Tag Archives: Christmas

Reflections ~ Thoughts on a Holiday in Transition

This has been a rough year on a several levels for myself, and the world around me. Icons that we looked up to have left us. Emotional and heart-rending votes were taking place in a number of countries, and violence continues to take so many in circumstances few of us really understand, or stop to figure out. When the world is jumbled up around us, we sometimes seek peace in the smaller things, the smaller world, that we know. All the hubbub of this year drove me back to basic ideas, places where I knew compromise was not an option. It also walked me through the morning after. These are my vaguely connected thoughts on a Christmas in transition.

This blog started with a desire to explain something of why Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah means so much to me; what it says to me that touches me so. Leonard Cohen, a Canadian musician, song writer, and novelist, acquired several prestigious awards. He is one of those we lost this past year. One of the magical things about this piece is the flexibility it provides. Cohen provided a framework with references to King Saul, King David, and Sampson, and led us through one of life’s mysteries: how can love be so precious and yet, sometimes, so painful. There have been dozens of lyrics added to the framework and the melody, some by Cohen himself, some by others. It is a melody and a theme that touches many, perhaps even with some understanding. My favorite line (if a favorite is possible): “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and broken Hallelujah.”

Why? I don’t see it as a bleak condemnation of genuine relationships, I see it as an honest admission that however passionate we may be, however perfect our union may be, life can and does interfere, and yet we find the joy of a hallelujah, and when things are not as hoped, we find a way to move on.

The final scene in the play J. B. by Archibald MacLeish has the characters picking up the tossed stage props and beginning to restore order. The play is a free-verse modernized interpretation of the Biblical book of Job. After all the devastation J. B. and his family face, the near loss of his wife, and the heart-rending self-examination of “where did I go wrong,” J. B. and his wife pick up the pieces and begin to rebuild. That’s who we are as human beings, when everything is taken from us, we begin again. It is only when we are honest with ourselves that we can admit, whatever praise we offer is a broken hallelujah.

That leads me to my Christmas, which I spent alone, in my own cocoon. Due to the fortunate convergence of a Christmas bonus and a radically priced clearance desk, I decided to restructure my office. First of all, I am not very good with change, especially in my workplace. This was a major deal for me. Second, the desk that was going away had been a birthday present from my husband. It is old, it was battered, it needed to move on – however difficult that might be. As I assembled the new desk, I found that a few screws for knobs and handles were missing. That means a few pieces of the old desk are with me still. I also made the choice to begin using my husband’s office chair. It took me three days to complete the transition and it was a journey of fond, and painful memories, of moving forward, of broken hallelujahs.

before

To me, the thought I wish most to hold on to from this brief reflective time is that we can learn from where we are, and then move forward. We cannot surrender simply because things didn’t work out as we hoped, we re-visit who we are and stay true to that image, picking up the pieces, and moving forward.

after

I have no idea why the picture is tilted – perfectly square on the wall. 🙂

Fair journey, my friends. Know that the universe does not revolve around our own special views, wishes, or even needs, and that is okay. Because we are human, with reason, logic, and passion, we can pick up the pieces and begin again.

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My Tree of Memories

The season is upon us. All of the celebrations that our species has come up with that center around the return of the sun are swirling around us. A carefully tracked and joyful expectation as the giver of life begins its slow journey back to warmth and longer days. Solstice this year is the 22nd of December, a few brief days before the sun will reach 1 degree along its return path, the mark of the ancient day of Saturnalia.  Many Christians do not realize that this time of year was chosen for the celebration of the birth of Christ because the Roman Saturnalia was an excellent cover for gift exchanges, celebration of the renewal of light—the return of the Son. It is, however, quite appropriate.

 

It is also a time of reflection. My tree is a tree that hubby and I purchased in Canada. A great deal offered by Canadian Tire that served us well for a number of years. This is number seven, I believe. There were years when all he really wanted was the small white lights that glowed in our darkened living room; and years when he wanted us to hang everything we could load onto the poor thing. It is a tree of memories.

IMG_1629

Hanging from its branches this year is a hodgepodge of years past. There is even an angel from my very first Christmas, handmade ornaments, gifts from friends, bits from office parties, ornaments that I don’t even remember where they came from – souvenirs from sharing. That, I think, is what Christmas trees are all about. The excitement of Christmas mornings, the quiet of warm evenings with hot tea or cocoa and music—memories captured in the glow of Christmas lights.

