Christmas can be a challenge for me. Or at least it has been in the last few years. Since the children have stopped believing in Santa, the festive season has lost its magic. I used to feel guilty at telling them a fairy tale, but at least it wasn’t just catalogues and shopping lists. I struggle with the materialism, kitsch, noise, stress, excess & meaningless ritual that I associate with this time of year, and every time I have to make a tremendous effort to overcome my resistance and come to a place of peace.
One year, this happened in the form of tears in the middle of the Christmas service, which I attended thinking that since this is a Christian festivity we engage in, perhaps church is the place to look for a core of authenticity. Of course I’m aware that Christmas is a Christian celebration superimposed over a more ancient Pagan festival celebrating the Winter Solstice, and as such would hardly go by the name of authentic. But ultimately, it’s not cultural authenticity I am looking for, it’s the need for a genuine spiritual core (although, as an aside: with jikiden reiki, I am glad to have to have found both) . That particular Christmas, silently, but vulnerably crying in public at my heartfelt distress, the answer came in the form of vulnerability. Celebrating the birth of a vulnerable child who grew up to choose the vulnerability of love even if the personal consequence was persecution and execution. I was reconciled. But it had been hard work.
Hearing the alarm bells of seasonal resistance a little earlier this year, I take a pragmatic approach. In frugal times, both my husband and I realise in conversation, things will have to be simple and paired down, and what a relief this brings. And a memory surfaces of one of the best Christmases we’ve had, in fact our first as a couple. When we didn’t have two pennies to rub together, the Christmas tree decorations were made from paper and my sculptor husband-to-be made the Christmas tree in simply stylised form from painted wood. Seasonal abundance came in the form of a giant crate of ‘Lebkuchen’ (German ginger biscuits) my father had sent as a Christmas gift from Germany, and was duly shared with family visitors after a brisk walk on the beach.
How will the children respond to the news of a modest Christmas? We’re a little nervous, not wanting them to be disappointed. This could be a good reason to give in to the Christmas madness after all, succumbing to peer pressure. It feels good to decide differently; after all, my malaise from previous years had been about the apparent absence of truth and real values. What a perfect opportunity to share ours with our kids. Not easy, but feels good. And they’ve taken it in good spirits.
For two years now, Christmas has also been the time when I miss my friend Ian. Having made what seemed at the time like a complete recovery from stomach cancer, after a year of apparent health the illness came back quickly and aggressively. Ian passed away a few days before Christmas. How grateful I was for the snow to protect the children from being oppressed by my grieving. I am not grieving now, and even then I knew that Ian made the choice that was right for him. Hearing about the circumstances of his passing from his wife, my sense is that Ian’s spiritual ‘achievement’, letting go of deeply held old wounds, was the priceless gift afforded him by his transition. I vividly remember the last time I saw Ian a few days before his death. I will not describe the outward picture of suffering I saw, as I want us all to remember him in his full strength and in his prime.
But I do want to evoke the lesson in humility I received on that day. Kan shash te. Be grateful. How easily I get absorbed in life’s little frustrations and challenges. Forgetting that I have health, a loving family, a cosy home, work I passionately love and find satisfaction in and a network of wonderful people surrounding me.
The bright light of a clear winter day streaming in through the conservatory windows, my dying friend sits in an armchair ecstatically experiencing the tastes and sensations of an ice lolly he had asked the nurses for, even though eating in itself has now become an ordeal. Fully aware what is happening to him, he is also fully in the moment, experiencing the smallest sensations with intense pleasure and awareness. This lolly is all he needs to be filled to the brim with gratitude.
Thank you Ian for this truly humbling lesson in both gratitude and peace.
Photo credit: Ian Mackenzie, used with kind permission of Talitha Mackenzie