Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bah, humbug!
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.

"When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart." Howard Thurman


  1. Thank you for sharing these feelings, and for the reminder to treasure shadow.

  2. I am in kinship with you about this Christmas frenzy and have an identical irritablility and luckily, a patient husband. I feel like someone on the outside looking in... but quite happy to be separate from the consumerism.

    As much as I love the connection with family and friends, I have to remind myself (and them) that ancient people came together against the darkness and to celebrate the return of Light and Life. Many of the old rituals and traditions that have become "Christmas" are rooted in this intention.

    Wishing all a deep and deserved pause at this time of stillness in the natural world.

    A quote on my Yogi teabag this morning,"One of the best actions we can take, with courage, is to relax".

  3. Oriah,

    It's funny how the oddest things can strike you sometimes. For the last couple of weeks I have had this conviction about getting rid of the television. And I keep running across articles or find myself in conversations where the idea keeps coming up. And finally, this morning, my partner and I discussed your blog over breakfast and I brought this to her attention. We collectively decided that this next year will be television-free!! Being in my 30s and having never gone without, it is sure to be a challenge. But I am so excited about what we discover without it!!!! It probably seems silly but it already feels freeing to be rid of such a mind-numbing, "waste" of time!

    I guess "wasting" time, energy, money, etc isn't really just about Christmas. I think most of us do it year-round :-)

    Thank you for that little unexpected push!


  4. You didn't actually have to disclose that you don't like Christmas; keen readers would have successfully picked that up from the content. ;-)

    It's interesting how the over the top lighting and excessive gift-giving exactly parallels our society's increasing avoidance of it's shadow side. It reminds me of how when you're out camping, the bigger the fire you build the less you are able to see anything other than the fire. And as one aspect of our Canadian shadow is the excessive consumption of energy, it's ironic that we do more of what we're trying to block out.

    The old joke comes to mind: "I drink to forget"
    "What are you trying to forget?"
    "That I drink too much."

    My new Christmas greeting: "May all your shadows be visible."

  5. Love the image of camping with the fire going and the darkness beyond getting deeper. Thanks Peter. (and I suppose it was not so much a disclosure as a way of saying- be forewarned- if you don't want to hear about why I don't like Christmas, don't read any further!)

  6. Robin- congrats on the tv decision- although in honest I should say I do have a dvd player and watch movies etc.- although since I can't just flip a switch and channel surf it makes it a more conscious choice. I was once interviewed by a woman who, upon hearing we were not hooked up for TV, asked me in deadly seriousness, "What do you do in the evenings?" She could truly not imagine doing more than cleaning up, putting the kids to bed and collapsing in front of the television until she went to bed. Will be interesting to see what emerges for you. (And to be fair, I should say that one of the reasons we are not hooked up for TV is that, given a chance, I WILL channel surf for hours.)

  7. Well, I might as well just jump into this with both feet - I love Christmas. I abhor the commercialism, the frantic buying, overeating, the cards, elaborate tree, etc. It tires me just to think of it. However, I love some of the more meaningful things that come with the season.

    This morning I wrapped a few Christmas presents for my husband, and as I placed them under the tree I remembered a Christmas years ago that was especially joyful. I suppose as one gets older and has suffered the loss of loved ones that memories become precious, especially this time of the year.

    My parents were very simple people who loved Christmas and all the celebrating that went with it. This was especially true of my mother who delighted in surprising everyone with the gifts she carefully and lovingly chose. One of her favorite packaging for these gifts were shoe boxes. Being a child during the depression my mother was a firm believer in never throwing anything away, especially shoe boxes. We each knew that we would have at least one shoe-box-gift under the tree.

    On this one particular Christmas all the gifts had been handed out but one. Yes, as you might have guessed it was a lovely wrapped shoe box. However, there was no name on the box. My mother was confused and concerned. She seemed to remember she had wrapped it, but could not think of what she had wrapped. It was only fitting that she open it. As we all waited impatiently, she gently lifted the lid to find a pair of black pumps, her black pumps, the ones she had been searching for for weeks.

    Of course it was funny, but when the joking and teasing died down, my mother was still sitting there in utter delight, realizing that something that meant a great deal to her had been found. Perhaps, I wonder, if she did not think it her best gift.

