Jan. 2, 2015
A couple I knew, determined to not succumb to the rampant commercialization that has, of recent decades, utterly cannibalized Christmas, gave their children two presents apiece on Christmas morning – one nice toy and one expensive outfit. Oh, the kids got presents from their grandparents and aunts and uncles, but, from their parents, that was it. I was impressed not only by the way they stood up to The Man, The Man being, in this case, Santa Claus, but also by their sheer sang froid. By purchasing only two quality items, this enlightened couple avoided overspending on useless junk and saved themselves not only dollars, but buckets of stress. Even better, their gifting regime didn’t turn their kids into hopped up present junkies. Now, this, I thought, is what I’m going to do when I have kids. This is a reasoned and mature way to deal with the utterly untenable situation that Christmas has become – by which I mean, people buying stuff they can’t afford and, if they don’t, the economy collapsing.
And then I forgot.
Brainwashed by the Juggernaut that is Christmas – the holiday season accounts for about 20% of retail spending -- I joined the throngs of beleaguered North Americans trudging up and down the aisles of Walmart, cart laden with Christmas morning cannon fodder made in China, one more piece of crap to be wrapped, unwrapped, broken and, after several years existence in the form of random clutter, discarded. The New Year would dawn drab and chilling. Not only was it frigging January in Canada, but I was about to receive a credit card bill that would take me the next quarter of a year to pay off.
I came to loathe Christmas. All the holiday signified for this member of the Great Church of Lapsed Catholics were endless hours of drudgery and tedium that I would never get back, mounting debt and the seemingly Sisyphean task of gift wrapping – Sisyphean because, in an effort to make the haul seem larger, I wrapped every pair of socks and underwear separately. What was worse, I had done it to myself. I had had a chance to do Christmas differently. Instead, I had bought into the brinkmanship exercised by our train wreck of a retail sector and bought presents like a crazed wolverine, setting the bar for all future Christmases at a level I could neither sustain nor stomach.
So, with my husband's support (and to his great relief), I decided to end my personal war on Christmas and make the Winter Solstice – the true reason for the season, BTW – the focus of our holiday celebrations. In doing so, I have managed to retain what scraps of sanity years of Walmart Christmases left to me. A script of the ceremony follows for those of you who might be interested in trying this for yourselves. (P.S. The date of the Winter Solstice, commonly thought to occur on December 21, is, in fact, a movable feast: its date varies from year to year. Obeying the logic that, if you’re going to celebrate the Longest Night of the Year, it might as well be the Longest Night of the Year, we made sure to always schedule our celebration on its actual date. Solstice is Solstice, after all.)
For the rest of you, happy whatever-turns-your-crank-and-keeps-you-from-jumping-off-a-bridge. What follows is what, for many a year, saved my bacon.
“For our Northern European ancestors, the Winter Solstice symbolized the beginning of the new solar year and, as such, is a celebration of Light and the rebirth of the Sun.”
Participant 1 (hanging an evergreen wreathe from the door)
“This wreath symbolizes continuity of life, protection and prosperity.”
Participant 2 (hanging a mistletoe ball in the hallway)
“This mistletoe symbolizes peace, prosperity, healing, wellness, fertility, rest and protection.”
Participant 3 (placing a seed ball outside for the birds)
“This gift to the birds is a token of our love for the creatures with whom we share the earth.”
Each child places a star, moon, or sun ornament on the tree, hangs their stocking and receives the gift of a new set of pajamas. Everyone is given a slip of paper and a pen.
“On this, the longest night of the year, we look forward to the light and, in anticipation of its coming, we seek to rid ourselves of the things that weigh us down, that are negative, that we do not want to take with us into the new year. So we ask you to write down what you want to leave behind you and place it in the cauldron.”
The slips of paper are collected and burnt in a small cauldron. Following this, everyone is given a package of heirloom wildflower seeds.
“Just as there are behaviors, compulsions, obsessions and bad habits we want to consign to darkness, so there are positive things that we want to embrace in the new year. Think of what you want to do that’s good for you, whether for your health or your soul or your community and write that down on your seed package. Then when Spring comes, find a suitable place and sow these wildflower seeds.”
A bell is rung to mark the death and rebirth of the sun and a dinner featuring tourtiere and a Yule Log is served.