When I was a little kid, Christmas was my favorite time of year. There were decorations and special foods and the Christmas cards sent and received and taped up on the kitchen wall. There was the fun of putting up the tree – in the early years it was usually cut from our woods; later on we got an artificial tree and reused it every year. There was music and A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph and the Grinch. There was pouring over the Sears & Roebuck Wishbook and shopping for gifts for family (“I can do it myself! I just need some money…”).
All this wonderful anticipation built up to about an hour before dawn on Christmas morning when, despite my insistence that this year would be different, my mother was always the first one up – so she could get her coffee made before the present-opening chaos began.
There are many things I wish had been different about my childhood. Christmas is one thing I wouldn’t change a bit even if I could.
While the story of birth of Jesus was strongly emphasized in our house, Christmas was one time of year when the Baptist church where we went didn’t bother me much. The preacher (who, as in many small Evangelical churches, pretty much ran the show) didn’t care much for holidays and had no use for the lectionary. I remember an occasional Christmas pageant and an occasional Christmas party, but except for the few years when Christmas came on Sunday, the church didn’t interfere with the important stuff going on at home.
When I got older I realized I had missed something without Advent and Christmas Eve services. They became some of my favorites when I tried to be a liberal Christian as a young adult.
By the time I got into high school, though, the magic of Christmas was starting to fade. I’m sure some of that was teenage cynicism. Some of it was widening interests and some was family changes. And let’s face it – even if you want clothes, they aren’t as much fun to open as toys.
Cathy and I tried to continue our childhood Christmas traditions after we got married, but the progression of life coupled with our decision to not have children made it virtually certain those traditions would fade.
But the season isn’t dead.
About ten years ago we decided to stop buying presents for each other and take a trip instead. It’s been a good thing for us – it’s brought less stress and more enjoyment.
As a Pagan, I have a religious attachment to the Winter Solstice stronger than anything I ever felt for Christmas. I love watching the sun rise later and later in the morning and farther and farther south on the horizon – and then watching it turn around and start coming back. I love our Winter Solstice rituals where we celebrate the rebirth of the light. I love seeing the magic born in the Underworld at Samhain begin to appear in the Middle World at Yule.
And I love the Twelve Days of Solstice.
No, this isn’t a filk on the Twelve Days of Christmas – or on the darkly delicious Twelve Days After Christmas. It’s the twelve days I have off from work starting Saturday, December 21 and running through New Year’s Day.
What makes holidays special is that they’re special – they have things we don’t get the rest of the year. Twelve straight days with no alarm clocks, no meetings, and no demanding salesmen is pretty special. It may not be opening-toys-at-age-six special, but it’s about as good as it gets at 50-something.
Things are less structured and less demanding at this time of year, but they’re far from boring. I’ve got Denton CUUPS Winter Solstice Circle, a gathering with Cathy’s family, and then we leave for Tennessee. We’re driving, but we’re breaking it up into two days going and returning, with some fun stops along the way. I’ll have lots of time to read and to watch football, especially the New Year’s Day college bowl games. There may be a New Year’s Eve party – that’s something I always felt I was missing out on as a kid.
And I’ve got a discernment / planning / conspiracy session with a fellow Pagan to start talking about how we can best respond to the calls we’re feeling and the requests we’re hearing. If it runs into the early hours of the morning or if it involves more than one glass of wine, so be it – neither of us have to be at work the next day.
Yes, there’s a certain amount of privilege here. As I said about stores being open on Thanksgiving Day, the Monday through Friday, morning through afternoon, all holidays off routine we learn in school simply doesn’t exist for many people. If you work in retail, food service, or many other industries, this is a busy time. Hopefully you’ll be able to find a stretch of “special time” in another season.
Come January 2 the ordinary routine begins again. The alarm clock starts going off at 5:15 AM. The meetings crank up again. The salesmen take a couple days to either gloat about how great last year was or to make excuses for how bad it was, then they start demanding the world again.
Away from work, the celebrations of Yule and New Year’s come to a close and the contemplative season of Imbolc begins.
The Twelve Days of Solstice are a bright and joyous Mardi Gras before the cold Lent of January.
I’m thankful for my Christmas memories and for the family that made them so great. Part of me wishes I could experience them again, while another part recognizes this is part of the journey of life and its never-ending changes.
But this season is still magical. The anticipation has already started, and I’m counting the days till the Twelve Days of Solstice.