Stillness on the Night Before Christmas
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through through house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”
Tonight is the night before Christmas, Christmas Eve. It is our opportunity to sit still before tomorrow after being inundated by advertising for month.
Stillness is difficult to find for some of us today. We still have long lists of things we have failed to accomplish, traditions in danger of falling away. Some of us have so many expectations of tomorrow in particular they have almost lost their meaning for us.
We may spend today searching for last minute gifts or starting to prepare elaborate meals. Some of us will gather with friends and family. Others of us might be caught by the weather in travel delays.
Some of us need to work tonight and tomorrow.
A few of us will spend this evening in a sacred space. We may listen to a story of shepherds and angels and a baby born in a stable. The stories and familiar music we hear will warm our hearts and remind us of times we have heard them before.
Many of us will stay home alone tonight and tomorrow. It may be too hard for us to travel to our families, or we may prefer to be by ourselves. We may feel lonely and abandoned and not know where we can turn for companionship.
Some of us have lost the person we love the most and do not know where else to go.
I encourage you to spend some time listening to sacred stillness tonight. A few minutes watching the lights on the tree can help us pay attention to the present moment.
Where can we go to listen to sacred stillness on the night before Christmas?
Finding Stillness on the Night Before Christmas
A couple of years ago my wife and I began following a contemplative practice from Iceland called Jolabokaflod, or Christmas book flood.
Books are traditional and popular gifts in Iceland. Most people in Iceland unwrap a book on the night before Christmas. Some people purchase a book for each member of their family, while others do an exchange. Each person brings a book to give and gets to pick one in return. Everyone ends up with a new title to explore.
After the exchanges people settle in, often in bed, with their new book and some chocolate.
Later, at many Christmas parties, conversation centers on the new books everyone is reading.
It took us a year or two, but we are now committed Jolabokaflod practitioners.
Part of our preparation is selecting books to read and the chocolate to accompany them. We shop together, researching which would be the best choices for our practice.
Should we read books about Christmas? What about focusing on recently published books, following Icelandic tradition?
Hot cocoa or chocolate which is nice and crunchy? Added flavors like mint or jalapeño?
Our next step is deciding on a time to start. We protect our schedules from competing demands. It can be surprising how many things there are to do on the night before Christmas.
We tried to take every opportunity we could to share what we were doing with other people. When anyone invited us to do something else we explained where we would be. We welcomed people’s questions as ways we could anticipate and prepare for our own personal book flood.
The shortness of daylight hours on Christmas Eve made it easier for us to start earlier.
Exploring Stillness on the Night Before Christmas
We try to approach our Christmas book flood as a contemplative practice. There are few rules to follow or expectations to meet. We let Icelandic traditions inform us while trying not to let them get in the way.
At our starting time we begin to read. The chocolate is there to comfort us. Word by word, Christmas wraps itself around us and holds us in its embrace once again.
We read and talk and listen to sacred stillness. Eventually we fall asleep and wake up to Christmas morning.
Our Christmas book flood is a gentler way of spending the night before Christmas. Much of our preparation is about letting go and escaping our own expectations.
It is not about the content of what we are reading. We are not studying or reading to gather information. The reading we do is a way to relax and allow our minds to slow down. It is a vehicle toward enjoyment, and the chocolate also helps.
We are not pushing ourselves to analyze anything or catch up on work. An evening of reading gives our hearts and minds an opportunity to allow the night before Christmas to happen.
We do not need to try to force ourselves into the Christmas Spirit; it is all around us and within us.
The Night Before Christmas Arrives Every Year
We will continue our contemplative night before Christmas practice tonight. Our books are chosen and we are deciding which chocolate will best accompany them.
It has become easier to protect our night before Christmas as we continue our practice. Our experience from past years shapes our expectations.
We have also been thinking about ways to strengthen and develop our ongoing practice. Other holidays are just as conducive to book floods as the night before Christmas. We have also been thinking about practicing a regular book flood not tied to a specific holiday. Our practice could develop into a quarterly, or even monthly, book flood.
Our book flood on the night before Christmas is a welcoming experience. You might want to take a step in a contemplative direction and try a book flood of your own. There are only small purchases and little assembly required.
Our book flood on the night before Christmas is how we choose to welcome Christmas each year.
How would you practice a contemplative night before Christmas? What might be most challenging for you? What would you most welcome?
[Image by dotun55]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.