The Darkness of Christmas


Winter at Bedlam Farm
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.

20 thoughts on “The Darkness of Christmas

  1. Turn to the light. No hiding only joy. The real celebration hidden behind the dark. There is life beyond the grave. Christmas makes us look and see. Peace be with you.

  2. That is quite a story. All my children moved far away and I get depressed, I don’t even put up a tree. We had a close family and always enjoyed the Holidays. I am now getting rid of all my decorations because it is no longer fun decorating the house for the Holidays. I wish you and Jon peace for the Holidays.

  3. Maria, you’ve put into words how Christmas is to me, now. It got to the point where, sitting around a supper table at Christmas only reminded me of the losses of human life within my family and it only increases the sadness I feel for these losses which are so emphasized for me at Christmas. I’m printing off your posting this morning. I have a need to ‘see’ this time of year in a different ‘light’.
    Sandy P in Ont., Canada

  4. Krampus. The Walker as a Devil. Krampus is said to capture particularly naughty children and drag them off into the black forest. Very scary Germanic folklore.

  5. This makes so much sense to me, Maria.
    For so many years, at Christmas time, I just feel a sadness, that I cannot shake.
    I will try thinking about The Walker this year.
    Thank you…..

  6. Maria, thank you for your honesty and your insight with The Walker post. It spoke deeply to me. We’re all surrounded by “ideal” pictures of what Christmas should be and many of us are left feeling like we’re on the outside looking in. As feelings of sadness and loss appear this season, I’m going to say to myself, “it’s just The Walker coming by”. He appears. He disappears. And life goes on just the same. Have a peaceful holiday.

  7. Hi Maria,
    For many people Christmas is a lonely and dark time and especially now so much suffering happens around the world. But lightning up even one candle makes some of the darkness go away. I live in New Zealand, so for me it is summer, picking ripe cherries from my tree and mowing the grass. Maybe Christmas is better in summer, because after Christmas we have our summer holidays with swimming in the sea and barbecues. The walker doesn’t hang around in 30 degrees heat.
    I will read one of John books on the beach and wish you both lots of happiness for 2015.

  8. Confession: I could not read this post all the way through on my first try. I’m glad I made it through this way. I’m with you. For me the season has become bleak and empty, and I’ve given up all efforts to stave off the darkness or pretend it isn’t there. I’ve found a lot of relief in surrendering, although it makes things more difficult on my loved ones. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  9. Ha! That should say “made it through this TIME.” I’m sure you figured it out, but I feel weird leaving odd typos hanging around, unacknowledged.

  10. The typo was in my comment, not in your post. 🙂 I said “I’m glad I made it through ‘this way'” instead of “…’this time.'” I really did need to read this post.

    I’ve been googling for more stuff about “the walker.” Even if I do not find anything–and I’ve had no luck so far–I am glad to have a name for this visitor of mine.

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