This will be the last year for this tree. Somewhere along the line this year I made a non-decision to avoid additions. This is a year for memory. A year that has gone relatively well, all things considered, even though I still step on landmines; and find myself somewhere else, somewhen else.

I have learned, in this journey, that there are friends you never realized were there. There are families made of caring people who suddenly, without prompting, check to see how your day is going. There are people that smile at you for no particular reason. I try very hard to be one of those people. I know how much it means.

This is a time a year that I find both joyful, and sad. This part is nothing new. While we all run around and try to ensure that our version of the season is first and foremost in everyone’s mind, we need to remember that there are those that really don’t care what you call it; their days are the same, lost, hungry, cold, or afraid. On that scale, I am a very, very lucky lady.

So, I must ask my friends, my readers, to take this time of year to seek the magic moment, the moment of sharing. It doesn’t have to be much – it just needs to be human. When asked how to tell a child who God was I suggested this. When you see someone reaching out to help someone in need – when you see a smile that draws a smile from someone else – when you touch a heart that is aching – in that moment – when you see the connection – that is the face of God. (and not that breakfast sausage guy) Be a spark that creates that moment.

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Reflections ~ Snow is Magic

Front SmallA strange statement from a person who lived in Calgary, Alberta for five years.  There, snow was magic for the first, oh, two hours and mostly on a weekend.  Most of the time it was inconvenient, annoying, even dangerous.  I remember one “first of the season” storm when I was still riding the bus.  I walked in my front door around 1:30 in the morning.  Nope, not all that magical. But, sometimes, Snow is Magic.

The holidays can be a bit odd around my home.  My husband’s dementia requires that I maintain routine as much as possible to reduce confusion and disruption.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Christmas.  I love finding interesting and needful things for the people in my circle.  I even have a pile of Christmas cards somewhere in this office that should find their way to the postal service in the next few days.  But that is all “somewhere else.”  Here inside our home things are very quiet.  That is, until it snowed.

houses smallWe now live in the Pacific Northwest.  It doesn’t snow all that much here.  In fact, we can go a whole winter without seeing so much as a flake.  I haven’t missed it, as you can imagine, until it snowed.

Friday morning, as it became light enough to see outside, I realized that we had received enough snow for it to stick.  Everywhere.  And suddenly the magic of the season invaded my heart, my mind, my home.  I’m ready to put up our twinkling little tree and work through a menu that I know my husband will eat even though Rock Cornish Hens and some of the other sauce-covered dishes would go untouched.  I always get him something for Christmas, some small thing that does not disrupt his sense of what is his.  He doesn’t do all that well with new anything.  However Einstein is his superhero so Einstein calendars are always a hit (even if time is something that is beyond his grasp).  Sometimes we find there is a way to touch the past, as we did during that brief, bright moment last year.

Our street exhibits a number of light shows.  One of the nights I had to drive him around the block so he could “come home” he remarked on all the commotion.  I mentioned that it was Christmas and some people liked to celebrate by decorating their homes.  Teaching the unteachable, learning not to blame or frustrate, finding peace in little things.  That is what the season is about, right? Finding peace?

So, you see, holidays usually march their quiet way through our lives, noticed but not necessarily absorbed in every aspect.  But, then it snowed.  And the magic filled our home.

I have a tradition this time of year, to spend time thinking on the ways that I can make the world a slightly better place, in some small way.  You might want to check out some previous posts.  One quotes one of the most enduring statements of “things desired,” the Desiderata, one talks about ways we can help others by spreading a bit of magic into their lives.

Tree Small Have a Merry Christmas, Blessed Yule and solstice, (belated) Hanukah, Boxing Day and New Year.  Wherever and whatever you celebrate remember to look for the magic.  And pass it around.  Yes, Snow is Magic.

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Reflections ~ Holiday Haunts

I am always conflicted when it comes to holidays.  It may be in part due to the historian in me.  I’m always poking into closets and behind the curtains to see what there is to know about origins and metamorphosis.  Consequently, I often find the unpleasant aspects of things we have learned to cherish.  A few examples might be appropriate.

