How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose, if there were no winter in our year!unknown
This blog will be a little bit of a one off, as its not specifically tied to motherhood, health, or any of my normal topics, but is more of a personal reflection on the holiday season. As we get deeper into December, trudging through the holiday season, making plans to see loved ones, and approaching the end of the calendar year, sometimes darkness can sneak up on us both literally and metaphorically. Holidays bring people lots of love and joy, but in times of loss and change can also bring great despair.
When I was a child, growing up in Tampa, FL, my maternal relatives would all celebrate Christmas with my Grandma Anna, and my Dziadziu (pronounced “Jaw-joo”, and hereby in this article whom I will refer to as “Jadju” for the ease of the reader) In the mid 90’s my Jadju died of a sudden heart attack, and his death spun my entire family for a loop. He died in early December, right before his birthday, and right before Christmas. I was a small child, but I remember my Grandfather fondly as he spent several days a week with me and my siblings during his retirement. We were very close, and my mother was used to seeing him three to four times a week, as well as taking him to certain doctor appointments. The gap he left in all of our lives was huge. Father of six living children, and grandfather to dozens more, this was a huge loss, and happening so close to the holidays robbed everyone of holiday cheer, even the children. Nobody wanted to cook, we ended up going to a chain restaurant for Christmas dinner, got terrible service, and periodically individuals would excuse themselves to walk off and cry.
This was my first experience with death, and being too young to really understand what was going on, I more vividly remember the actions and emotions of the surrounding adults. My grandmother, now a widow, who did not have the energy to cook, clean or decorate, her children, grieving a father and Patriarch, going through the motions when around the kids. Everyone was doing their best. For several years after his passing my siblings and I would occasionally find her tearing up, and would remind each other that December made our mommy sad, and that she missed her dad. We missed him too. My mother years later, would relate to me that after Jadju died she earnestly thought that she would never be happy again. In her mind this of course applied to any and all holidays. To an extent she was right, in that, the next few Decembers were very hard. She still gets sad on his birthday. Christmas even two decades later is hard for her. For my Grandmother this was always a hard time of year. All of the local grandchildren would drive the 45 minutes to her home every subsequent year to decorate her tree for her, play Christmas music, and make her house festive and ready for the holiday. This made her happy. We did our best to create new memories for her, to fill it with youthful distractions and beauty. We moved holidays to my aunt’s house, and my grandmother was able to relax and just show up as a guest. Eventually things got a little easier. Not easy, but easier. The tears and anger were less frequent, the feelings transitioned to fond memories and stories. . Big losses never really go away, but the episodes eventually become less frequent.
This year was a hard one for us. Myself, my husband, my friends, and relatives. My husband and I went through a very traumatic year with the complete transition of our life, and the very complicated birth of our son, as well as his long stay in intensive care. We both started our new journey as parents in hard mode, and are just now getting into a smooth schedule, balancing both of our full time jobs, doctor appointments and the attempts at social lives. In an earlier blog I outlined the sudden and unexpected loss of my Aunt Mary Ellen. That loss is still very fresh, and I know my uncle and cousins are feeling it harder than ever this time of year. My heart breaks for them as they face the first Christmas without their mother, something that I cannot even fathom emotionally. I see whispers of the past in their faces, and hear sadness in their words. I have lost friends and acquaintances to death this year, and seen some terribly painful transitions, as well as ups and downs in the health of many of my loved ones. I have gotten shocking news about the actions and character of people I loved and trusted, causing huge paradigm shifts. 2019 did not hold any punches.
Weary is how I feel. Not just tired in a physical sense, but an all encompassing fatigue both mentally, and spiritually. The entire earth also seems to be tired, and as we approach the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, I find myself being comforted through the iconography of the various upcoming winter celebrations.
