Christmas, a Primer

IMG_8292Well, here we are again.
I know Christmas must be coming because my mail box is crammed with catalogs. These books, magazines, and TV shows too, with all their commercials are so helpful: they point out to me just what I need to celebrate Christmas. According to these sources, if you have enough money, you can buy Christmas, you really can. Then there are the PBS kinds of programs that are touting what might be called the anti-commercial Christmas. According to them, having a good Christmas is all about family crisis, deal with it in just the right way and the meaning of life will be revealed to you. Most of us will never have the money we are being asked to spend on Yuletide cheer and (hopefully), we don’t have any trouble in the relationship department, so what are we going to do for the holidays this year?

The more the media streams into your house, the more unsatisfying your Christmas plans are going to look. Listen long enough and suddenly the decorations and gifts you thought were just perfect are not nearly enough and what could you have been thinking? When we are shown endless images of elegant homes, alight and festooned with every kind of greenery, and underneath twin ten foot tall trees, dozens of brightly wrapped cutting edge presents sit, it’s far too easy to get the Martha Stewart Complex. How can we compete with that? Not when we face our crummy little living rooms with the scuffed window sills and a crooked tree hung with homemade egg carton ornaments. A décor consisting of a plastic wreath, a papier-mâché Santa Claus, and a couple red candles bought back in 1985.

Of course decorations are always nice but, how many do we need to feel festive? If ideal images get implanted in our heads and let’s face it people, Madison Ave is counting on its cash box that they will, expectations for this holiday season are soon sent into the stratosphere. We’ll push ourselves onto a treadmill of shopping, cleaning, baking, and decorating. The errands will be endless, and we won’t even know we had Christmas at all.

If Christmas is really in our hearts how do we find it? We can start by looking at what we have, instead of what we don’t. Comparing our lives to anyone else’s is never going to give us any satisfaction. Turn it off, turn it all off. If we’re being barraged by the Christmas media blitz, we won’t be able to hear our own voice, let alone follow it. We, each of us, know how to personally celebrate this time of year, what feels fun and right to us and our respective families. No one can tell us what makes or breaks a holiday but us.

A tree, a bowl of pinecones, a few cookies, almost anyone around here can have that and it’s all good. Open the curtain and include some sensational outdoor scenery in all your finishing touches. Whatever you do to spruce up (pun intended), the place though, it won’t matter a darn if the family is fighting and you’re stressed or depressed. Harmony is the result of relaxation. On Christmas we want to wave that wand and have everything perfect. We’re always stalking that childhood place in our memory, (ether real or imagined) where for one magical moment everything was perfect. That is the truth too: it was a moment.

Moments and our observation of them, freeze time and give us an awareness of life. Suddenly we see some implicit wholeness in everything, a symmetry where we have a place and even belong. Forget the greeting cards, moments have the power to give us all the emotional messages we’re longing to receive right now: the excitement of a rebirth, the thrill of nature’s majesty, the joy of knowing we are loved. Catch a moment and discover a way to deepen the meaning inherent in any season.

Even though they don’t last very long, moments grow into vivid memories that become an important part of our lives. I remember Christmas Eve a few years ago, I was shoveling the mailbox out of yet another snow bank when, a gust of wind blew a great clump of snow from one of the tallest fir trees, sunlight caught the shower and turned it into a curtain of diamond brilliance. A million white stars flew through a cobalt sky and swirled around me, the show was breathtaking. With that wind, I was thrust into a moment, standing on a winter road, in the middle of the world, alive, aware, and dazzled. At that moment I thought: Christmas is here, right here and I didn’t have to do a thing. There was a mystery there that I don’t’ pretend to completely understand.

Now of course, we can’t wander around the woods all day looking for some spectacular spontaneous display. We can’t predict magic, but we can stand still and be open to it. Christmas is above all, a feeling. One we won’t feel if we are too busy thinking of what we have to do next. If we’re sharing some time by the tree with family and friends, walking around in the snow, drinking a cup of cocoa by the window, or watching the birds, our feelings will have free rein. These are the moments that will give us a quiet chance to hear what is in our own heart. In that space of time, without any help from advertisers, we’ll know just what makes the wonder of Christmas, Solstice or Hanukkah and we won’t have to go shopping for it anywhere because it’ll be right there, with a reverence.

Here’s wishing you all a holiday season filled with your own magic moments.