In the interests of full disclosure you should know- I don’t like Christmas. Every December I become particularly grouchy, and as I start to grumble about insignificant things my husband Jeff suddenly says, “Oh, right! It’s Christmas.”
What bothers me is the waste: the waste of time and money spent on gifts that people often don’t need and can’t afford; it’s the waste of energy- mostly women’s- as they add shopping and baking and card writing and cooking and hosting to an already full schedule for what cannot possibly feel like a “holiday” to many of them.
But mostly it’s about the waste of the darkness- a time to go inward, to reassess and renew and to remember the promise of the light to come and let this promise lift and sustain us in times of personal darkness.
Christmas- the celebration of the birth of the Light, the Sun Child, the Christ (which predates Christianity and is found in many different religions and cultures)- is at this time of year because December 21, the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, is the longest night. Imagine what this was like for those living before electricity. The days get shorter and shorter and the nights become longer. When I was a child living in Northern Ontario, at this time of year it was dark by four o’clock when we walked home from school making our way across the frozen riverbed, the ice heaving and sighing in the sub-zero temperatures. Birds have gone south, animals hibernate, trees stripped of their leaves appear dead, and the land lays cold and dormant. And on this night, the longest night, there is time for deep ceremonial dreaming that can renew and replenish the soul of the people.
And then- the very next day- the light stays a little longer, the darkness is a little shorter as we make our way back toward spring and the promise of new life. In the darkness we light candles and put lights on trees that are ever-green, to remember the promise- from the mystery, the divine, from nature herself- that the light will return.
So, I just try to side-step the rest of it. I don’t have TV so I don’t see the commercials. I stay away from malls and stores. I do join family and friends for ceremony and good food as we share the darkness and support each other’s dreaming. Together we consider the places in our lives and in our world where we are called to bring light in the upcoming year, and how we might do this in our small human lives. We laugh, we share stories, we catch up and- if we are really open to the light that is being reborn- we remember to tell those around us how much they are loved and appreciated.
Today, I saw a quote by African-American theologian and philosopher Howard Thurman. It made me remember parts of the story I loved as a child (and still love)- the angels, the star, the kings, the shepherds and the birth of the child of light. But it also expressed my own sense of what that story is meant to show us, of how we can use this time of year- in whatever way feeds our heart, mind and soul given our background and tradition- to use the fertile darkness and take the light forward.
May you find the darkness a place of soul dreaming.
May you remember the promise of the returning light.