Turkey

Courtesy of WANA Commons & Patti O’Shea

Christmas is not about the birth of Christ.  The celebrations that the human species have established during the winter solstice are varied and have changed and morphed throughout the millennia.  These celebrations usually centered on the return of longer days, the change in seasons.  December 25th (or so) is the date that the sun has returned a full degree into the sky and all the priests knew it was “coming back,” although a long winter may still be in the offing.  Christians used a time of celebrations and gift giving to allow the open celebration of the coming of Christ.  Jesus, you see, was actually born in the spring.

Easter.  I think my awakening on this account came the year I realized I was celebrating a risen Savior nearly a full month before the Passover.  Ummm, wait a minute.  Isn’t it supposed to be, Last Supper, Night of Passing the Buck, Crucifixion, burial, missing body.  How could the calendar get so jumbled up this was all in reverse mode?  That would be because Easter, as it is celebrated in the Western World, has little to do with Passover.  It is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. It is the ancient fertility festival of planting, new life and the hearts of young men and women. Oh, and ham would have been the LAST thing on the mind of a cook for a Passover meal.

I try to ignore Columbus Day as much as I can, usually referring to it as Yellow-Fever Day.  Sorry, but Columbus did not discover America (lots of people were here already and Europeans and Asians had been making the trip for centuries).  His arrival was, however, the spark that led to centuries of slavery and systematic eradication of native culture and history.  And natives.

So, full circle and here we are at Thanksgiving.  Pilgrims and “Indians,” lots of food and wonderful harvest and all that.  Except that it wasn’t.  The very first Thanksgiving was the celebration of a massacre sparked by the death of one individual.  It’s not terribly clear what he died of.  In many ways the holiday is quite offensive to Native Americans.  By some twist of strange psychology I know this and accept this but still see great value in the focus of the holiday.  Perhaps it’s because for me the origins provide an even deeper reason to stop, contemplate and share.

The holidays are a very stressful season and usually open wide familial wounds and conflicts.  It is evidently not true that suicides and depression increase during this time of year, (NYU Langone Medical) If there are any issues it is with the “Winter Blues.” But there is still stress. I have, in years past, found my own way of seeking peace on this day of reflection. Perhaps, in part, because I know that good fortune is sometimes at the cost of another’s loss.

Some years ago I was one of the founders and operators of a private retreat property in Montana.  It was our practice to open our doors on major holidays to anyone and everyone that would come.  It was not necessary to bring anything, just come.  I would cook for 2, sometimes 3 days to prepare for the event and we would end up borrowing dishes and utensils from all over the place. I remember one Thanksgiving when we managed to convince a Viet Nam veteran to visit.  He braved the encounter and by the end of the day he was the favorite uncle of all the younger children.  A substitute family, but one that brought him joy.  You see, that is what Thanksgiving means to me.

Visit a neighbor, a friend, a family member.  Avoid the stores at all costs.  If you eat out think of some way to thank those who gave up their holiday to serve you.  Find a way to support those in America with far less.  Maybe add to a local food bank as millions of Americans see a cut in their food stamp support.  Smile, hug, hold a door open.  Stop, for just one day and appreciate what you have and seek ways to share it. There is always someone else with less, someone who paid for your bounty.

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Reflections ~ 12-25-12 The Pages of Our Minds

IMG_0965 Christmas.  A time of memories, a time of joy, and a time of sadness.  As magical as it all seems it often reminds us of those who cannot be with us for any number of reasons; sometimes the reason is permanent.  Today the curtain pulled back for me, just a bit, but enough to give me some small joy and to wonder yet again at the marvels of the human mind.

Most of my fans are aware by now that I am a caregiver for my husband who has vascular dementia.  The diagnosis was given some time ago now.  I believe it was early in 2011 followed by a major change in his capacity in May of the same year.  Our lives have been quite different and at least some part of that is recorded in my little book, Who I Am Yesterday.

In that book I describe some of the ways I have learned to cope.  There are also blogs on this site that try to explain that we do still have moments that can be enjoyed, times when things are, well, almost normal and days when it is trying.  Today was beyond normal; it was magical.

We have a few Christmas CDs that we have always loved.  Boston Pops, a Jazz version of some favorites, a few chorals and then there is the Nutcracker.  He was having trouble following a few things and I managed to get his hearing aids in; to his amazement he realized how different things did sound.  I asked him if he remembered taking me to the Nutcracker all those years ago.  His immediate response was yes.

