It’s cold and it’s dark. Thanksgiving was late, so it feels like the other holidays are coming early. I’m having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit – for any of the holidays. Yule is fast approaching. The winter solstice, the longest night of the year, is this week. All I want to do is crawl under the covers.
Maybe it’s the politics. Maybe it’s the news stories. Maybe it’s just a general sense that certain people feel like they now have permission to be rude, racist, misogynistic and all together nasty. It definitely feels like the longest night.
The thing is, most of the winter holidays are celebrations of hope. They are a coming together of families, of communities. Many of them are directly linked to survival, either as an acknowledgement of the ancestors surviving or as a sacred working towards surviving the rest of the winter.
Both Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrate the faith, perseverance and fortitude of ancestors in the face of insurmountable odds. Even the Christmas story has Mary and Joseph finding shelter where there was none to be had. If our ancestors beat the odds, so can we. We have their support, their example, and when our own faith wains we can lean on theirs.
The Islamic calendar is lunar, without some of the “corrections” in the Jewish calendar that keep festivals seasonal. Currently Muslims are also celebrating the birth of the prophet, not Jesus but Mohammad. Along with the longest night comes the birth of the sun. In Christianity the savior is born. There is hope in the metaphor of birth. There is potential for something better to come along. There is a new way of approaching the world being born.
During the longest night people came together to share stories. Like Hans Christian Anderson’s the Little Match Girl they create visions of the futures they wanted to see. Dreams of sugarplums dance in their heads. They’re visited by ghosts, ancestors, departed friends, spirits with teaching visions. Hearth fires are tended, and gifts are exchanged.
In O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi it is the wise (or foolish) sacrifice that is a gift of love. Yet some of the pressure of our season is that consumer culture that measures how much or how many above how thoughtful, how generous. Finding the “right” gifts, or making them, is often how I come to the spirit of this season. And again, this year that has been more difficult.
I’m finding more seasonal joy in sharing a protein bar with a homeless man on the street corner than in exchanging packages. I’m finding more seasonal joy in being able to encourage a teen I’m driving to school than in writing a holiday letter. I had more fun shopping for my women’s group ritual (where the presents represented themes rather than being for specific people) than I had baking for the family.
I’m hoping for the hope. I’m leaning heavily on tradition to see me through. I’m going through the motions, believing that movement brings movement. I am reminded of being 9 months pregnant, miserable, impatient and not really knowing what the future would bring.
Let the bells ring out. May joy and peace be shared with all. May love and kindness fill the world and vanquish cruelty and hatred. May you all have a blessed holiday season.
Previous blogs about Yuletide: