“Are you sleeping?” Jon asked me. “No, I’m crying” I answered.
It was around 4 am and I had been up for a while reading. Jon had his head on my shoulder and I was sure he was asleep. “I was watching you turn the pages,” he said, “and then you stopped and I couldn’t figure out why suddenly it was taking you so long to read that one page.”
So I told Jon how I woke up scared and I started worrying that the plant I sent to my mother for Christmas wouldn’t be delivered. I didn’t realize I was crying till I felt the tears on my face. “The book is sad too,” I said.
I told him how I was thinking that I had a charmed life. How lucky I was to have someone I loved laying naked next to me. How fortunate I was to have work that I love and that I got to live with all of our animals.
“It’s not charmed, Jon said, “It’s not a fairytale, you wouldn’t be crying if it was. Like any life, there are good things and bad things. If it’s all good then you believe that something bad has to happen.”
And then he said, “This is about Christmas”.
The spell was broken. I knew he was right.
I’ve struggled with Christmas for years. Trying to make sense of it even when I was a kid. The season always so filled with extreme highs and lows. As I teenager I searched for the true meaning, even trying to find it in a church I didn’t believe in, but always came up empty.
In my family, the holiday was sacred. Not in a religious way, but in the never-ending traditions. Months of decorating and gift buying, the fantasy of Santa Claus repeated long after we were too old for it. When I finally broke away after marrying Jon I was sick with guilt for not participating in it anymore. I believed that I was a bad person for not carrying on the traditions.
The season haunted me.
I saw therapists and shamans. Every year Jon and I tried something new to make it ours. But I really I just wished it would go away.
Eventually, the holidays became less and less difficult. The guilt subsided and the pull loosened.
Last year when we went away to our favorite Inn in Vermont for Christmas was the best I’d ever had. It wasn’t just going away, it was the years of work to get to the point where I finally believed (for the most part) that I deserved to spend the holiday the way I chose. The way Jon and decided we wanted to.
And as I sat up in bed, early this morning talking to Jon I could see that Christmas used to be a time of cranking up. A frenzy of preparing and buying and baking and visiting, as if I was trying to fill up the emptiness inside of me.
But really what I wanted to do was just the opposite.
And more and more in the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that the weeks before Christmas, or maybe more appropriately, the weeks before the Solstice, is a time of winding down for me.
Being more in tune with the natural world, I now take my cues from it. As the trees lose their leaves and the plants and flowers die down to the ground, I too am slowing down. Preparing not for a celebration to hide in, but for embracing the long sleep of winter.
I’ve always felt a melancholy, even a nostalgia in the fall and early winter. And I’ve always tried to push it away, afraid to feel it. But I’ve come to welcome that feeling. To allow myself to understand that it’s not something to fear. That it’s the most natural thing to be feeling as the sunlight lessens in strength and duration and the trees, plants and animals prepare for the winter.
For me, I finally realize the frenzy of Christmas is the exact opposite of what my body and mind is yearning for this time of year.
In a little while, Jon and I will leave for two nights at our Inn in Vermont. It’s a quiet place and few people spend Christmas there. This year, because of the pandemic, there will be even less. We plan to slow down, to spend our time in the room, with a walk or two around the small town. Jon is still recovering from his surgery, and I can’t think of a better place for him to do that.
Next year I hope to be more conscious of this natural process of quieting. I’d like to try to make it an “active” part of the season. All I really have to do is look around me at the animals, the trees, the earth. If I take guidance from them, perhaps I can find the peace of winter’s sleep as they do.
We’ll be back on Christmas day, and I don’t expect to be going online until then or the day after. I do want to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful Christmas, in whatever form that comes to you.