people who love Christmas music, those who hate it……the list goes on and on of other religious and cultural controversies this month.
I thought I was becoming cynical about Christmas. Even Solstice. We celebrate both. What I thought was cynicism was the feeling that I have to be so sensitive this time of year around pretty much everyone as to not offend anyone, and very private about how we celebrate. Often I don’t even know which way is the “right” way to avoid offense.
Here’s an illustration of what I mean. One Christmas, when I had been very ill for months, Mike and I were enjoying a rare, leisurely, festive time together a few days before Christmas. At the gallery of a local artist who illustrates children’s books, Mike purchased a print of a little shepherd boy, taken from a book about the Christmas story. Mike loves Christmas and because of his Basque heritage he identifies with the shepherds in the Christmas story. (The Basque who came to this country, including his maternal great uncles, herded sheep in the isolated hills of California, Nevada and Idaho. A job no one else wanted). We walked out of the gallery and saw a friend to whom Mike enthusiastically showed his purchase. The friend’s only comment, said with disdain after Mike said why he bought it, was “but it’s so Christian.” My heart aches even now when I think of how crestfallen he was. This person would not think of them self as intolerant. Yet this is the sensitiveness many people have around this season.
Though we celebrate in our house the way we want, it is like belonging to a secret society of two. How we celebrate has changed over the years, adopting new rituals, traditions, letting go of older ones. That’s the way life is. Of course new religions incorporate the traditions of older ones, its human nature. Archeological finds show just how long we’ve been adopting the ways of those before us, or from other places and cultures. Life is not either/or, people are not either/or……well, yes they are, and we see the results of that in our divided, polarized country, and in other countries, where everyone on all sides of the political spectrum talk of the “others” as though they had nothing in common and were from another planet. This intolerance of differences generates violence, at least in thought, and too often in action. Violence toward others is not taught in any major religious or spiritual tradition that has stood the test of time.
I’m quite certain I have much in common with someone who may have voted differently than me. We may both love birds, read plant books, support women’s shelters, have had cancer, drive the same car……who knows. I choose not to talk politics with people with different political ideals, but politics is not all life is about. Political choices may represent important individual values, but I know people who vote as I do and do not share all my values. They may not even tolerate how and what I celebrate this month. We are far more complex as a species and as individuals to put each other in boxes and categories based on limited knowledge of the “other.”
So here in our secret society of two, where Decembers past has often been a time of healing and recovery (i.e. recovering from surgeries, colds, flu, etc.) our celebrations are low key. Up until a few years ago we spent Christmas Day with family, usually elsewhere, occasionally here. We miss these family gatherings, but also enjoy just being “home for the holidays”. I have had a long standing “bucket list” item of spending Christmas in a cabin somewhere, then I remember – I live in a cabin somewhere.
So here at this cabin in the woods is what is important to us when it comes to holidays. I apologize if any of this offends you. Actually, I don’t want to apologize, rather invite you to share with me what you celebrate this month that might be different, maybe I would enjoy your traditions and celebration also. Or perhaps you don’t celebrate anything you just enjoy December plain!
1) A nativity set, there are several to choose from, the tiny one from my childhood or various wooden ones. I have few friends who put up a nativity, but to Mike and I that is what Christmas is about.
2) Lights and candles are important because that’s what celebrating the Solstice is about, bringing back the light, celebrating the cycles of dark and light. And because here in Washington December is just plain dark and days are short.
3) We listen to a lot of music. (Mike can watch the same Mormon Tabernacle choir Christmas special DVD every year, me not so much, I like something new!).
4) Though I often vow NO TREE, and NEVER thought I’d have an artificial tree, we always have a tree, sometimes a small table top artificial one, or a potted tree on the porch outside the window, or a cut tree. Sometimes more than one. Mike is delighted when we decorate a tree. In his younger adult years, up until we married, he didn’t really celebrate Christmas with anyone. Thirty Christmases later, he is still making up for it.
5) We now do an advent wreath to help us stop and focus on the spiritual aspect of this holy season, we light a candle each week, do a reading, meditate and slow down. Mike was in the emergency room last Sunday so we postponed our candle lighting to Monday, it helped “ground” us back into the season’s vibrations after a stressful Sunday.
6) We try to take a ride in the mountains, a walk somewhere quiet, depending on my body’s willingness. Connecting with Nature and the calm gray/green of winter in the northwest is very important to me this time of year. Nature reminds us human species that it truly is a time of peace on earth, and at least in the northern hemisphere, a time of rest.
7) Gift giving is minimal, fortunately an attitude shared by extended family and close friends. Something simple or homemade, if anything at all. (And this year I liberated myself from Christmas card sending by sending Thanksgiving cards.)
8) We have a special Christmas meditation with those in our meditation group.
In a small house, where there isn’t a lot of room for decorating, besides the tree and nativity, you might find these favorite symbols of the winter season and holidays – snowmen, angels, deer, a variety of evergreens and their cones, red and white carnations, and (I have a mixed relationship with them) maybe a poinsettia, which Mike loves.
So if you’re in the neighborhood and don’t find our holiday celebrations offensive, drop by, we’ll share a cup of wassail! And if you too like the songs of the season, we could have a sing-a-long!