Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Magic of Christmas

With the current economic crisis, Christmas this year will be difficult for more families than usual. I wrote this after Christmas 2005, when I returned from hospital on Christmas Eve. I was not able to either orchestrate or participate in the preparations for Christmas.Making Christmas.
Regardless of whether Christmas is a religious festival or a simple gathering and celebration of love and family unity, the important thing is to celebrate it in a way that brings joy to all involved. Almost all religions have a Celebration around this time of year, and even if one is not religious, my partner tells me that there is a winter festival called Festivus, which is the Festival For The Rest Of Us.
After all these years, a set of circumstances and a lot of contemplation brought me to the conclusion that the ability to make Christmas is not built into the genes, it is a learned skill, usually learned in the bosom of a family who makes Christmas as their elders did for generations, with updates on techniques, of course. Those who did not grow up under such circumstances, find it very hard to learn how to make Christmas. They have probably always gone looking for Christmas at friends and more distant relatives homes, or grown up hating Christmas.
For the first time this year, a whole series of stray thoughts fell together to create a picture of how Christmas is made. I have a very dear friend who never experienced really celebrating Christmas growing up, who has a hard time figuring out how to make the Holidays a season of love and joy. He used to get up in the morning and after breakfast, go visiting to find Christmas. Now in his older years, he has found himself in the position of having to struggle with making Christmas.With no memories of warm caring rituals, such as making special foods and meals, car rides to look at the lights, finding and decorating the tree as a family, or the fun and anticipation of having the family all together at this season, or picking and wrapping gifts he hopes will delight the recipient, he is at a loss as how to start making Christmas his own.
I grew up in the country, in a very financially poor family, however we did go all out to celebrate Christmas in the best way we knew how. We cut and dragged in our own tree, set it up in a pail of rocks and added guy wires so it would not fall over. We made popcorn garland, white tissue paper icicles, tinfoil glitter, and wood and pinecone ornaments, with a few treasured glass ones saved from year to year. We made fruit cake, aged it for 3 months in air tight tins and made cookies and special pancake breakfasts and a turkey for Christmas Dinner, the biggest one we could get so there would be leftovers for weeks. I no longer follow that particular tradition.
I don't believe it matters what the traditions are, as long as they are family traditions, filled with loving memories to be recreated each year along with the current year's tree, trimmings and new traditions.When my children were small, we made decorating the house a big deal, with every nook and cranny filled with glittering decorations, saved from year to year. As they grew, the amount of decorating was reduced until now, in my later years, we still do the tree, some table and wall decorations, and a small outside decoration at the door to welcome people in. Even when lights became available for both tree and outdoor use, it did not really appeal to me as growing up there were no lights. We now have lights on the tree, but still do not do the outdoor lights. We do, however always go for a car tour to look at all the outside lights that people put up and when we can, take pictures of the major displays. I always feel like a small child, eyes wide in wonder at all the light and color. I almost have to come home and put Alka-Seltzer in my eyes to calm the optical indigestion of having done so much looking.
In the natural progression of things, the children grow up, move away from home, but come home for the holidays with great anticipation of recreating the magic that was Christmas in their youth. When they marry, they blend the traditions of both families, to begin a new tradition of their own, and often spend Christmas Day with one family and Boxing Day with the other. Then when a new generation of children comes along, the young people begin having their own Christmas Celebration at home with the children, inviting the grandparents to come and participate, seeing the magic and wonder through eyes of children once more. At that point, the older generation has done its work and can sit back, do minimal decorating, minimal cooking then spend extra hours finding just the right thing to tickle the grandchildren on Christmas Morning.
As we age, the other thing that happens is that we lose loved ones from year to year, making Christmas a bitter-sweet time, a time of remembering those who have passed on as well as a time of making new memories for the younger generation. How we handle this will determine how the new generation handles it in future, so even this is an important part of the Christmas Tradition that we make.
Those who have children and do not know how to make Christmas, owe it to the next generation to find out, figure out, look around, whatever has to be done to learn to make Christmas, with new traditions, new rituals, new family processes that can be used to make Christmas for the children. There is a huge buffet of rituals out there to choose from if being totally creative is too difficult. If this is not done, they will not know how to do it when they grow up and the rituals of either hating the whole Holiday season or having to go to their friend's homes to find the Christmas Spirit are perpetuated.
May you all have a wonderful Holiday season and the New Year bring joy, health and success in all you do.

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