Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Solstice Message

Like most other children, I loved Christmas. I loved the mystery and magic of it, the scent of pine needles, the gifts, the food, the carols and of course the story. And like most other parents, I wanted my children to have the same experience. But in between my own childhood Christmases and my children’s childhood Christmases there was a very big gap: a gap of fifteen years and half a planet.

Oh I did all the same things that my mother had done and my grandmother had done: dressing the tree, hanging the decorations, wrapping the gifts, stuffing the turkey…and I made sure that the magic of Christmas was there for my children, just as it had been for me. It was—or so they tell me. However, it was not the same magic. Because by the time I had children I had relocated from one side of the globe to the other. So my children’s experience of Christmastime was not just the tree and the gifts and the rich food, it was also sunshine, blue skies and long, lazy days on the beach or at the local swimming pool.

It took me a long time to work out exactly why, as the years went by, I found myself disliking Christmas and wishing it did not have to happen. It was only when a friend of mine—an expert on symbolism—pointed out to me that almost all the traditional rituals we had taken with us from Europe to the Antipodes derived from ancient ways of celebrating the winter solstice— the promise of light returning to a dark, winter Earth—that my reaction suddenly made sense. Out there, in the blazing sunshine on the longest day of the year, why would I want to be lighting candles, stringing tinsel, hanging up stars, bringing in an evergreen tree…all those symbolic ways of honouring a midwinter moment?

Every year, I would hear various Australian friends talking about the irony of sending each other cards covered in snow and holly and eating rich, winter food when even the sparrows and mynah birds were wilting in the midsummer heat. “Let’s do it differently next year” they used to say, and everyone would nod and agree. Yet the old ways persisted. It seemed to me that there remained a deep disconnect between the migrants from Europe and the land in which they now moved. I felt it myself. The traditions and rituals we had grown up with didn’t work there but we all seemed incapable of devising new ones appropriate to the place and the season. To do so would require the kind of deep rootedness in the land from which rituals emerge organically, but the roots of many Europeans in Australia are still in the pots they arrived in. It may take centuries for the transplants to be complete.

By the time I came back to live in the Northern Hemisphere—and eventually, in retirement, to my native land—the over-advertised, stressful, jangly consumerfest that Christmas had become had no meaning or interest for me whatsoever. It now felt like something to avoid. At first, I felt like some kind of Scrooge, half guilty for not sharing what for others was still a joy. But as time went on that feeling dropped away, leaving me free to enjoy my own reality and seek my own sources of delight.

Nowadays, my partner and I quietly celebrate the winter solstice in our own small but meaningful ways—a meditative walk in the wintry woods, a glass of wine, a special, simple vegetarian meal at which we give thanks for the miracle of life within and around us, our deep and joyful belongingness to Earth and our faith that the days will once again lengthen and the sun will eventually return, as it does every year, to bathe and warm us with its rays.

What a joy it is to be free to choose. To be free of what the Russian writer Vadim Zeland—author of the much-acclaimed Reality Transurfing series of books—calls a ‘pendulum,’ a force field of communal energy that draws people into its embrace and traps them there. Over the years, dozens of people have told me they dislike Christmas…even dread it. Yet for one reason or another, they remain caught in the energy pendulum that Christmas has become.

This is one of the glorious freedoms we have discovered in our old age: the freedom, finally, to walk away from energy pendulums and do things in ways that are meaningful to us, regardless of what the rest of the world does. We don’t judge anyone else for their choices. For those who love to buy presents, send cards, hang baubles on a tree, pull crackers and eat some kind of bird, Christmas remains the magical experience it always was. And that’s great. For those who derive a special meaning and joy from the tale of a baby born in a stable, it is a special and holy time. Likewise for those who honour the traditions of their ancestors through Chanukah or Kwanzaa. For us, what is special and wonderful is that we no longer feel obliged to join in any of it. And we are fortunate in that, as far as we know, nobody judges us for that choice.

So my wish for you, as 2011 draws to a close and a new year begins, is that you will be happy in your choices and take delight in your freedom to choose.

(PS: Here's a great article on a similar topic, with lots of helpful and practical advice)