I blinked, and it’s now December. I’m in the midst of one of the most stressful times of the year. December means Christmas, Christmas means presents, presents mean money. As a single parent, I am the only one who makes Christmas “happen” for my children. Usually I buy one big gift for each of them, and assorted other gifts. My purchases are selective and focus on their interests – art, music, books, activity kits, science experiments, craft supplies. I buy a little each week so I’m not hit too hard. But still, each year I am juggling, wondering what bills can I put off paying until the week after Christmas? And why? sigh …

My children have long been aware that I am the one who buys the gifts, because I never felt comfortable with the Santa myth. Yet, I have told them, and still do, that Santa brings the magic to Christmas. We talk about belief, and about God. We also have a little nativity set and talk about Jesus, what revolutionary ideas he had, what he was trying to teach. The conversations get more involved, and more interesting, as they get older.

We celebrate Christmas, and yet I’ve taught my children from a young age that Christmas is a religious holiday that has become a commercial holiday. Still, we get excited to see Christmas specials on the television, and we have many books that we read each year around the tree on Christmas Eve. We have our rituals – we buy a small tree and decorate it with ornaments that are brought out year after year, we hang stockings, we bake special christmas cookies and gingerbread together, and we cook a fabulous Italian feast.

I remember one year I was feeling really, really stressed. I was scraping money together for gifts and food, wanting to make the holiday special, and failing. One night, I read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and broke out into tears. I know that giving presents is not the same as giving your heart, your patience, your love. But to a child, a christmas without presents is like a world without hope. Nevertheless, each year, I try to make them see that “maybe christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe christmas means a little bit more” by the type of gifts I give them, and by how we celebrate.

Christmas isn’t the only holiday we celebrate in December. We also celebrate the winter solstice. The winter solstice falls on December 21 or 22, depending on the year, but always a few short days before Christmas. It’s a nature-based ancient holiday that gave Christmas it’s roots, and we celebrate in a very quiet way by lighting candles together. We talk about the past year and what we’ve learned, then we talk about the coming year. We share our hopes and dreams and we think of blessings, gifts to give ourselves and the world.

The winter solstice gives us the space and time to reflect and to draw closer together. We celebrate family, community, and our relationship to the world. The winter solstice is based in the deep connection we have with the earth, our fundamental home. Without knowledge of our human constructs, the earth continues to revolve around the sun – as it has for days, years, centuries – and still we breathe and laugh, work and play, live and love. This is the place I like to linger, thinking about December. It’s almost a new year, another year, I am blessed to be ~


One response to “december

  • Samuel Snoek-Brown

    This is a beautiful post! I love the personal voice in it, and I admire tremendously the way you share this holiday with your children.

    Back in college, I took a study trip to Turkey one winter. One of our stops was at the archaeological museum in Antalya, down on the southern coast, where I saw relics of Saint Nicolas on red velvet in a glass display. Until then, I’d never really made the connection between old Saint Nick and the actual bishop from Myra, Turkey. Seeing his bones on display like that, it was like discovering Santa Claus was real and fake at the same time: the relics had simultaneously brought him to life and illustrated his death. I remember standing for a long time staring at them. And I remember feeling weirdly at peace, weirdly happy. Because it began to occur to me that even if Santa Claus was dead, he had been real! My childhood belief (which I abandoned at five) had been affirmed! I left that museum with a greater sense of the spirit of Christmas than I’d ever had before, even now, even though I’m a Buddhist. I became convinced of Christmas’s — or, at least, Santa Claus’s — true meaning at last: to care for others, especially the poor, the sick, and the young; and to give as much as you can to as many people as you can. For me, that was the legacy of Saint Nicolas, and I cherish it today. šŸ™‚

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