Merry Christmas! It's hard to believe another Christmas has already come and gone. It's been a sweet, peaceful, and very traditional holiday here in Seattle with my family- big Christmas Eve party with Norwegian brined meat, potato lefse, a Santa suit, and singing around the tree with lots of enthusiasm but gaps in the verses. Christmas morning at my mom's with satsumas in stockings, then brunch at my aunt's with waffles, bacon, frittata, coffee and Baileys, and mimosas . It's funny to think I've done these things for almost all 29 years of my life (minus the year I was with my friend's Jewish family in Mexico, and last year in South Korea). There is comfort in doing the same thing, and yet what is surprising is that each year is not the same at all. Kids get older, a divorced spouse is absent, a new girlfriend is brought, a family member is sick, or recently recovered. This is what I like about tradition- that it is not always the same, just the same context for a family to grow and change.
A coworker at the flower shop asked me last week what my favorite thing about Christmas was. After considering a moment, I said, "That it's such a big holiday that people make the effort to get together." It's a time when it's okay to put everything on hold and make time to see family or dear friends. If we didn't do that at this time of year, would it happen at all? On the flip side, the holiday can create a lot of pressure and stress- on people to travel in winter, to decide who to visit, to figure out what to do at all if they don't have family or a close community around.
And of course, there are many other holidays to celebrate in this season. We say "Happy Holidays" as almost a euphemism or sneaky substitute for "Merry Christmas", but I like the idea of honoring other things that are actually happening at this time of year, namely the return of light, instead of a birth that we all know didn't even happen in winter.
And so, besides celebrating Christmas merrily, I've really enjoyed gathering with friends the past week in Solstice parties and potlucks, and Hanukkah candle lighting and singing. We are in the dark heart of winter, and these holidays remind us of the light within ourselves, the warmth in the people we love, and nature's ever-changing cycles. It has to get dark to get light. And even as the bustle and cheer die down, we have to remember that every day is a minute or two longer, and even in the deep grey of Seattle, we have a quiet, resolute strength to get through the winter. Here is a quote I recently came across, by writer Melanie Rae Thon- "The chickadee comes to the feeder. Even now, so close to twilight! Less than half an ounce of feather and hollow bone, ten drops of blood, heart smaller than a fingernail — yet she survives all night, every night, all winter."
Merry merry to you, whatever you may be celebrating.