Holiday Celebrations

December 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm (Medical, Spiritual) (, , , , , )

This is not the entry I wanted to write; this is the entry that is ready to leap out of my head.

I thought maybe my holiday malaise had to do with my  health; I’ve been feeling particularly crappy as of late and the “holiday spirit” is a high spoon activity. But the more I consciously take a step back from all the holiday craziness, the more I see each activity as an “opt in” or “opt out” situation. I can choose to decorate my house, or not. (I have chosen not to.) I can choose to send cards to my friends, or not. (I have chosen not to.) I can spend spoons on shopping, either online or in brick and mortar stores, to find gifts for as many people as I feel I want to, or need to. (I have not.) I can go to holiday gatherings or places that have holiday representations (I did this, mostly to support friends). I can do ritual to celebrate my holiday, or not. (I have chose not to, although this is a more complicated issue.)

I have read several accounts, from people who celebrate a myriad of winter holidays this month, that yearn for a return to the simplicity of celebration. One that I particularly liked was this one, written by an Anglican priest about wishing he could strip Christmas from all of the consumerism and holiday “traditions” that have nothing to do with the birth of the Christ Child. It is, after all, a religious holiday that many people have decided to secularize because it gives them warm and fuzzies about their youth. (Also note this graph that makes the point that most popular versions of Christmas songs were recorded during the baby boom’s childhood, which is why they’re recycled year after year and newer versions are usually disregarded as “fake”).

This dovetails into something about Yule/Winter Solstice that baffles me. As a religion, there’s a lot that has been done to differentiate between Paganism and Christianity. For those of us who were raised in a Christian tradition, these differences matter. I left the United Methodist Church to come to a religion that was markedly different than what I had known  before. Even though I bitch about it a lot, I value that in our tradition (for the most part), it is fairly easy to become clergy. I value that our holidays celebrate the cycles of the earth. And even though right now I am generalizing how most pagans feel about something, I value the idea that for the most part, pagans are encouraged to create their own sense of how the world works and what their mores and ethics are.

The only time of year where I see an incredible amount of bleed between Christianity and Paganism is Christmas/Yule. Granted, I totally understand that most of the trappings that we grew up understanding as “Christmas” (like trees, presents, lights, family gatherings, etc) were copied from older traditions surrounding celebration of the Winter Solstice. But for me, they look and taste like my childhood, which was Christmas. But more pagans than I can count hold onto these traditions, even Santa Claus, for their families and their children. And I hear it all the time – about how giving presents and trees and lights and decorations are not the purview of Christianity.

I dunno. I’m ready to concede that if Christianity wants the crushing crowds at Wal Mart, the feeling of obligation when your family requests that you travel during a shitty time of year to sit uncomfortably around a living room and try to be a “family”, the awkward feeling when someone you don’t consider a close friend buys you a gift and now you debate if you have to reciprocate or not, the many empty social obligations that tax your finances and your health, the crass consumerism and all the work that goes into creating a traditional Christmas, they can fucking have it.

I’m much more content spending the shortest day, and longest night, of the year alone in contemplation. Granted, I also like Yule rituals that focus on sharing what we already have (not what we have gone into debt to buy) so that we all make it through the winter – but for me, these days, that’s a lot more about emotional and social support and much less about physical or financial support.

This point of view may be strengthened by having a Jewish spouse. I have always thought I was aware of Hannukah, but it took actually talking to Jews about how much emphasis has been put on a secondary holiday in order to allow children to feel equal to their Christian (and perhaps Pagan) schoolmates. What I love about Hannukah is the simplicity of celebrating a singular, somewhat unremarkable miracle – the fact that when they needed oil to last eight days, it did. As someone who grew up poor in a house that used fuel oil for heat, I know I have experienced this miracle personally. And if anything, I choose to tie my Yule thoughts to this miracle – that by coming together, we can miraculously make it through the hard times together.

My life has become much more focused on the essential parts of an experience – I need to know, up front, what I want to get out of something before I engage in it. When your energy is low, and your health is challenged, you look at everything in your life and decide what the important parts of it are. When I go to an event, I look over everything that is happening, and choose the parts of it that I feel I really want to do to make me feel like I engaged with the event. Most of the time, that means teaching my classes, and maybe getting out to a social gathering or play space. I usually choose one or two classes that I’m not teaching to attend, but understand that it depends on how I’m feeling. So even though I may not be sucking the marrow out of every experience that comes my way, I can leave an event feeling like I got want I really wanted out of it.

