Winter at Bedlam Farm
Last week, Mandy and Athena and I were having lunch at the Round House Cafe and Mandy started telling us about this book she read when her kids were kids. It was a young adult book and the part she was telling us about was this person (but not a real person, more like a spirit person or some other kind of mythical being) called The Walker. The Walker would walk around outside during the winter months and spread a cloud of gloom where ever he went.
In my mind I saw this stooped, hooded being, walking through the snow in the cold night. And at that moment I finally understood what Christmas was about. The Walker is Christmas embodied. And how we celebrate Christmas is the antidote to The Walker.
I know Christmas is a religious holiday for many people, but it never was for me. When I was a kid we celebrated Christmas like a lot of people. It was completely over the top. It went on for months. When I got married and left home, I carried on the family tradition. At the height of my Christmas Madness I was even making my own wrapping paper (red and green Christmas Tree potato prints on brown kraft paper). In reality, I was probably just creatively starved and all that pent up creativity went wild at Christmas time.
Then when I was in my early forties,I realized that the holiday had become an empty ritual. Or maybe it always was and I was just seeing it clearly for the first time. So I broke tradition and got rid of all my holiday decorations. The Spode dishes and Christmas Villages with tiny stone walls and mirrors for ceramic people to ice skate on, the homemade Manger, the candles and lights. Sacrilege where I come from, I was afraid to let anyone know. I was paring down to see if I could get to the heart of the holiday. The first year I didn’t have a Christmas tree I felt a little freer.
But still, even without the decorations, like in The Grinch, Christmas came every year. There must be something beyond the ritual, I thought, which the more I participated in the lonelier and emptier I felt. I really wished it would just go away. I stopped going to my mother’s on Christmas Eve (more sacrilege) and Jon and I would take trips instead, or stay home, with the animals, on the farm. That was better, but I was still haunted by the echos of the past and trying to figure out what Christmas was really all about.
The only thing I could figure was that during Christmas, this dark and cold time of the year, we humans need light, we need hope. So we create a festival to get us through to get us through to the longer, warmer days. And that made sense to me. But it was still missing something. Maybe the Christmas story, the myth, the magic. And then, here comes Mandy with her story of The Walker.
The Walker, similar to the Grim Reaper, but not absolute. The Walker, who spreads gloom. And our response is good cheer, candles and lights. Gathering, singing and eating to ward off the darkness. And it works, The Walker goes away, for a little while anyway. Naming the darkness that accompanies the festivals of Christmas makes that darkness less mysterious, less scary. It makes it known and so easier to deal with. I don’t have to run from it anymore, or try to cover over it with excess. It’s just The Walker. There’s no avoiding him, you just learn to deal with him. He comes every year, no matter what, just like Christmas.