December 8, 2013
“Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again.”
~Bill Morgan, Jr.
It’s early December and winter has crept out of her summer hibernation. Snow fell softly last night, laying her blanket over already sleeping grasses and flowers.
This is always a reflective time of year for me. While childhood memories of summer are many, the memories of winter bring stronger emotions to the surface.
I can close my eyes and smell the pungent scent of evergreens in the church. I can see the flowers of Christmas, the showy red and white poinsettias. Soft lights everywhere, shining and glittering like stars. The sounds of traditional and ancient music and song, stirred my heart. I remember wishing my mother wouldn’t find a parking spot for a few more minutes so I could continue to look out the car window and watch the people lightly stepping over snowbanks, and see the lights and street decorations of our little town. Shop windows held puppets, elves, princesses, nutcracker princes, polar bears and icicles. Red ribbons and bows were everywhere.
I remember that our house also was adorned for the season. The sliding glass doors in the living room became the canvas for the Nativity that my mother would paint every year. The colors of blue, green, yellow and brown blended in to the colors of living room, making me feel like the life sized Mary, Joseph and newborn Jesus were guests in our home. At night a colored spot light outside would turn pure white snow into drifts of muted red or blue.
On the ornate carved oak “buffet” was a seemingly magical gingerbread house. It was just high enough to be at eye level for me. I would look in through the windows while the subtle perfume of ginger spice transported me to an imaginary place where all houses were made of gingerbread. Every year I hoped I would see the children who lived in these sepia colored houses peek out at me through the windows.
On the mantel leaned a glitter draped Advent calender that my great aunt Mimi would send every year from Switzerland. As each cardboard Advent window was opened it revealed a wondrous scene that was like a little tease saying, “wait till you see what tomorrow’s picture will be!” The glitter would cover my hands and end up everywhere as if to say throughout the day “Don’t forget to open a new window tomorrow.”
Over near the dining room was the “record player”. It was housed in a sleek console that complimented the modern Danish dining room set.
I could barely reach into the console to turn it on, but I would stretch and turn that dial and watch the record begin to spin and the needle drop. Then I would sit in front of the speakers listening to vibrant voices and look at the cover of the records and drift away to places that were only reachable during December of every year. That one picture on the cover was enough to kindle my imagination through the whole length of the record.
My mom would usually knit sweaters and make bow ties for the “boys and men”. I remember lots of plaid ties. Often they had little sprigs of tiny red holly berries.
When Christmas morning finally came I would wait patiently sitting on top of a floor vent with my flannel nightgown stretched over my bent knees. The warm air would inflate my nightgown like a balloon and I felt as if I might float away. We had to wait until dad was ready with his movie camera. Then we would line up and walk into the living room to see what Santa had brought. I remember board games, new blue skis, a Thumbelina doll, Barbies, Cecil the puppet and Gumby.
Mary and Joseph watched silently as the living room floor became a sea of wrapping paper and ribbon. The house smelled of Christmas tree. Over in the dining room the record player sang Christmas songs.
Then we would get all dressed up and head to church. It was always stuffed to overflowing. Perfume, pine and frankincense soaked into our wool coats and sweaters and remained with us all day. The lights were dimmed and the sanctuary sparkled. The organ player coaxed air through the pipes till it vibrated and became music. The choir sang songs that I still have memorized by heart. People in the aisles and pews reached hands and arms out to greet one another and it was hard not to feel loved by everyone.
Later in the day, turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy nestled in silver serving bowls and trays and we bowed our heads for grace. In the fireplace the fire crackled and warmed the room.
Memories are funny things. I’m sure my siblings have a different take on the scenes I have described. I also remember Christmases when I did not get what I wanted and the magic didn’t feel so strong. Disappointment dulled the senses. Back in the 60’s Christmas was about gifts, but with life sized Mary and Joseph as family members, limited TV and few or no Christmas specials, it felt gentler than it seems to feel now. I believed in the birth of a babe that guided the hearts of people everywhere. The season of Holy Days moved more slowly.
My own children are grown now. We are redefining what this time of year means to us now as a family. Gifts aren’t so important. Church doesn’t seem to fit. As I write this post, I am grateful for the childhood memories, and for the memories I have of my children experiencing Christmas when they were young. For me, this time of year has become more about going inward. Of finding gratitude and awareness for what we are “given” every day. Given in the love we receive from friends and family, in the softness and beauty of new fallen snow, of a sparkling star in the night sky, or a crescent moon. Given in abundance we find in the grocery stores and restaurants. Given in the service we receive from cashiers, garbage collectors, road crews, doctors, factory workers and everyone else. Given in the freedom we have to celebrate whatever is dear to our hearts in a way that has meaning to us personally. Given to us by this planet that nourishes our souls, waters and feeds our body, provides us with shelter and medicine and air that fills our lungs. Given in the potential for us to be tolerant, compassionate, hard working, contributing, empathetic, forgiving , accepting individuals. Given in looking into the eyes of our children, spouse, loved ones and knowing that is enough.
Given in the possibility that what we have is enough.
May you be content, healthy, and filled to the brim with love and gratitude.
“Winter came down to our house one night……….and we were children, once again.”
December 24, 2012
As we gather together in the soft darkness of the Solstice we are reminded there are rhythms and cycles that move without thought to us humans. As we embrace families and friends singing out greetings of peace and Faith, let us also remember we have a calling to love one another, every single person, without stopping. There is no pausing to regard if they are worthy.
What we are asked to do is love.
There is a lot of talk and thoughts about those who have, and those who have not, those who are deserving, and those who are not, those who are “good” and those who are “bad”, those who are “right” and those who are “wrong”. In amongst all that, it feels sometimes that we have lost the capacity to love, to accept, to help heal, to forgive and to be tolerant and have decided to walk instead with fear, mistrust, isolation, apathy.
What we are asked to do is love.
“We do not exist for ourselves.” Thomas Merton
“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” Thomas Merton
I certainly struggle with this. But, I struggle more with the thought of violence, of turning a blind eye, of pretending to know which is the one, right path.
This is the time of year when many of us turn inward. A time of reflection. Also, a time of looking forward. Many customs of the Solstice and New Year include a letting go of the past and a cleansing of the heart and spirit for the future. While we can never be sure of the future, we can, and this moment, open up our hearts and love. It’s not our business to judge. Everyone struggles and falls. What we are asked to do is love. At this moment.