The magic we talk about craving at this time of year is not as elusive as it can seem, but we cannot sit passively by and expect to feel it. It must be invoked with wishes, dreams and traditions. It comes to us through the selfless acts of remembering others with thoughtful consideration. All the Yuletide elves know it IS better to give than to receive during the month of December. How have we come to call this the season of light when the night is as long as ever? Because it is the love light of our hearts that illuminates the darkest days. If you've ever seen the twinkle in a mother's eye as she surveys her home bursting with loved ones and holiday joy, that's the stuff I'm talking about!
I hear too much bickering about division regarding this season and I want to counter that with an observation. The saying, "Happy Holidays!" has come to be deeply offensive for some people, but I believe it is an expression of something quite wonderful. There are a lot of holidays this time of year and though I don't keep all of them, I want to share my enthusiasm for the season of light with all of my friends and relations. That list of people includes Pagans, Christians, agnostics, Jews, and Buddhists. I prefer to observe how we are united in celebration not divided by ideology, but as long as we're talking about it YULE is the reason for the season. Period. You won't find many Pagans flipping out about how our customs and rituals have been co-opted, but take away the baby Jesus and Christmas is really one giant pagan holiday. Just sayin...
We celebrate Yule and Christmas and have spent years cultivating our traditions. Perhaps it is because we keep the customs of two holidays that I can appreciate the difficulties of honoring everyone in an interfaith family. Beyond the obvious tensions that can arise out of balancing everyone's needs I think it is vital to be on guard for burnout! There is just a lot going on this time of year even if you only celebrated one holiday. I've got my own ideas on how things can be done more sensibly. Most importantly none of these activities should rob attention from the most important part of whichever holiday you honor; the spiritual aspects.
My fantasy is to resurrect a 12 days of Christmas concept. I truly do cringe when I see people tossing out their trees on boxing day (fire hazards aside, of course). What if we rearranged our agendas to include some of the preparations into celebrations themselves. If I regard the holiday baking as a chore it feels too oppressive and I'm unlikely to actually do it. When I can turn it into a celebratory event that is leisurely and not crammed in-between shopping and the post office I will not only do it, but enjoy it and possibly even get some nostalgic feels out of the deal, too! I'm in favor of slowing the mayhem down and turning the mindfulness up.
We tend to focus on spiritual matters over the winter solstice. Meditating upon what the return of light means to us individually, for our community and for the world at large. We release what is no longer serving us from the previous year whether it is a bad habit, a grudge, or a dream that did not come to pass. Handmade gifts are exchanged, candles are lit, favorite stories are retold and traditional foods grace our family table. Winter is a time of reflection and stillness and we honor the beginning of the season with our quiet and sweet Yule celebration.
Christmas calls for a more robust approach. We invite the light by opening up our family circle to include our chosen family, those friends who've become as dear to us as our own kin. Festivities are louder, and more boisterous. We exchange presents, share drinks, sing songs and enjoy our favorite Christmas meals. When the children were little Christmas eve was full of delightful anticipation. Setting out the cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer will always feel magical to me.
My granny always said that Christmas eve was for the children, but New Years eve was for the grown ups. I can appreciate this concept. I can even take it further. It's virtually impossible to get my friends together to celebrate during the month of December. We're all struggling with the same to-do lists, family expectations and so on. Growing up, my mom would solve the same problem by hosting a New Years Day open house. Hailing from Missouri with deep roots in Mississippi, my Mama was brimming with southern pride. She relished the opportunity to serve as cultural ambassador and New Years was her favorite. We served the traditional favorites of black eyed peas and greens and were single handedly responsible for making sure our friends entered each new year with the appropriate amount of 'Luck.'
The New Year is well underway now and my tree (artificial, I can't bring myself to harvest a live tree) is still up and decorations yet to be stored away for another year. Typically I try to tidy it all away by the epiphany and no sooner, but this year I'm just allowing myself to cast off any feelings of guilt about not clearing away Christmas yet. We've been sick and energy has been low. I sprained my ankle last Friday so my weekend plans (and DREAMS) of pristine white space where evergreen and pinecones used to be will have to wait another day. It's all OK and as I sit with the messiness of it all. I can mine more wonder from the meaning of the season.
I certainly hope that 2015 is shaping up to be whatever you dream it to be!