We ease into the Christmas-Hannukah season with some sense of caution. We need to avoid putting too much pressure on ourselves and one another – to avoid setting too high a standard for the holidays.
In truth, it can be a difficult time for lots of people, especially those who are carrying some fresh grief over the loss of a loved one, or the accumulation of losses that are magnified in this season.
Christmas was originally set on the winter solstice, the longest night. Both Christmas and Hunnukah make use of candles to light up the darkness. The narrator in Robert Frost’s wonderful little poem stops by the woods, alone: ‘between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year.’
I have some fond memories of Christmas past, both those from my childhood when we celebrated extravagantly, and memories of the years when my children were young, and we tried to make it a happy time that they could carry into their own future.
At a recent Interfaith Clergy meeting we were given fliers to hand out announcing an event referred to as ‘The Longest Night: A Service of Remembrance and Hope.’ The notice says, “When the holidays don’t feel merry or bright, remember you are not alone.” It will be held at Christ and Holy Trinity Church in Westport on December 21 at 7:30 – all are invited.
The holidays tend to sink into that place ‘where the spirit meets the bone.’ We need the candles and the music, we need to be reminded of joy and hope. We need those reminders at any time of year, but more especially at the darkest time, when the cold settles in for its winter stay, including the cold that settles into those spaces made empty by our losses.
We need to be reminded by Scrooge’s nephew who explained Christmas to his resistant uncle: “I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
We need to be reminded that the giving of gifts as an outward expression of the love we feel all year, not only for those in our own families, but for all those who share in our sense of sympathy, concern and caring for those who suffer, for those who are in want and in need, and not material need, only.
I hope we can get into the meaningful mythology about a little baby born in a barn, with parents and others kneeling down, for once, in a sincere display of the humility we all need in this life. Let’s ease ourselves into the season and sense the power of its poetry as we move through these weeks together. I hope you are well, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.