    I seem to have a tendency to find meaning in many events and experiences of my life, especially those that seem ordinary. This Christmas, as the winter closes in and the new year is just around the corner, I wonder about those parts of myself that I seemed to have misplaced and can't seem to find. Sometimes in the quiet alone moments I think that they have died or been taken from me by loss, unwellness, and many of the challenges my life has had to face.

    I think sometimes this world we live in has become so wrapped in political, social, economic and religious issues that perhaps we have forgotten the precious gift of our humanity. It seems to be hidden among power, greed, noble ideals, commercialism, and many of those absolutes that we seem to hold.

    Since being married to my husband, thirty eight years and counting, I have learned the beauty of the simple ceremony of lighting the hanukkah candles. He reads the Hebrew, I read the English. It is just the two of us.

    On the night of December 21 we will build a small fire in the firepit he bought for me, in the backyard of our modest home in our simple neighborhood. (Hope the neighbors don’t call the fire department, or perhaps I should invite them over).

    The meaning that we can find during this time depends a lot on us, what lies within our heart, what gives light to our soul. I am greatly touched by the quote of Howard Thurman. After all the celebrating, ceremonies, and special times, my own personal hope is that I will find within me a gift I can offer to myself, my neighbors, the world, and do it all year round.

  8. Thanks for the great stories. Sounds like you don't "waste" one minute of all that this season can be!

  9. The time I spent in deep reflection during the last solstice season literally saved me this year. I went through tremendous amounts of change this year that I would have run screaming from had I not spent the last solstice finding myself in the dark and bringing that person into the light of the new year. It is for this reason that the holiday season is something I notice little of as I return once more to my inward world. I'm very excited that this year I am now a member of a UU church that is allowing its pagan group to do a solstice service. It is a wonderful journey of song that reminds us of the cycles and to celebrate the return of light.

  10. I love this post, it means so much to me, only because I face my own little darkness and your invitation came at the exact perfect time for me - so one of many lights. Unlike you though I enjoy the vibe around these festivities ... and I don't even like shopping!! But perhaps that is because I am in the most beautiful city in South Africa (Cape Town) where there are lots of visitors and 21 December is our summer solstice - so we have sun and lots of light until 9pm. However, as synchronicity would have it, even though my darkness starts tomorrow - my first of 8 months of chemo which I am a little apprehensive about - I am full of faith and awe as to how my HP always provides strength to get me through ... and today is the perfect example with the arrival of your invitation - I love your work and secretly pretend that I write as good as you sometimes - hehe ... anyhooo ... you will definitely get a mention in my blog tomorrow before the big needle trip, so if you wish to see what a gift you are to the world over - then check out what I have to say on my blog. I am sure you can access it via my name. What a humbling honour it must be for you to touch so many ... with respect I send you lots of light too

  11. Oriah,

    Everytime I read something new that you have written I actually have to stop and get quiet and still, very still as I read and absorb what your saying.... And during this time, almost every time, I feel like I am reading my own thoughts that somehow have found their way to your pen, or keyboard, as it It amazes me at times how closely similar we think and feel. You do a much better job at expressing this on paper, or screen. My thoughts and feelings on this time of year almost identically reflect yours, with some subtle differences. My evergreen tree is decorated in a "Winter" theme and not a "Christmas" theme. I even have a snowy white owl perched on one of the top branches....ironically the Owl is my spirit guide. I too use this time in the cool, quiet winter, with in the cloister of my home, to just be still, with myself and the world around me. I love to do this for hrs on end and really just get quiet and listen for the voice which calls out to me, has since I was a small child, and then just spend time with the voice, that which you have referred to as "something larger then ourselves", is shared solitude. Its my favorite thing to do this time of year. So I am with you whole heartedly on this one old friend. Once again, like many times before, you have somehow gotten in my head and my heart and shared with the world how I how it has always seemed to me. Its like your my twin soul. I have never met anyone who can do this with me other than you....and you can do it from hundereds of miles away....your good!!! I will keep you and Jeff and the boys in my prayers this "Winter" season and my prayer will be one that much light, comes out of the darkness of winter to light your path into and beyond in the new year. Peace to you old friend, and may you dance in beauty to the bright lights that will surround you and your loved ones.