Not too long after that he came to me and said he didn’t know how to explain it but he knew he had taken me to see the Nutcracker but couldn’t remember actually doing it.  Did I understand?  I told him I thought I did.  He remembered he was supposed to remember; or there was knowledge of doing something but not quite feeling it.  He agreed and, as an experiment, we started to take a bit of a walk down memory lane.  I started with when we met and in a few paragraphs brought us up to date.  He said, “I remember that it happened, but I don’t remember it happening.  Why can’t I remember?”  I explained that just before we visited Vancouver Island (yes, I remember) the doctor had him take a test (yes, I remember that too) and it seems that you are losing some of your memory.  “Oh.  But do you still want to be with me?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, quite.”

How incredibly fascinating that the human mind can develop these pathways where one type of clue, one piece of “connection” can open a path, however narrow, to the pages in our minds.  I think one of the reasons that I do find our life an adventure is because I am always discovering something new about how the mind works.  Some secret little door that I did not see before.

Our conversation continued for some time.  There were other things he remembered, even if the details did not come through.  For a good portion of the day we touched the past – and it was beautiful.  Yes, I believe in Christmas miracles.  I really do.

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Reflections ~ The night before the night before and things are still stirring….

Hubble2So this is Christmas.  It is a time of year that some feel is quite magical while others shudder at the sound of the word.  Some people find much joy, and some suffer from uncontrollable depression.  It is a time of year when we find friends and family, and when we miss those no longer with us.  It is intense and liberating all at once.  There are many reasons for this and they go back to the beginning of human history.  So, it’s time for a history lesson and those that know me would expect nothing less.  You see, Jesus is a reason, but not the reason for the season.  No, you may not burn me at the stake; I must fix breakfast in the morning.

I truly love “digging around” in our ancient history and finding the roots of our most cherished beliefs and traditions.  Those that have remained with us are rich with meaning and it is not an accident that layer upon layer has been added as our culture and our understanding change.  The journey to learn about our December festivals begins millennium ago when we were an agricultural people and our lives depended on the coming and going of the seasons.  Life or death could come based on when things were planted and harvested.  So we studied the skies.  Long before we knew that the earth was round we knew that the sun changed its behavior.  We knew that there was a “shortest” day of the year and a “longest” day as measured by the time the sun was over the horizon.  I could not find any references to earlier names but in Latin we call these dates solstices.  The winter solstice is that day of the longest night in the northern hemisphere and always falls on December 21 or 22 of each year.

This was an important time and was a natural time to celebrate.  Whatever it was called by the ancient cultures, the term “solstice” derives from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).  This was the time when the sun “stopped” and reversed its direction to rise again above the horizon.  December 25 would be the point when the sun had risen a full degree above the horizon and the people could be assured that it was indeed “coming back.”

There is a reason that depression can be so prevalent this time of year.  Our bodies need vitamin D.  When we don’t get enough sunlight we lose vitamin D and it affects our attitude.  Scientists have studied people living in the far northern climes for a number of years and they find the phenomena quite common – we need sunlight and when we don’t get it we get depressed (and sometimes a little wonky).  (Note: “Wonky” is a lovely Canadian word meaning not quite right).  The return of the sun was important for any number of reasons, all most all of them an integral part of life itself.

As civilizations grew, the meaning and purpose of the solstice grew.  The celebration of Saturnalia (the king of the gods) was celebrated by the Romans this time of year.  It started on December 17 and eventually extended to December 23.  It was a time for public banquets and private gift giving.  Heralded as the festival of lights, it led up to the winter solstice.  A time announced as the renewal of light and the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun (Sol Invictus).  The Roman emperor Aurelian established this feast at December 25.  Celebrations turned the world upside down as slaves were served by masters, grudges were forgotten and schools and courts were closed.

From Scandinavia we have the Norse tradition of Yule which lasted for 12 days.  That should sound familiar.  It was during this time that the Norse celebrated the rebirth of the sun gods and the increasing light upon the earth.  In some countries the Yule log was burned to ashes and spread in the fields, in others a small piece was preserved to light the Yule log in the next year.  In Poland the ancient solstice celebrations included forgiveness and sharing of food.

