Christmas is my favorite holiday. This month is a special time for those of many faiths, but since I am Christian I will refer to Christmas in this post. I hope it does not offend. This is also a season that is now driven by an overwhelming institutional materialism that really bothers me. Do I buy presents for my children and other people close to our family? Yes. And I enjoy it. But do I feel a mounting unease at what Christmas seems to have become, all around me? Yes.
I’ve written a lot about ritual and how important it is to my family. That’s more true at this time of year than at any other. More and more, our small family traditions feel like a beachhead against the rampant commercialism out in the world. I find myself turning inward, this year as I’ve done in the past, touching our small olive wood creche from Jerusalem almost reverently and hanging a boxwood wreath on the front door with a deep feeling of joy. I’m not sure exactly why, but our rituals feel more important than ever. So I wanted to share some of them. I’d love to hear how you mark this season, if it has meaning to you and your family, whatever your faith.
We burn an Advent candle on our kitchen island (see above), and every single time I light it I think about how important one of my most treasured themes – darkness and light – is at this time. Dusk falls earlier and earlier, but we have our small steady candle in our kitchen, and the light of our every day lives.
We only buy presents for the children in our families, our godchildren, and a couple of very dear friends. This cuts way back on the shopping we have to do, and allows me to really focus on choosing gifts for the people in my life that I know will be most delighted by them. I do give a lot of books, but there are games and electronics and clothes in there too.
Every year I tie a celadon satin ribbon around the large boxwood wreath on our front door and put out some special decorations around the house. Our stockings aren’t as special as I would like (I’m still working on the needlepoint stocking I started when Grace was born) but our tree brims with memories. We pick out a tree in a couple of weeks, not and on that day each child chooses a new ornament. So we have all the new ornaments from each year, as well as a sterling bell marked with the years that Matt’s mother always gives us and many other dear ones. A wooden bridge to commemorate the Covered Bridges Half Marathon, an Adirondack chair for Basin Harbor Club, a golden snitch and so many more. Every year I also have a personalized ornament made for each child (silhouettes one year, doll-like fabric faces another, their names on porcelain disks another) . I grew up with the annual tree trimming being a huge celebration, and like my childhood trees, ours is sentimental more than elegant. Years ago Grace asked me why our tree wasn’t “as fancy” as many of those she saw at others’ houses. I told her that our ornaments may not match, but they were full of meaning. After a long, appraising look at the tree, she concluded that our tree may not be fancy, but it was “full of love.” And how.
For several years we’ve participated in a program with the local homeless veterans shelter. We receive one vet’s holiday wishlist and buy gifts for him or her. Grace and Whit help me wrap the gifts and write our veteran heartfelt cards. Christmas carols feature in our traditions: one weekend afternoon we bake and decorate cookies and dance to carols in the kitchen and we sing them after dinner on Christmas Eve with my oldest and dearest friend and his family.
It was that friend whose family was at the heart of the annual Solstice tradition, which ended in 2012 and which I still miss.
If this season is holy to you, how do you mark it?