This Solstice, I need to spend some time thinking about the parts of Winter we tend to ignore. We get all caught up in the pretty blanket of snow, but I’m much more concerned about what’s happening underneath. The dead leaves are rotting, turning into fertilizer, feeding the soil, so when spring comes the green life can erupt and bring with it new hope. Everything we parted with at Samhain is deep within the earth, brewing up new experiences and choices for us if we can survive the dark. So many of us have “turned Winter off”, by installing UV spectrum lights, so they can survive the melancholy and feeling of separateness that comes with the dark time of the year. Someone suggested, somewhat facetiously, that “Seasonal Affective Disorder is the reason for the season”, and I started to worry that maybe I, too, had this affliction. Let me be clear, I in no way mean to belittle those who rely on lightboxes to treat their mental illness; I just think that (similar to eating “gluten free”), it has become a self-diagnosed and treated “disorder” for some.

Even though I tend to get depressed this time of year, I choose to allow myself to experience these feelings of disconnectedness and worries about survival. In this three-part essay by Kenaz Filan about the power of melancholy, zie covers a lot of what I’m talking about here.

So I’m giving myself a lot of permission and comfort this holiday season. I am giving myself permission to only engage in what I feel honors what I’m feeling about this Solstice – and this year, it’s much more about the dark than it is about the light. I did get some good gifts, and gave a few as well, but I’m not giving out gifts out of any sort of obligation. I am only going to celebrations that hold meaning to me, or enhance how I choose to celebrate this holiday. I refuse to allow the stress of consumerism, or trying to recreate some fantasy version of Christmases from my childhood, to dictate how I interact with my religious holiday.

Happy Whatever-You-Celebrate, however you choose to celebrate it.

Short actual medical update: I saw my ID doc about what to do next, since I experienced withdrawal again when I tried to treat the TB. Unlike the “evil ID doc”, who just threw her hands up and told me she just wasn’t going to treat it, he admitted that this was too complicated for him to treat, and referred me to Johns Hopkins. This is not so great in my book, as I have had bad experiences at JH in the past, but at least it’s better than *nothing*. When I tried to make an appointment yesterday, I got shuffled around for ten minutes, and then put on hold for so long that I “had been on hold for the maximum allotted time”, and was forced to leave a message. Not an auspicious beginning.

Also, due to some complications beyond my control, I have put off doing anything with my neurologist until after the new year. So right now, I’m mostly in a holding pattern.



  1. Tirani said,

    I have found myself in a similar space this year. There have been no cards sent out wishing love from We Three, no Yule dinner on Longest Night with friends and family and loves, and no fresh pine filling the house with the scent of what few happy memories of my childhood I have. Instead, a small artificial tree decorated with memories, and a small exchange of heartfelt and deeply meaningful gifts among We Three. Tonight we feast on rice noodles and meat sauce, becuase it’s all that can be managed right now.

    “When your energy is low, and your health is challenged, you look at everything in your life and decide what the important parts of it are.”

    The lesson I have gotten from this sh*t with my neck and the progression of pain since, well, about FSG or so, is neatly summed up in this sentence. I have had a hard and painful lesson in what is important, and recognizing the difference between what I want and what I need. I have whittled my life down to my needs. I need time with my wolf and my dragon. I want time with others. I need to make the time and space where I can rest. I want to be the social whirlwind I once was. I need to be able to get a night’s sleep. I want it to be without heavy medication.

    I hope that you find what you need, my friend, whatever it may be. It has not escaped my irony radar that I am having surgery during the winter, and that if I am to recover from this thing, we will know if the surgery was successful about the time the first green things show their face.

  2. marie said,

    Thank you for putting that up there. I so understand believe me. With the breast cancer issues, the fybro going haywire and the kidney damage from last spring…..I too have chosen NOT to do anything other than the simple Holiday tree with bells n glitter. (It’s a girlie thing). I am just too worn out from the daily pain, the medications, the medical appointments and tests. Thankks again – this hits other areas as well. 🙂

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