Updated: Feb 2
I love Christmas. I find the autumn to winter celebrations in the northern hemisphere fascinating. We move from Halloween, the Día de los Muertos, Toussaint to fireworks, scaring away the bad things from the year before, pulling in that which nourished us in the summer.
As the light goes, we have Diwali’s Festival of Lights - everything sparkles through Hannukkah to Christmas (this is not an expansive list, other festivals are available). Oh I know, this is a broad brush indeed, but at their heart, no matter your beliefs, they are all about coming together with loved ones to affirm your community in a safe space, to feed and warm your kin. As the Muppets remind us in their telling of A Christmas Carol (the definitive version in my books) "It's the season of the heart, a special time for caring" - because looking after each other, when we are months from the abundance and warmth of the summer, is how us humans have made it through the ages. It does not really matter if that plays out by bringing a tree into your living room or binge watching the Alien films with your bestie and a takeaway.
For many of us, our communities include friends and relatives of many cultures. What fits is the way over the centuries humans have gathered and built traditions that revolve around sharing nourishment, warmth and companionship in different ways through the dark months. Every household has its own ways, a patchwork of cultural customs, long held family traditions and things you did once and everyone enjoyed so now they're part of the fun every year. I have friends who do nothing for Christmas, the holly and the ivy trigger difficult memories. Our celebrations aren't free of scar tissue. For some it may seem insurmountable. As a family I am fortunate that we have grown around the scars and shaped our celebrations, which I have found healing. I believe, in time, most find a tradition of their own at this season which allows them to feel cared for and nourished - and if you maybe haven't yet found the "Christmas" for you, it will come in time. Maybe it's a quiet dawn walk, a coffee with a friend who also eschews the mainstream celebrations, a curry and book.
However, I shall never completely tune into the way the U.K. goes back to work before Christmas is over, no matter how long I live here. Let's be clear I don't celebrate Crimbo all the to Candlemas, but certainly to Epiphany.
As a family, we don’t do anything mark Twelfth Night - no wassailing or feasting!, though tomorrow, 6 January 2023, we’ll have a “galette des Rois” (King’s Cake) for Epiphany, hope our friends in Spain have been good & wake to their slippers filled with gifts, wish our Irish friends a happy Nollaig na mBan.
We will take our decorations down at the weekend too. I’m not particularly superstitious or religious - but to take them down before the end of Christmas goes against the rub for me. It took my husband a while to get used to it, but he's on board with it these days. Taking down the Christmas tree at Epiphany is a way for me to remind my children that our family tree is rooted in more than one culture, and the Irish, French, Spanish threads come together well this way. It's really very important to me. No matter if we have worked through the Twelve Days, or if like today the kids are already back to school, taking it all down "early" (to me) feels like shutting down a part of myself.
One of the lovely things from celebrating the season in different countries, with a variety of people and cultures is that I have learnt that we all need to find a way to gather together regularly, so while for some "Jesus is the reason for the season", I'd say it's about so much more. Whether yours is gathering for a church service, or perhaps you are not religious but celebrate the Yuletide by feasting with your friends, maybe you enjoy simple winter light walks with your dog, or having the whole family over for the 8th night or doing a massive rice mandala, I hope that this season of winter darkness in the northern hemisphere has brought nourishment to your soul, and if not yet, that you find a chance to do so before we swing past the equinox into the seasons of putting ourselves out in the world - don't spend January trying to change yourself, you are wonderful so find those who cherish you as you are. It's why us humans through the centuries have found reasons to seek each other out.
And if you're enjoying the Southern Hemisphere summer - make the most of the long days and adventure time! I have very happy memories of a particularly fun Christmas Day spent on a beach, not a turkey or Christmas tree in sight!
~ I'd love know what traditions you hold that are maybe a little idiosyncratic within your cultural context. Do drop a comment & tell me about it.