Christmas is an emotionally ‘interesting’ time for me and I’m sure for many other people too. I have very nostalgic associations that are often disappointed on the day so it can have a quality of sadness to it. This sadness can be about a lot of things but often it feels like it is about time passing. About the naïve childlike state that once so starry eyed believed in the magic of Christmas and since has been disillusioned. The disillusionment that there is no world, full of enchantment where kindly old men climb down chimneys and bring presents to all the children (OK this does seem a little creepy now!!!).
Christmas is a nostalgic passage marker, bringing to mind not just the passing of internal states of innocence now gone, but the memories of loved ones who once were with us and are no more, and the ideals of family that perhaps were never true for us.
My mum often used to cry at Christmas as it brought up for her so powerfully the ghosts of family, across the seas no longer with her. Coming from an American/Serbian background, her Christmas was a time of cooking and gossiping, incredible traditional foods coming out of the kitchen and boisterous family togetherness, warm, loud, love, fights and all (Serbians are very loud and firey). Her efforts to try and recreate this richness for us kids and our extended community in a more toned down, emotionally flat country (Australia) was heroic and also painful. Now with her children grown and moved to foreign lands and Christmas day an intimate affair, there is grief for those long gone times.
I feel haunted at Christmas too, this year especially, being so far from my family and traditional community. While I love my life here on Gili Air and the new community ties created at the centre, I have noticed a sense of sadness and a craving for that which is enduringly familiar. No matter where I am or where I am not though, I noticed this seems to be the nature of the season- a sense of longing for something that no longer is there, or maybe a dream that was never there. So I wanted to honour that a little in this post.
Interestingly enough, Christmas was traditionally a time of telling ghost stories. It rivalled Halloween’s summoning of those long departed, back to the world of the present. A Northern Hemisphere winter holiday, it occurred during the solstice when the day was shortest and the night longest. People would gather and tell ghost stories around the fireplace, Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ one of the most famous. It was a time to honour the dead and cherish the living with gifts. In the dead of winter we most appreciate the gifts of connection, warmth and light. Tales of the ghostly dead ignite gratitude for the warm fire in front of us, the warm hand holding ours, and the warm bed we will soon take rest in.
Going back to its origins as winter solstice festival, this season marked the moment when the old cycle made space for the new, when the dark would turn back to the light. The longest night promises to stop growing, instead pledging space to the quickening day, auguring the rebirth of warmth and fullness. When Christians grafted Christ’s birth onto this holy festival, the essential archetypal story was a similar one. A new life was born in the darkest of times. A new light, bringing the gift of hope and salvation for us humans fumbling in the dark. Gifts were given to honour this light of Christ consciousness by wise men following the night’s brightest star.
Resurrecting this idea of gift giving outside the commercial overlays that have obscured its essence can be a nice way of trying to restore some meaning to this ‘interesting’ and emotionally charged time of year. For me, Christmas offers the gift of remembering so I love its association with tale telling. Under the nostalgia, under the pained memories of loved ones gone, or innocence disenchanted, is a sense of such sweetness. This energy that is longed for can be reclaimed by re-feeling those past times and reprioritising the values that their memory brings. Isn’t this the moral of all those smaltzy Christmas cinematic weepies? Suddenly many stresses fall away and the importance of love, connection, family (whether it’s the one you were born into or selected later in life), sweet, wide-eyed, innocent, hopeful open heartedness is remembered and re-valued. These don’t have to be qualities lost and now mourned. Like ghosts re-visiting us from the grave, these can be reclaimed.
We further reclaim these qualities through gifting them to others. Maybe calling your mum and telling her how much you love her, maybe taking a dear friend to a smatlzy movie and squeezing their hand as you pass the tissues, maybe bringing some treats and kind words to someone who has less then you this year, maybe someone who never knew the potential for magic in the season. The internal welling up of warmth that heartfelt gifting brings, can resurrect that lost energy you mourn. Embody what you want to receive and then you already have it because it is in you.
I woud like to honour the gift of my melancholic memories, of familial richness created by loved ones, now gone or far away, by recreating the magic these remembrances crave. At Flowers and Fire we will mark the day with a special Christmas circle to honour the ghosts of Christmas past through inviting participants to share a ghost story or the sweet memories that haunt them. We will feast together on a Vegetarian Christmas lunch followed by heart warming and spooky Christmas movies all afternoon (with lots of tissues). If any of you are in the region I invite you to join. But even more, I invite you to gift yourself to fill the empty space that Christmas can activate, by being whatever it is that you are longing for. Be kindness, be magic, be love as your gift to those around you, and then maybe that energy will transcend its ghostly form, and be gifted back to you.
Photo by @saraheaven_