What, exactly, do we celebrate?
Some friend of ours' nearly four year old daughter recently asked what holiday E. and I celebrate this time of year. This is because she celebrates solstice at home, Christmas with her grandmother and Hannukah with one of her close friends. So I was going to just answer "Christmas," of course, since that's the holiday I was raised celebrating, but then it got me wondering what exactly about Christmas do we celebrate. We don't celebrate the birth of Christ, and we get less and less into the material aspect of it every year. Yet something about putting up a tree, decorating it with lights and sparkly ornaments, and listening to The Charlie Brown Christmas album (Vince Guaraldi) has become very, very important to me.
It's not just the acoutrements that I love so much. For me, there's a feeling of the entire month converging on a day of rest and comfort and family--even if that day doesn't pan out the way you hope, and your family is at odds and you get stuck in traffic on the way there. Something about knowing that it will be Christmas day soon (and I also like Christmas eve very much), has a kind of sedative effect on me the whole month long. Because December is a month when the darkness creeps in. Literally, with the shortening of days, and emotionally for many. I don't know if it's seasonal affective disorder, or if there's some sort of reason for the dark--it forces us inward, asks us to take a look at the corners of ourselves that we can't see when there's so much sunlight.
I suppose I can look back at the years of my past when things truly were dark and unhappy--but somehow, no matter how sick or caught up in their drama my parents were, we always managed to pull it together for Christmas.
So what I celebrate when I celebrate Christmas is, first, family--the feeling that while they are most definitely imperfect, there's still something intrinsically comforting about coming together with kin (whether this is your blood family, or a family you've created for yourself in some other way). And second, I celebrate the notion that when the darkness does come, you can still fill it with light of some kind--tiny little multi-colored lights are my favorites, but candles work well too and reach for relief from whatever the darkness brings.