I've been lacking the holiday spirit something fierce this year. I was even feeling a pretty deep bout of depression, and though that has passed, I still look at the Yule tree and feel... nothing. Maybe a little annoyed. Certainly not sparkly and excited.
I remember my mom hating Christmas. She felt stressed by not having money and annoyed that we had to attend a requisite family party with people she didn't like very much. An agnostic, she didn't feel inspired by the nativity. A working-class mom, she didn't really have anything to look forward to like a family vacation or big gifts. I remember feeling sad for her, and puzzled. Now I find myself feeling similarly - but still not really understanding it.
I discussed some of these feelings with my husband, who mostly had big happy Christmases as a boy. He pointed out that part of the season is darkness. That feeling that darkness, even in the absence of specific stresses or causes of grief, is normal and maybe even healthy, if not honored in our consumerist, tech-heavy culture. That helped, but still I longed for that sparkly feeling I had as a kid.
This evening the white lights of the Yule tree gently illuminate the dark living room. A tiny sliver of that old feeling smoldered somewhere in my chest. I contemplated the sensory details of Christmas that make up the season for me: the sweetness of pine and citrusy oranges, the glow of white and colored lights in the cold darkness, wood smoke filtering through the night, the tangy smell of Scotch tape. It is that smell, Scotch tape, that illuminated my sense of loss this year.
A big part of Christmas as a child was getting gifts. Not the greed of stuff, but the delicious anticipation of mysteries revealed: what was in those brightly wrapped packages? Dig through the packing peanuts for oddly shaped parcels from Grandma Bobbie. Appreciate the crisp, precise corners and shiny, narrow tape on gifts from Grandma Dulin and Aunt Sharon. Learn to not expect much on Christmas day, for Dad would say it would be a "small" Christmas this year, and I would assure him I didn't care; and then gifts would overflow beneath the tree - what mystery of where it all came from!
Christmas -- and Yule as well -- is about mystery. What is that big star in the sky? What is the gift of this babe in the manger? How can this young girl Mary birth a child? Will the Sun return? In the wrapped gifts and lights in darkness, we honor mystery.
Then the other sensory delights: coffee and a bookstore with my dad. Cookies baked and turkeys roasted. The tradition for several years of my aunt Jo's spicy sausage in spaghetti on Christmas Eve. Then sitting together and opening gifts on the bright morning of Christmas Day. Family - coziness - safety.
That is the other side of the season - being safe. Safe around the fire while the wolves howl out in the snowy night. This juxtaposition of safety and mystery has been with this season for millenia. With our wrapped gifts and strung lights and caroling we experience many of the same feelings our ancestors did.
And this year, as the mom who knows what's in all the wrapped boxes, who makes all the plans and cooks much of the food, I feel little sense of mystery. And in light of shootings and kidnappings and climate change, I also don't feel particularly safe. I feel tired and afraid and I'm not expecting any miracles. So, no holiday spirit.
I want it back, that sense of safety and mystery. Perhaps, understanding the nature of my loss, I can regain it a little by listening lightly to the quiet beneath the bustle. Noticing appreciation when it arises, rather than forcing myself into an "attitude of gratitude." Allowing the grace of the season to fall like a snowflake onto dry grass, or land like a chickadee on the feeder - not forcing or bursting forth, but just sensing the grace present and allowing it to be in a moment of thanks.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Elusive Holliday Spirit
Written by Clea Danaan
Clea Danaan grew up in the Pacific Northwest; she now lives in Colorado. she is the author of five books relating to nature-centered spirituality and natural family living. She writes about nature mysticism, chickens, homeschooling, permaculture, and more. Her books have been published in more than six countries and translated into several languages, including French and German.