Christians did not celebrate the holiday until 354 AD.  There are several proposed reasons that this particular date was chosen.  Keep in mind that the only religious holidays left to us by the apostles were Jewish holidays and these were presumed to be a foreshadow of the coming of Christ. Even Passover, the ultimate symbol of sacrifice, was converted to Easter.  Thus, without an historical basis, some appropriate time of feast and festival need to be selected.  As far as the actual birthday of Jesus, the general consensus (such as one is possible) is that it was most likely sometime in the spring, between March and May.  This is determined in part by the only hint in scripture which has the shepherds “watching their flocks at night.”  The hills above Bethlehem are entirely too cold to care for flocks of sheep at night in the middle of December.  The herds were moved to the hills in the spring.

Is this a bad thing that the birth of Christ is celebrated in the midst of so many pagan celebrations worshiping the rising of the sun?  Does it matter that we are still having academic and theological arguments over whether or not Christians “stole” the holiday?  Historical evidence points to two things.  People have been celebrating the winter solstice in a variety of ways as far back as history goes and what evidence we have indicates that Jesus was born in the spring.  However, all the richness of the combined holidays and feasts of this one week in December carry many symbols and lessons that can be applied to the birth of a child called the true light of the world.  All the many centuries of traditions expressing this as a time of forgiveness, sharing, peace, return or birth of light do no harm in developing a Christian observance.  It is a time of year that the human race has celebrated as a time of renewal since we started to plow our fields.  Why shouldn’t it be used to celebrate the “Lord of Peace,” the “Light of the World” especially since we don’t have a specific date for the birth of a child named Jesus?  I will admit that the wanton parties seem a bit inappropriate; and we still manage to practice that part with great verve.

Another tradition that is practiced at this time of year is Hanukkah.  This too is a festival of lights with a meaningful past.  The story is told in the Books of the Maccabees (apocryphal books of the Bible).  During the reign of Aniochus IV Epiphanes, a revolt of the Jews was crushed, the temple ransacked and Jewish religious practices forbidden.  After the decree was issued, a priest by the name of Mattahias initiated a revolt by refusing to worship the Greek gods.  He ended up fleeing to the wilderness with his five sons.  After his death (cir 166 BCE) his son Judas Macaabee led in a victorious gorilla insurrection against the Seleucid armies, regaining control of Israel.  After entry into Jerusalem, the Maccabees cleansed the temple and determined to re-institute the Jewish religious practices. There was only one problem.  The sacred oil that was to be burned in the temple had been profaned and there was only enough for one day.  The process to press and sanctify the oil took eight full days.  The lamps were lit anyway and, miraculously, the oil lasted the eight days needed to restore the temple’s supply.  This is the basis for the eight days of Hanukkah.  It is a celebration of provision, of re-dedication, of light.  Although the celebration of Hanukkah varies on the Gregorian calendar (December 8-16 this year) throughout the month of December, it is still a fitting feast for this time of year.

I think it is very important for us to understand how some of our hopes and fears, joys and sadness, wonders and even prayers are expressed in different ways as our world changes.  So, even though Jesus is not the reason for the season, the hope and purpose He represents to so many is certainly a major reason for the season.  Perhaps we should view this season as a time to focus on renewal, rebirth, forgiveness, sharing; all the things that our past tells us is symbolized in the birth of the sun, or the Son.  Let those Christmas carols stir  your heart and give you hope; they are, in many ways, universal.

Please, have Merry Christmas or whatever festival you celebrate this season and pass on some “peace and goodwill.”  As a special present I will post two offerings this week.  On Christmas Eve we will explore the historical adventures of Santa Claus.  Guess what?  He really did exist.

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Reflections ~ November, 2012 continued

Short apology for missing things this past weekend.  I’m afraid my work life has been a bit intense of late.  I will be back with a post this weekend.  In the meantime, I thought I would share a tradition of mine for Thanksgiving weekend.  It always seemed a quiet time before the onrush of the Christmas season.  A bit of reflection, a bit of preparation.  Sometimes, if I’m not spending hours in the kitchen, I actually start to prepare for the upcoming season by sorting out Christmas card lists, thinking about what I will decorate (no, I wait until much closer to Christmas to actually do so), and what the year has meant to me.  This year’s Christmas card reflects that to some extent.  So, to make up for my absence last weekend, here is a bit of art from my friend PansyLee VanMeereren and a bit of verse from me:

A year of change

A year the same

Memories lost

Moments gained

Fears conquered

Goals achieved

A season

To reflect

The reason

To believe

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