  12. Dear Oriah,
    I agree with you entirely. The soul of Christmas is hard to find these days... But perhaps with less money in their pockets, people will be forced to shift the emphasis away from lavish gifts and gluttonous feasts.
    We have opted to divert our Christmas budget to a charity, for example, rather than fraction it up into lots of useless little "thought that counts" presents. We probably risk offending some people but then again we may inspire them to do the same next year!
    Thank you for shining your light by sharing the true essence of Christmas.

  13. May you find the darkness a place of soul dreaming.
    May you remember the promise of the returning light..

    Ohh I *love* this, and Im gonna hold onto it for awhile,thanks for sharing.

  14. Dear Sister Oriah,
    Thank you for the many blessings of light you share with us. My world is a richer place for your presence in it.

    I love this quote from your web site:

    "Your true nature as human beings is compassionate, and this essential nature makes you capable of being intimately and fully present. Who you really are is enough."

    Reading it, I feel powerful healing energies awaken within me. And what emerges is this question: What does it look like to be ruthlessly honest and infinitely kind toward my own and others' strengths and weaknesses?

    In gratitude & love,
    Bodhi Goforth
    Eugene, OR USA

  15. I struggle a bit with Christmas too...Yesterday I was with some people who were taking time out to "pause" in all the business and we talked about what Christmas meant to all of us. I shared that what is most meaningful to me are the lights. I love the pinpoints of light in such a dark time. It reassures me, metaphorically, that in our own "dark times" there are also pinpoints of light, often offered to us by others.

    Today I was in a high school Christmas assembly (supply teaching) and witnessed an impromptu celebration of lights that just made my day. The students filling the darkened gymnasium were appreciative of all the performances being offered in this assembly and showed it with enthusiastic clapping and hooting. But one performance had a different effect on them. A girl belted out a gutsy version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and as she did the gym got quieter and the kids started waving their lit-up cell phones in the air. It was beautiful.

  16. Oh this is so me Oriah I don't like Xmas at all, even though here in Australia it is the middle of Summer it still seems to be too hot to be rushing around holding a pseudo celebration that has lost any meaning it might have had. MidSummer Solstice is not the time to be looking at fake snow and jolly fat men in oversized coats!

    At this time of year I feel a need to dance in the moonlight and get going on new adventures and I find the whole Xmas thing too traditional and stuffy.

  17. "Today I saw a quote by African-American theologian and philosopher Howard Thurman"
    why not:
    "Today I saw a quote by theologian and philosopher Howard Thurman"?
    Why include African American?

  18. Good question. I mulled for a bit. When I saw another wonderful quote by this man I did not have a clue who he was. When I googled him and read descriptions of his life and work a big part of that was as civil rights activist who came to his motivation for social justice (which this quote reflects) out of a combination of his religious faith and experiences as an African American man. He is no longer alive. I think I included his identity this way because, reading about his, I felt this was an important part of his sense of his own identity. I could very well be wrong about that- and certainly the quote loses nothing if we only know his name, or even if it was credited to H Thurman (and we didn't know the author's gender.) Thanks of the question- raises interesting questions about what role identity plays.

  19. I've always loved the season until recently. It's good to know that I'm not the only odd one. :)

    The true meaning is important to me but the hustle and all of the financial and emotional drama is not!

    I too found Peter's analogy with the fire very thought-provoking.

  20. "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." ... How relevant this is. Why do we forget, while moving around in the dark trying so hard to find our way out, that this is simply a process, like any other process - and that being 'in the dark' is as critical to our growth as shining in the light? You have such a poetic way of sharing Truth. Thank you ...

  21. "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair".

    Whether in solitude or with with wide world or during your in-between times of pause...the Earth is perfectly positioned to give you that sense of balance and peace.

    Nurture that spark and come alive in whatever way you feel you should, for the world needs people who have come alive!

    For the friends who have kept me feeling so alive, I quote Gibran again:

    "In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed".

    Happy New Year Oriah and everyone else on this blog.

    Love & Light, Michelle

  22. This is my first look at the blog and, whaddya know? Synchronicity!!! I saw the quote at the end of the 12/16 entry & realized it was on the order of service of my UU church on Cape Cod this past Christmas eve -- I cut it out of the order of service & stuck it on my fridge. The quote was also used to end a recent service at my church, one that was filled with beautiful music. How amazing to find it here today! Thank you!