Christmas is such a conflicting mix of emotions for me. The essence of the season is light and love and giving. However, the spirit is too easily trampled in a frantic rush of felt obligations and blatant consumerism.
This year mimicked the mistaken perception I had as a small child, that Christmas occurred the day after Thanksgiving. Travel, an ice storm, work, other non-holiday commitments, and my overall preoccupation and distraction with the world compressed the past few weeks until I found Christmas upon me. Already. My holiday checklist, ill-formed and floating in my mind, largely unchecked. Emotionally disconnected.
As always, though, there are moments of grace where I am touched by the spirit of the season, moments that reconnect me to the transcendent mystery of life.
The music of my daughter’s high school choral concert last week immersed me in traditional and new expressions of the season. Listening, I was able to just be, rather than thinking and doing. It may have been the best meditation I have ever experienced.
Last night, we attended the Christmas Eve candlelight service at our church. Each person passing the flame while singing Dona Nobis Pacem and Silent Night never fails to stream tears down my face.
Before this ever-emotional finale, two congregants shared personal reflections and insight.
One woman spoke of first-time experiences that bring such enjoyment they become traditions. Paradoxically, with time the traditions become rote, “check the box” tasks and lose their meaning and ability to create joy. Rather than serving us, we serve them and for no reason. She admonished us not to fall into the numbness of such repetition and obligation, rather to be mindful and discern the blessings in whatever happens.
The second woman told of dissolving into tears as her list of obligations mounted and seemed to overwhelm all available time. She recounted the outburst that she vented to her husband: “I have to drive to the mall through the horrible traffic to buy presents, then I have to stop by the store to buy the groceries I need for Christmas dinner, then I have to come home and clean the house, then I have to start cooking,” and on it went.
Her outlook changed dramatically when, for some reason, she replaced have with get. The tasks on her list were privileges, made possible because of her good fortune. She was healthy, with a car, with enough money to buy groceries and presents. She knew not all were able to do what she could do, not all had a loving family with whom to share the holiday.
Usually by the time Christmas arrives, I am ready for it to pass and look forward to the normal days after. This year, though, since I feel I missed much of the buildup, I want the season to linger. Perhaps in the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas or the 8 days of Hanukkah, I can hold on to the underlying essence of the season and carry the light and love and giving into the new year. No doubt the world needs it, I need it, and my blessings are plentiful.