Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas is Coming

Christmas is coming,                                                       
The goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny
In the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny.
a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
God bless you.
          -Old English Carol
It's coming on Christmas
they're cutting down trees
putting up reindeer
and singing songs of joy and peace 
I wish i had a river 
I could skate away on...
           -Joni Mitchell
Christmas is coming, all too quickly for nearly everybody I know. I have been meditating a bit on how I feel this Christmas, and these two songs seem to sum it up. The former is one we sang at Shipley, the all girls school I attended from four to fourteen. I can still see us, all in our short, forest green, pleated gym-type uniforms, over long sleeved white cotton blouses, all wearing white socks, brown tie shoes, our forest green bloomers over clean while undies. There we stood, lined up by height (me at the left end of the back row) singing Ye Olde Englishe Christmas Caroles to our assembled parents, the fathers having been coerced into coming home early (by commuter train) at a time when they would have much rather worked late, then hit the club car before confronting family Christmas duties.
Never mind, I did learn all the words of lots of old British Carols, and they come floating back to me at odd moments of the holiday season. I learned a lot more Advent and Christmas Carols when I sang in my church choir for a decade or so, long ago. I especially love Advent carols. Surprised that this pagan was so active in a church choir? Shouldn't be-I have always been interested in religion, ever since I left my Episcopalian universe for a Quaker boarding school- a study in opposites that sent me on to (eventually) major in Comparative Religion, a truly useful major for a woman planning to be divorced and needing a job badly.
Anyway, as an adult I put in a decade of hard labor in a local church. I don't think anyone else in that church went to more retreats and study groups and Bible courses during that time period. In the end I realized that I kept banging my head on misogyny and homophobia, with which the same denomination is still struggling to this day. Good thing I didn't hang out, waiting for change. In reality, by the time I left the church, the Goddess, the feminine side of the Divine, had claimed me, and I could no more refuse Her than Paul on the road to Damascus could deny his own, more dramatic calling.
As I hum the first song, I think about the historical Jesus and his birth story. More than two millennium later, we know something of the outcome of this birth to a young single mother, already in labor, riding a donkey into a strange town teeming with others vying for room and board, all because of some governmental regulation about taxes. Mary (a Goddess figure if there ever was one) didn't know about Christmas or Christianity, she just gave birth in the straw, accepted first, shepherds, then (no doubt) curious townies, followed by three Kings bringing offerings of unthinkable wealth, along with a warning to get out of town quick. And off they set for Egypt on that donkey with a new born. No wonder she pondered all this in her heart. Any mother would.
Christmas has come a long way. Mostly downhill. I am not out in the Christmas Crush (being home bound, still, six weeks after surgery), but most of the people I talk to are either strung out with stress, or tired of the whole idea. And, since I am watching more television than usual, even I have not escaped the rampant consumerism. The ads are all about buy, buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend. That child born in the stable or cave or wherever, grew up to be a man who would be appalled by it all. I am absolutely sure of this.
If the historical Jesus was anything like the stories his life generated, he would be far more likely to be putting his last penny into an old man's hat (on his way to heal some lepers, no doubt, then on to teach those without any pennies about the power of Peace on Earth) than out buying one of his disciples' kids a Tickle Me Elmo. Which I will no doubt be buying for my granddaughter Myla next year. I am quite able to admit I don't always practice what I preach (and I bet Jesus himself didn't either. He was human, after all.)
The second song is also one I hum every Christmas. Depression always creeps up on me as Christmas nears. It has been a year since Rene moved out, and the second song is about lost love, so you might think I'm in an anniversary funk. Except that I have hummed it every Christmas for years, long before she came into my life. I suspect it is a generational thing. My grandmother had perfect-Christmas-itis. She passed it down to my mother, who passed it down to me.
In my childhood home there was always too much alcohol, a Christmas Tree fight, and some sort of mild catastrophe that sent my mother into a tailspin. Which I recreated for Meg, who miraculously seems to have escaped such a need for perfection. I have rid myself of the need for a perfect tree and family dinner, but somehow I cannot pull myself out of the depression which settles painfully around my shoulders like the dimming of the light that comes along with the Solstice, the shortest day of the year. (Solstice is a pagan celebration, and the reason that Christmas was moved to this time of year. Many Biblical scholars believe Jesus was born in the spring or early summer.)
Over the years I have gained several techniques to cope with this kind of depression. I have come back to the most helpful of these: choose five things that will "define" Christmas for me. If these five things happen, the I will count it as a "happy-enough" Christmas, and let go of other hopes, expectations, and fantasies. This year's five are:1) get a tree up 2) give gifts to those I love 3) buy myself a couple of small presents to open ChristmasDay 4) spend time with Peggy, and her son Ian, who is my god(dess)son and 5) spend time with Meg, Myla and Adam. There is a sixth which I always do anyway; make a donation to charity.
Then I go about making sure these five things happen. Luckily, I have also learned to choose thing that are quite possible. The (small artificial) tree is up, and only needs a few decorations. I've ordered nearly all gifts on line-for those I love and myself. Peggy has invited me for dinner-some oddball, non traditional meal, I'm sure. And Meg has invited me for Christmas breakfast and gift opening- a meal I have organized for the last two decades. She is even more excited than I am!
There. Christmas is taken care of. It will not stop the dimness of depression completely- it never does-but it will somehow bring joy into a life which is still on hold as I wait for healing and change. I hope the man who was the historical Jesus, the latest in a long history of dying and rising gods born to a virgin mother, would understand.
Blessings, Joy and Peace,


lisa41076 said...

Margo, what a great entry, you know I would'nt be lying if I told you I'll be happy when Christmas is over, I hope you enjoy spending time Christmas Day with Meg and Myla, Big Hugs to you Lisa XO

hope5555 said...

I really enjoyed this entry.  I definitely can relate to the whole Christmas-depression notion. I like your idea of defining how to make Christmas "good enough" rather than feeling bad that I haven't created the Chrismassiest Christmas of all Christmasses.

dbaumgartner said...

Wow, making Christmas "good enough" is a wonderful idea.  I don't ever get in to the Christmas thing.  I just get through the holidays the best I can.  Even here with the kids, it is draining and I too will be glad when it's over.

Maybe one year we'll share a cup of Christmas tea.  :-)



csandhollow said...

It is hard to believe it is only 5 days away.

luvmort said...

Bah!  Humbug!