As a child through my teenage years I was raised in a devout Catholic household. And while no longer practicing, I am very educated and respectful of Christian holiday traditions, especially considering how many of them overlap with ancient solstice traditions from all corners of the globe. I consider myself part Agnostic, and part lazy pagan. I very much believe in God, just not the way most people think I should. I pray, and meditate, and speak to God in my own way, and for the most part am not one to go to organized church or temple services. but instead practice privately. I prefer to talk to God in nature, or in my quiet bedroom, or in my car. I believe in doing no harm to others, and letting everyone practice religion and spirituality in a way that makes them happy, and gives them joy and fulfillment, as if we took all the labels off of everything, everyone is basically worshiping the same thing on a base level.
Christians all over the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, which marked the beginning of a brand new era in their faith. A time where the son of God now walked among them, ushering in modern judeo-christian beliefs. and shined his heavenly light and grace upon mankind. There is also the upcoming celebration of Yule to look forward to, the OG Christmas if you will. The original source of yule logs, wreaths, mistletoe, tree decorating, and the celebration of the shortest day, and longest night of the year. One of the oldest, and pre-Christian celebrations known to man, this night marks the beginning of winter, and holds reverence to the sun (As opposed to the “son” in Christianity). Ancient celts and druids believed that the sun remained stagnant in the sky for twelve days mid-winter to banish darkness, evil spirits and to bring luck to the new year. If there was a venn diagram between the two religious celebrations, the middle bubble would be very full, and the central themes remain not only similar but relevant to modern times. Not to be forgotten this theme of light, overcoming darkness is also mirrored during the Hebrew celebration of Hanukkah, in which traditional menorahs are lit for eight nights to commemorate the re-dedication of the 2nd temple of Jerusalem during the Maccabean revolution, and the miracle described in the 1st and 2nd books of the Maccabees. These are just three examples of the many winter holidays and festivals from around the world based on light driving out, and protecting humanity from darkness. Whether or not these stories and texts are believed to be factual, metaphorical, or simply cultural myths and traditions to express the biggest change of the year, they have been resonating with me on a deep level.
From a personal and spiritual viewpoint I take this time of year very seriously. We celebrate Christmas in my home (meaning my husband, child and myself) in a somewhat secular fashion. We abide by traditional American Christmas traditions, and encourage family, togetherness, charity, and of course now that we have Children we will begin the tradition of Santa and his reindeer. I have not gone to Christmas mass in over a decade, but I do find beauty in traditional hymns, and the ritual aspect of Midnight mass. It is a beautiful and ceremonial experience despite my estrangement from it at this time. The Christian festivities surrounding the celebration of the birth of Christ, and central themes of the nativity and the star of Bethlehem are beautiful, and I respect them very much despite not practicing. I do celebrate Winter Solstice with friends and select family every year, and enjoy it very much. One of the most meaningful things I enjoy doing is a cleanse and reflection on things that I want to leave behind, and let go of. Things that I want to move on from, and goals, hopes and prayers for things to come in the coming year. The year is cyclical and its a nice time to reflect on the past and decide how it will or will not fit into my future.
This is a time of year to use ones faith to drive out darkness, and believe that the year will bring light, good fortune, and peace. No matter what that faith is. They all resonate the same central ideas. Humanity is so special that in completely different places, and among completely different religions and cultures, some things are universal. As humans we are scared.
Winter holidays came about because when it boils down to it, ancient people were scared of the dark. We want our deities and our families to be close and to protect us. We focus on togetherness, and family, and filling up our metaphorical cups and stores with love and support to make it through the long winters.
My past winter was the beginning of the hardest journey of my life. I hope this one is easier. My heart goes out to anyone who is also facing a hard Christmas, and winter season. Whether it be from a recent familial death, estrangement from loved ones, work troubles, money troubles, or any other variety of problem, know that I understand, and I hear you.
You are valid.
This can be a very hard time of year. But it can also be a time of healing and rebirth, if you can let the light in.
I wish you love, and faith, and happiness surrounded by people who love you back.
For the record, it took a long time, but my mom does enjoy Christmas again. It took a while, and you may take a while, and that is okay.
I will be holding my son tight, and hoping for lots of light in this new year. I am very full of hope.
If you are reading this, I wish that for you as well.