Most of you know I am a big fan of holidays. This year Hanukkah (eight days starting December 3rd) runs alongside Advent (December 2nd to 24th) and tiptoes through Saint Nicholas Day (December 6th). Solstice is the 21st, so have your Yule log ready. Then Christmas and Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1) and finally Three Kings’ Day (January 6th), rounding out exactly a month of winter holidays. I usually forgo Hanukkah and Kwanzaa because I don’t know the routine and stick with my Western European heritage represented by Christmas and solstice. But all of us in the Northern Hemisphere are celebrating the same thing. light. Hope. Warmth. Snuggling down into our winter cocoons and letting the seeds of renewal germinate inside us. I just can’t wrap my head around celebrating Christmas in Australian and New Zealand!
Every year I struggle with how best to to celebrate these holidays. For years I was teaching at the university up till maybe ten days before Christmas, and I found it hard to quiet the mind for Advent, or turn the Christmas spirit off to grade exams and then turn it back on. Now it is much easier to set the work aside. I do not shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Each year I try to spend less money on gifts and more time on experiences–music, theater, movies with the grandchildren, listening to Christmas music. (Deck the Halls is my personal song.) I refuse to consult wish lists, trying instead to listen to who each person is and get them the right book and the right funny socks or T-shirt that rflects what is special about each of them. I try to observe the solstice in ways that are respectful of Mother Earth by generating less waste (reusable cloth gift bags are this year’s addition), turning down the thermostat, and shopping locally from small stores and artisans.
Certain things are slow to change. Christmas is still family time. When my dear husband of 53 years died just a few weeks before Christmas in 2015, my three daughters took on the task of supplying the traditional gifts–a book, a nightgown, and a jigsaw puzzle. The jigsaw puzzle is for after the kitchen is cleaned up from four or five days with the eleven people in my immediate family. But as I get older, I farm more tasks out. The home is smaller, and so is the tree. I have been giving Santas from my large collection to daughters and grandchildren. I know the day will come when we gather at my oldest daughter’s house, but I’m not ready yet.
In Hindu tradition, when one’s hair is white and one has seen one’s grandsons, it is time to let go of household responsibilities and material possessions and seek the life of wisdom and the spirit. I’m not there yet, but I’m moving in that direction, and the gradual evolution of my Christmas holidays is one of the times that invite me to reflect on this stage of the journey. That’s the start of my passage. How is yours?