Friday, December 23, 2011

Making Peace With Christmas & Solstice

In which I address steps that have helped to make this holiday season the best in years.

Since leaving Christianity I have struggled with how and whether to celebrate Christmas.  It felt false to cherry-pick parts of a Christian holiday while rejecting Christianity itself.  On the other hand, I did not want to cause further division in my family by refusing to participate, nor did I want to force my kids to be those weird kids whose mom won’t let them do Christmas.  I like Christmas and I wanted to keep it, but I always felt a little inauthentic about it.

As a humanist science nerd and a dabbler in paganism, I love the Winter Solstice.   The trouble is no one in my family celebrates the Solstice or has the slightest interest in changing the date of our winter celebration.  Every year when December 21 passed, mostly unobserved, it felt like I was neglecting something important, or missing out.

All of the pieces of this change have been in my head for years, but this year they clicked in way that is meaningful for me.  Christmas is the way my culture celebrates the Winter Solstice.  For me, that is it. It may be a few days late, due to a calendar clash, but that is far from the strangest thing about western euro-american culture.  This may be a big "duh" to you, but sometimes it takes a while between when you know something is true and when you feel its truth. When you look at the history of winter festivals, you can come away with a feeling that Christmas is somewhat false, but this year something has turned and it feels more universal.  I am not going to begrudge literalist Christians their refusal to see how much of their sacred day is borrowed from older traditions, but I won't let them interfere with my understanding of its history either.  Instead I will just view Christmas as one aspect in a web of winter holidays.  I will celebrate the Solstice on December 25 and call it Christmas.  The actual story of Christ's birth is not spiritually significant for me, but the long darkness and the reborn sun are. If I focus on joy and peace and warmth and beauty in winter, who cares if it is a few days late? This is Christmas and Solstice on my terms, and I don't feel like I am fighting either one of them anymore.

The second change I have made this year is in my expectation for my own performance on Christmas.  Our kids are getting older and understand why financially this will be a smaller Christmas than normal. Knowing that I will not be able to provide everything I want to freed me from feeling like I have to make the BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER! every year. I am focusing on spending time instead of money.  This means watching Dr. Who Christmas specials with Tall Daughter E and cutting paper snowflakes with Tiny Daughter M.  It is hot cider with Husband S late on Christmas Eve and learning to knit gifts.  It means very little time spent Christmas shopping.

This Christmas is important.  It is the last Christmas when all my kids will be children.  It is the last one where I know for sure that the whole family will live together and race together down the hallway Christmas morning.  I hope Tall E is with us next Christmas, but she will be an adult then, and it is possible she will be living somewhere else.  I want to wrap my arms around this Christmas and hug it.

Yesterday I had a very frustrating afternoon and what should have been a vexing evening.  But as I killed time running errands and walking in the beautiful falling snow, I stared pondering this post and found myself so in love with the world, so happy not to be a neurotic mess.   I am not totally sure why I find myself calmer and less frantic this holiday season, but I am.  I find myself honoring the stillness of the season more than the joyous frenzy. I want to rest and dwell in this Christmas.  To everyone reading this, I sincerely wish a wonderful joyous and peaceful holiday, on whatever terms you choose to celebrate it.

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