Saturday, September 11, 2010
Together: 25 years of holidays
The first Christmas my dear old person and I shared was marked by the gift of a Christmas ornament given to us by my friend Pat. Despite her worries about the viability of the relationship, or whether it was really the best thing for me, or any other concerns she may have had, she gave us a sweet oval-shaped ornmanent into which was inscribed, "First Christmas Together - 1985". It's graced our Christmas tree every year from that to this. I mention it because 2010 will mark our 25th Christmas together. Imagine that.
Northeast Florida is still usually hot and sweaty this time of year; this year is no exception. Nevertheless, it's about the time of year I begin to think about the holidays. I look forward to them for several reasons, cooler weather by no means the least of them. We approach the holiday season here with meteorological fits and starts. There are stretches of days without respite from summer: hot, muggy, trying - with the feeling that a hurricane might be brewing, might still happen. There are breathtaking days of brilliant blue skies and fresh, cool air to make you think of mountains and leaves and temperate climes in general. And those days, those cool days and actually chilly evenings, make me think of putting Santa on the roof. Yes, yes, I KNOW how tacky it is. But I have the fat plastic Santa and every year the boys replace the bulb inside it and perch it on the roof, and every year I have a quiet smile when I get home from work in those early-darkening evenings and can see Santa glowing gently on our roof...silly, I know, but there it is.
Regardless of the various perspectives of my friends, guided by religion or instinct, the coming winter solstice sustains care and anticipation. Simply put, the light returns. After the winter solstice the days ever-so-gradually begin to grow longer and the earth is coaxed once more into fertility by the returning sun. For our friends who are Jews, the miraculous light is remembered: despite the impossible, the light is not extinguished. For our friends who are Christians, the light comes to the word in the form of a saviour born. And regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, our lives are measured according to the rhythms of the natural world. In darkest winter the promise of spring is conceived, and this is subtly visible in the lengthening days and the retreat of darkness.
There's so much to look forward to: kids coming home, gifts as small as oranges in the toes of stockings (or Christmas crackers - see Mac wearing the paper crown from his last year?) and as large as unexpected kindnesses, impossible to put into works but vast as the Atlantic, friends gathering, great food, warm hugs, MadriGalz craziness...did I mention Santa on the roof?
There are profound lessons to be put into practice. For me, one of these is the challenge of accepting "More blessed to give than to receive", which was completely undone by our experience of Pop and Alzheimers. The truth, we learned, is that it is much EASIER to give than to receive. To be open to and receive kindness, one must fully embrace humility; this is far more easy to say than to do practically and is a beautiful lesson for the holiday season. I may not always be able to put the perfect gift under the tree for my sons. I may have to sit back quietly and accept the timely perfection of their gifts to me and their father, whether these are presents wrapped with bows or nothing more sentimental than their very presence. And blah, blah, blah: no matter what, there will be turkey or ham and I'll have the joy of the cooking, the very fine joy of making things like rich gravy, sweet potatoes and eggnog pies. Really. Sometimes there are unexpected food pleasures like making potato latkes one Christmas, when the First Night of Hannukah was around December 21 or 22, and one mother we knew was hospitalized in grave condition...but this is another story, my loves.
For this evening, I only wanted to tell you that I hear the music of autumn in the air, or at least the thing we call autumn in the deepest south. And this takes me to the holidays in my heart, where All of Us Together is the true music of my heart. For now I'm walking in our woods, looking for promising cedar boughs and branches that will be heavy with red berries. One of the dogs will walk with me, patiently watching for snakes and reminding me with glances that we are a bit too early. But we'll be ready. As the berries turn red and the fragrances of pine and cedar meet the air, we'll be ready.