I love the holidays. The bright lights, cold weather (I hope), soups, long sleeves, down comforters, presents under the tree, the bright eyes of little ones, the scent of fresh pine boughs in the house…yes, these are a few of my favorite things.
While I could list many more seasonal delights, I think it’s the rituals that warm and envelop me with a sense of belonging. There are other times when we are so steeped in the passage of our own family culture from one generation to the next but the holiday season brings us together link no other.
On the surface, holiday rituals can seem trite and unnecessary. We’re all too busy to create the Norman Rockwell Christmas and, frankly, it’s a lot of work. I usually haul out the decorations and trim the tree and house alone. Every year I wonder if anyone cares or notices. I have a closet full of outdoor lights that have never been put up. Yet it seems to be a fetish, this collection of closet lights, since I am compelled to purchase at lest three boxes of lights each year. With the full knowledge of my closet inventory, I cannot escape the Christmas lights. From the grocery to the hardware store, I’m drawn like a moth.
This year it seems there’s less and less to be merry about. We’re in an endless war, losing limbs and lives for oil. The economy is none too healthy. I love the term sub prime mortgages, as if it’s a great deal rather than an entire financial industry eating their young. Corruption seems to be at an all time high, greed gone amuck slithers across the daily headlines. The environment takes several more hits. I can hear the shrill voice of the wicked witch of the west in the Wizard of Oz screaming “I’m melting, I’m melting.”
Then, like Dorothy, I click my heals three times and begin unpacking the Christmas lights and I am totally and completely a child again. I carefully unwrap each loved ornament, each twenty-five year old, grade school art project popsicle stick sled. Some are from generations past and I am connected to those spirits by hanging a miniature brass horn that has hung on more than fifty Christmas trees in three generations.
I put on my ancient, and only, Christmas music. The familiar chorus of Little Drummer Boy serenades me once again. The tree stands, silently waiting to be adorned. It is at this point that I realize this is my holiday ritual and it’s quite wonderful.
The rituals we create, as individuals, families and communities provide more than a shared experience. They are bonding events. They provide stability in an ever-unstable world. A family ritual can give comfort and security. No matter what else is happening, we will all gather for a traditional meal followed by, in our family, a killer Monopoly game. At our house, it is a rite of passage to be old enough (usually eight) to play Monopoly with the adults.
On our first Christmas together, my mate revealed that he really didn’t care for the holidays and didn’t want a tree in the house. No tree? I was stunned and perplexed to say the least. But I was in love and relationships require compromise so I decided to forgo the Christmas tree. I compromised by constructing a four foot tall, bright green, Styrofoam cactus decorated with red lights. I can tell you from experience that a Styrofoam cactus with lights at Christmas is just wrong. Clearly I needed to enlighten my mate about the magic of Christmas. We’ve had real trees ever since. He tolerates them fairly well.
I pour another glass of wine and finish the tree. I turn off the lights and curl up on the couch. With one hundred pounds of Labrador Retriever warming my feet, I gaze on one hundred twinkling lights glancing off the collection of several lifetimes. This is my ritual and it fills me with all those misplaced qualities of hope and wonderment and even peace.
In a few days the house will be filled with family and friends, turkey and pie, ribbons and bows. That will be shared ritual but this one is for me and it’s worth all the packing and unpacking, testing and stringing of lights, fixing and twisting. I reserved one evening for a date with my tree. Alone, just the two of us, I experience the magic of the holidays where I suspend cynicism and allow myself to sink into pure unadulterated belief in goodness.
Perhaps it’s because sitting alone in the dark with the Christmas tree twinkling at me, I can believe that the world is a wonderful and safe place for all. I can believe that all children are loved and warm in their beds, that all souls are treated with respect and that people are good and will choose to do the right thing. I can believe that the sugarplum fairies are near and Santa is on his way.
I hope you share your own holiday rituals with those around you and that the magic of the holidays remains in your soul throughout the year.
Originally published in The Good Life magazine