At 61, I realize that I'm still trying to find my comfort zone around the holidays. Growing up in a large working class Catholic family, my memories are mostly warm and fuzzy, including my Mom's selection of Christmas cookies, holiday music, the ample traditional fare of turkey and fixins prepared and shared around the table(s), attending Mass (church), gifts beneath the decorated tree, and vacation from school with hours spent sledding, building snow forts, then gazing at the festive, comforting glow of lights through the window as I fell asleep.
As a teenager, I quit attending church, and developed an interest in alternative lifestyles. Once I left my Ohio home after high school, heading for the west coast, I began a quest for meaning that I could call my own. I continued to explore the realm of natural foods, escaped to the outdoors as often as possible on my days off from work, and dabbled in spiritual practices as part of my journey in search of personal fulfillment. I learned about the winter solstice for the first time, (yes, I too wonder how I learned so little of import during 12 years of 'education'!) and reveled in the idea of an ancient seasonal celebration with rituals involving fire.
Fast forward to the childbearing years of my 30's. Living off the grid, growing our food, keeping chickens, milking goats, striding across the granite boulder strewn, wildflowered foothills of the Sierras with babes in the backpack, living the dream. And yet. When the holidays rolled around, I became somehow lost in a strange hybrid limbo between the Christmas of my childhood and an alternative, more meaningful winter celebration that we could customize to fit our family. We tweaked and fiddled, keeping the most treasured traditions, and created new ones, eventually including a hike to a waterfall with special snacks, candles to light and float and make wishes upon, and a jump into the icy waters to wash away the old year. BRRRR!
But, as often happens as families grow, our annual trek on the solstice eventually faded away, succumbing to the pull of society's version of Christmas for the most part. Every year I would internally wrestle with the illusion that this particular day should be/could be an entirely happy and peaceful and joy-filled one spent blissfully with my contented family. And every year I would wind up saddened that MY family just couldn't seem to have a happy Christmas day. Until I finally realized that NO one, anywhere can live up to that expectation.
EXPECTATIONS. I'd somehow gotten tangled up in the web of hype, despite my original intention to conjure some magic for us.
It took until the 'kids' were almost grown, but we eventually learned to talk a bit about our different expectations.
And now, when we're lucky enough to be together on the holidays, we discuss and try new ideas, make plans, but most importantly, we enjoy each others company and a shared meal that we all help to prepare.
This year, (after pretty much skipping it last year), I decided that I wanted to have (my version of) a tree, just for myself. (Note: This is NOT an acceptable practice when we are 'hosting' the holiday gathering). I gather an armload of fallen evergreen branches from the forest, andarrange them, tree-like, in five gallon bucket . Then the bucket is swaddled in a big piece of red felt, and the 'tree' is decked with lights and my favorite ornaments, filled with lots of warm fuzzy memories! The house is filled with the pungent scent of fir and now it's time to put on some baroque or celtic holiday music.
And I may just bake some of my Mom's cookies. ' Tis the season; the solstice is upon us!
Merry holiday to all, and may peace be our gift.