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)


kerrdelune said...

Marian, we feel the same way - family gifts are kept to an absolute minimum and come from small local craft organizations with a commitment to sustainability and green living. We too celebrate the solstice with a vegetarian meal and a glass of wine, celebrating the return of the light in a place where there is little light at this time of the year.

Tess Giles Marshall said...

Fantastic post, Marian, really helpful for all the Christmas dreaders among us!

Kate Compston said...

Thank you for this. I have a real sense of 'disconnect' even in our own society (where, yes, it can snow appropriately): we stress the glitz and conveniently forget the challenging side of Christmas. I too like to spend the festival quietly, going 'deep' rather than going 'wide'. But it's hard when other members of the family and friends have different priorities. I guess it's always helpful when other people are living by values one shares (or would like to share!)and are happy to talk about this.

Kel said...

your post really resonates with me

born and bred Aussie we had our first white xmas last year while travelling nth america

mr x and i both felt like xmas made more sense in that snowy wintry environment

reading the symbolism link made me slap my forehead and go "of course"

we're both 3rd generation Aussies, but European and English heritage is obviously still working its way out of our genetics :)

janet copenhaver said...

Makes sense to me. Thanks for writing it so eloquently.

Isabel Cuerrier said...

Thank you for this post. It helps me be a better human being in that you've opened my eyes of understanding.
My appreciation and enjoyment of Christmas and all its festivities nearly died when my sixteen year-old daughter Starr was killed in a tragic automobile accident. The arrival of an adopted little girl named Sapphira and two grandbaby girls have changed my perspective. I see and feel their joy. Just today, three and a half year-old Sapphira exclaimed, "This is my best Christmas ever!"
Isabel Cuerrier

Elderwoman said...

Thanks for all these great comments.
@Tess: did you see Louise's great article for 'Christmas dreaders' that I posted about on facebook?
@Kate: you'd probably enjoy that article too, as she talks about the problem you mention re pressures from family and friends. (I’ll add the link to the bottom of my post as I can’t hotlink it here in comments)
@Kel: that's fascinating, your experience in the US last year. Makes good sense though.
@Janet: I bet you have a wonderfully quiet Christmas up there in your beautiful mountains.
@Isabel: thank you for sharing that. You are an inspiration!

Elderwoman said...

Cate, that is exactly the kind of Christmas I would have expected you'd have. Sounds just right. Hugs. M.

Anne said...

A few years ago, I began feeling a disconnect between the true meaning of Christmas and our celebration. I researched the origins of Christmas and was stunned to learn that all of the symbols, rituals and "holy" days are rooted in paganism. The temples, robes, crosses, chants, even decorating tree are all pagan ideas. The nuns neglected to teach us those facts in Catholic school! I can't blame the nuns, I doubt they were taught the truth either. Somehow, the celebration of a beautiful, peaceful, natural event (winter solstice) turned into a stressful, materialistic, nature-destroying event.

I believe if more people understood the origin of our Christmas celebration, they would find a way to celebrate the magic and "holiness" of the season in spiritually "green" ways. Thanks Marian for great tips to "green" up our celebration!

Fay Campbell said...

That post is still echoing around in my brain. It touched me in many ways. This is the first year I've been at peace with the season, perhaps because I'm more comfortable with Pantheism and less angry at so many things. I'd be honored if you read something of mine FaysToo or WantofWords. And you're more than welcome with us, network.pantheist.net.

Ladybug said...

"Hi - I'm new here."

Nice writing, with insightful thoughts. To me, it comes down to really thinking through our feelings and what & where our "traditions" come from. Some resonate loudly with us - some do not. You are absolutely right that each needs to narrow it all down to what is most meaningful to them. I think the difficult part can be bucking the flow of any season and the rampant commercialism/consumerism that accompanies it. Younger folks just sort of go along with it, thinking that's how it's supposed to be. As we mature & grow older, we might choose to be more introspective and analytical and move on from those long-accepted ways of "celebrating."

I'm enjoying your blog very much!

Elderwoman said...

I love the way comments on my posts introduce me to wonderful blogs I hadn't come across before. Thank you.

One Woman's Journey - a journal being written from Woodhaven - her cottage in the woods. said...

Oh my
I am a month late reading your entry. I feel the same way.
Living alone in my cottage by the woods I can celebrate like Cate and you. I think my children and grandchildren like simple way of celebrating.
You mentioned a word that I share with people when asked about my life at this time - the word is

helena said...

Just discovered your blog. Thank you for the Solstice Message. I'm a new blogger, and a new reader of blogs, but hope to link you so that I can be sure and read future posts.