Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas is Coming

Christmas is coming,
The goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in
The old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny.
a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
God bless you.
-Old English Carol

It's coming on Christmas
they're cutting down trees
putting up reindeer
and singing songs
of joy and peace
I wish i had a river
I could skate away on...
-Joni Mitchell

Christmas is coming, all too quickly for nearly everybody I know. I have been meditating a bit on how I feel this Christmas, and these two songs seem to sum it up. The former is one we sang at Shipley, the all girls school I attended from four to fourteen. I can still see us, in our short, forest green, pleated gym-type uniforms, over long sleeved white cotton blouses, all wearing wite socks, brown tie shoes and our forest green bloomers over clean while undies. There we stood, lined up by height (me at the left end of the back row) singing Ye Olde Englishe Christmas Caroles to our assembled parents, the fathers having been coerced into coming home early (by commuter train) at a time when they would have much rather worked late, then hit the club car before confronting family Christmas duties.

Never mind, I did learn all the words of lots of old British Carols, and they come floating back to me at odd moments of the holiday season. I learned a lot more Advent and Christmas Carols when I sang in my church choir for a decade or so, long ago. I especially love Advent carols. Surprised that this pagan was so active in a church choir? Shouldn't be-I have always been interested in religion, ever since I left my Episcopalian universe for a Quaker boarding school- a study in opposites that sent me on to (eventually) major in Comparative Religion, a truly useful major for a woman planning to be divorced and needing a job badly.

Anyway, as an adult I put in a decade of hard labor in a local church. I don't think anyone else in that church went to more retreats and study groups and Bible courses during that time period. In the end I realized that I kept banging my head on misogyny and homophobia, with which the same denomination is still struggling to this day. Good thing I didn't hang out, waiting for change. In reality, by the time I left the church, the Goddess, the feminine side of the Divine, had claimed me, and I could no more refuse Her than Paul on the road to Damascus could deny his own, more dramatic calling.

As I hum the first song, I think about the historical Jesus and his birth story. More than two millennium later, we know something of the outcome of this birth to a young single mother, already in labor, riding a donkey into a strange town teeming with others vying for room and board, all because of some governmental regulation about taxes. Mary (a Goddess figure if there ever was one) didn't know about Christmas or Christianity, she just gave birth in the straw, accepted first, shepherds, then (no doubt) curious townies, followed by three Kings bringing offerings of unthinkable wealth, along with a warning to get out of town quick. And off they set for Egypt on that donkey with a new born. No wonder she pondered all this in her heart. Any mother would.

Christmas has come a long way. Mostly downhill. I am not out in the Christmas Crush (being home bound, still, six weeks after surgery), but most of the people I talk to are either strung out with stress, or tired of the whole idea. And, since I am watching more television than usual, even I have not escaped the rampant consumerism. The ads are all about buy, buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend. That child born in the stable or cave or wherever, grew up to be a man who would be appalled by it all. I am absolutely sure of this.

If the historical Jesus was anything like the stories his life generated, he would be far more likely to be putting his last penny into an old man's hat (on his way to heal some lepers, no doubt, then on to teach those without any pennies about the power of Peace on Earth) than out buying one of his disciples' kids a Tickle Me Elmo. Which I will no doubt be buying for my granddaughter Myla next year. I am quite able to admit I don't always practice what I preach (and I bet Jesus himself didn't either. He was human, after all.)

The second song is also one I hum every Christmas. Depression always creeps up on me as Christmas nears. It has been a year since Rene moved out, and the second song is about lost love, so you might think I'm in an anniversary funk. Except that I have hummed it every Christmas for years, long before she came into my life. I suspect it is a generational thing. My grandmother had perfect-Christmas-itis. She passed it down to my mother, who passed it down to me.

In my childhood home there was always too much alcohol, a Christmas Tree fight, and some sort of mild catastrophe that sent my mother into a tailspin. Which I recreated for Meg, who miraculously seems to have escaped such a need for perfection. I have rid myself of the need for a perfect tree and family dinner, but somehow I cannot pull myself out of the depression which settles painfully around my shoulders like the dimming of the light that comes along with the Solstice, the shortest day of the year. (Solstice is a pagan celebration, and the reason that Christmas was moved to this time of year. Many Biblical scholars believe Jesus was born in the spring or early summer.)

Over the years I have gained several techniques to cope with this kind of depression. I have come back to the most helpful of these: choose five things that will "define" Christmas for me. If these five things happen, the I will count it as a "happy-enough" Christmas, and let go of other hopes, expectations, and fantasies. This year's five are:1) get a tree up 2) give gifts to those I love 3) buy myself a couple of small presents to open Christmas Day 4) spend time with Peggy, and her son Ian, who is my god(dess)son and 5) spend time with Meg, Myla and Adam. There is a sixth which I always do anyway; make a donation to charity.

Then I go about making sure these five things happen. Luckily, I have also learned to choose thing that are quite possible. The (small artificial) tree is up, and only needs a few decorations. I've ordered nearly all gifts on line-for those I love and myself. Peggy has invited me for dinner-some oddball, non traditional meal, I'm sure. And Meg has invited me for Christmas breakfast and gift opening- a meal I have organized for the last two decades. She is even more excited than I am!

There. Christmas is taken care of. It will not stop the dimness of depression completely- it never does-but it will somehow bring joy into a life which is still on hold as I wait for healing and change. I hope the man who was the historical Jesus, the latest in a long history of dying and rising gods born to a virgin mother, would understand.

Blessings, Joy and Peace,



Marc Olmsted said...

I spent $20 to my niece and nephew for Christmas and that's IT.
Thank God everyone doesn't do as I do because Tony wouldn't be making a mint! Next time you lament the commercialization of Christmas, take solace...All that buying is feeding millions and allowing some to visit their boyfriends in January!

Anonymous said...

"The ads are all about buy, buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend. That child born in the stable or cave or wherever, grew up to be a man who would be appalled by it all. I am absolutely sure of this."

Preach it sista!

I love Christmas and do not think I will ever grow tired of it. However, what I do, must do, that I'm sure that others do not, is live inside my head. The world may be making Christmas one big selling pit, but I look through it, pass it, around it. I have to, I must, I do. I think it is why I buy throughout out the year. Then when the actual season arrive, I get to just hang out and not have to interact with the stress.....

Well enough about me.

I'm glad you will have a few gifts to open.

You gave me a wonderful gift this year. A 1000 thanks for being my editor. It made me feel so much better than going at it alone.

I so happy you have a tree. I think Christmas trees give off so much love.

Happy Holidays!

Becky said...

The obligations of Christmas have always bothered me. I don't want to feel like I HAVE to buy a gift. It's nicer to give a gift because you want to. And gifts with no obligation are the best kind.

I had more to say, but Max just got the hiccups so I have to go find his colic remedy. lol! Happy Holidays!

Judith HeartSong said...

Oh Margo... this is a good post. What an odd time of year... that most believe should be so joyful, and so many suffer through.

I had two wondrous occurrences today... a dear friend gave me two smudging sticks (with the solstice fire ceremony tonight), and another good friend came to wish me a happy holiday... but didn't know which form to use. I said Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice... whatever. He knew it was tonight and started to talk about the wonderful tradition of the solstice.... a holiday so many religious people get upset about... and yet the solstice was there first and 'borrowed' by Christians.

Those two things.... both by people I never would have expected them from.... delighted me beyond measure.

I wish you peace and love and a simple joy in knowing that you are truly cared about by so many.

love to you dear friend.


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