December river from Rio Lindo Academy. Copyright Ann Carranza December 2012
When I was growing up our family tradition was to celebrate Christmas. Usually we’d go out to dinner on Christmas Eve, then come home to open presents. We sang Christmas carols after eating on Christmas Day. We decorated the house, but not in the later more exuberant manner, and gathered family together. Sometimes, in the earliest years, in the week before Christmas, we’d go look at the lights and decorations in San Francisco.
Later, after our parents’ divorce, the tradition moved to northern Sonoma County and the Christmases got sparser and with less family togetherness, though we still went out on Christmas Eve (or close to Christmas Eve).
We raised our sons more or less the same way—we’d spend Christmas Eve with my husband’s brother and his family. On the menu were, and still are, posole and tamales. After eating, we’d open presents together, then drive around (sometimes)—not all of us, just the smallest children and the women, to look at Christmas lights. At times, to be honest, this was less a tradition and more of an escape from the men who were drinking too much and causing a great deal of stress.
The four of us would celebrate at home on Christmas morning. The boys were allowed to get their stockings (that Santa had filled in the night) as soon as they woke up. They had to wait for us to get up for the rest of their presents. (Presents were a huge thing for me and I bought LOTS of them and packed them under the tree. This wasn’t always as successful as I would have wished. I did buy, particularly for my husband, presents that were not a hit—at all. I mourn the wasted money, teaching opportunities and bum gifts—I wish I had been more thoughtful and restrained in my choices. I wish I hadn’t taught rampant consumerism to my sons.)
Our sons are grown now and the elder has two sons of his own. Unfortunately, they are not nearby and we don’t get to see them for Christmas. Our younger son is at home with us but usually does his own thing, which includes golfing on Christmas Day.
This year, I spend my time rethinking everything about the season. We haven’t put up a tree often in recent years or done any decorating. We still did when my blended grandson spent time with us, but his mother has chosen to take him away from us completely, so Christmas spent with him ended last year—though we didn’t know that was going to happen.
It’s hard to stimulate enthusiasm when you’re working with uncooperative people. I want to celebrate—I wanted to scale back, but not this much!
While I believe that Jesus Christ was a pivotal historical spiritual figure, I do not buy the complete mythology. And I think of how divisive Christianity has been—even across denominations, to the detriment of parishioners and other faiths. There are too many unanswered questions and too much conflict. I believe that the Christ was a good man who wanted us to do so many things better than we are actually doing. Like the “love your neighbor as yourself” idea. We should all be putting these words into action.
I cannot believe any one religion owns God. For that matter, God cannot be (to my mind) a patriarchal figure—that would make no sense whatsoever. So, I have created my own spirituality comprised of things that make sense to me—partially Earth mother, with a hint of Jung in a personally-revised collective unconsciousness (that I choose to think of as conscious subconsciousness), and a sprinkling of paganism. I do not believe that humans are more important than the creatures that walk the earth or even plants—this truly is a one-earth-for-all. I think the idea of humans having “dominion” is an abomination. If anything, we should have been thinking of stewardship because our space on this planet is borrowed not owned. As the fine old adage goes, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” And we should care for it with great and tender responsibility and walk lightly.
Of course, it is not surprising that Christmas is celebrated near the solstice. It makes perfect sense—it comes after the light turns in its cycle. Early Christianity chose well when it co-opted the timing because they bought acceptance. Of course, it also adopted many pagan symbols. If you doubt me, Google it.
So, why do I miss celebrating the holiday? Why do I feel so sad? Part of it is being so far from my aforementioned grandsons and blended grandson (who I hope will one day read this and know that I miss him terribly). Christmas—with or without the religion, in so many ways, is about bringing happiness to children and hope to the hopeless.
I also love the carols, decorations and lights—yet deplore our wanton wastefulness and the whole consumerist culture. I have one ornament hanging from my ficus but this will be the last year I do no decorating—everything seems empty and bare, bereft.
So, tonight, while my husband and son go visit my in-laws, I’m staying at home Christmas Eve and thinking of what will bring me joy during this season of giving and light, albeit a little late for this year. It isn’t about receiving presents—it’s about joy, the celebration of life and light, and it’s about caring for the earth.
So, I search my heart (and the internet) to understand, plan and do those things next year that will bring me the spirit of the season. I want to do something more meaningful and giving of myself.