Written on Monday 21 December 2015
I have stolen away from all the things I am ‘supposed’ to be doing, to do something that I need to do … to write a few thoughts down and to catch a moment, to consider and to prepare for the coming Christmas days. Less than an hour ago, I was in a blind panic, about all that remains to complete on my To Do list, and then I pulled myself together with the remembrance that there are so many around the world right now, for whom Christmas will have anything but a To Do list, a To Buy list, or a to invite list …
I know that this is the time of year when many around the world feel the deepest sense of aloneness, purposelessness and loss. I am aware that we are among the fortunate few on the planet, who have a roof over our heads, food in our tummies every single day, warmth as we snuggle down into our beds at night in the northern hemisphere, know comfort as we do the same in the south, and so much around us from whence we can each draw joy, if we will but stop a moment and see how much we are each blessed by. And so, I stopped. In the midst of my busy, modern Christmastime anxiety, I just stopped. I breathed. I remembered those less busy, less encumbered with ‘blessings’, and I gave thanks that I have people in my life for whom I ‘must do’ and complete my To Do list for.
What has happened to Christmas? What has happened to the Christ child in the meaning and the midst of Christmas? What has happened to the hearts of those hell bent on spending their cash on things that they and others truly do not need? What has happened to this time of year when, despite the shops being full and the banks’ coffers overflowing, so many go without everything that we take for granted, and so many have not one loving soul to warm their hearts with? Why are so many doing so much to sell us what they and we know that none of us truly needs for life to go well? Why have we become so needs orientated and so acquisitive, anyway, so goal orientated rather than love inclined?
Why have we forgotten that this is the time when we remember how Love came down to meet us where we are already at? How can we imagine that materialism and things can fulfil us, when those who are totally alone at this time of year know only too well that they cannot? How many would give their eye teeth to have someone loving to hold? How many fear the alcoholic rages that follow the “Christmas Cheer”? How many children wait expectantly for Father Christmas, or Santa (who has stolen the show), and yet many live in fear of what their own fathers might do to them, and have no knowledge of the Father who is our very own and loving God? How many have grown to hate Christmas, because it hurts, or sends them into spiralling debt? How many dread the gatherings and the opulence, when all they really want and need is love?
At the start of this day, a mere four days before Christmas Day itself, I had so many plans and intentions of things to complete, my list long and courageously ambitious, as I continue to struggle with the pain of a recently strained back. At the beginning of this day the morning sky lit up, with tones of pink highlighting the clearing grey clouds, offering hope and promise of strength and resolve and fortitude … and I have done the best I could with those. However, the end of the day is here now, and I have left most of my List a dream and a hope for tomorrow, undone and only with the help of a miracle to be completed in good time. I believe in miracles, have seen and know a fair few myself, but it seems that this time my List really is ridiculous and life is showing me to calm it all right down.
Four years ago, for the first time, I hosted Christmas (with all the traditional British trimmings) in our own home here, with and for my wider family in the UK. In previous years, we had either been living in Australia, or had spent Christmas in one or another of my UK family members’ homes, but that year I had begged to be the one (as the eldest sibling), to do Christmas for everyone in our home for once. I look back now at all that was so lovingly created for that day, by myself and by my children and a friend from Hong Kong who was staying with us, and I marvel at the beautiful homemade Christmas crackers, the food (so simple and yet for me, coming out of a breakdown, such a major feat to produce, tasty and on time). For the first time in my life, I had made Christmas pudding (organic and to my own experimental recipe) for our family to share. Adventurously, I had baked an impressive organic Christmas cake (partly my own recipe too, a scary first time process, baking it nervously in my trusty round Le Creuset), completely homemade and iced, even the marzipan was made by my own hand. That Christmas had every element of magic and joy that I could conjure up, working against so much that had been and was holding me back, and I think I and my team of merry helpers managed to pull it off well … the pictures, in hindsight, certainly looked respectable!
This year, with only my small nuclear family around our table on Christmas Day, I want to create the magic that we have all enjoyed at other festive occasions and places, in previous years. This year, however, we are keeping everything very, very simple. Our gifts are simple, things that each person really needs, lavishness a thing for others, our company much decreased in numbers, our peace and goodwill at the centre of our meaningful time, rather than all the trimmings that create the chaos, the bling, the acquisitiveness, the potential for debt along the road … We have been beautifully blessed by the arrival of Christmas cards, each one appreciated for the love and the time that went into its creation or its thought, and it is in these little things that we see the gifts of presence, of friends near and far, and loved ones who are missed, too far away to touch and hug and feel nearby.
In days long past, as I was growing up in Africa, we would usually only put up our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Now, I often wonder how there was the time to attend that task, with so much else to attend on that day. Some put up their tree many weeks before Christmas, but ours usually appears to take its stage in the fortnight leading up to Christmas, once both of my children have returned home from boarding school or university, and are here to enjoy its choosing, as well as attend the decoration and sparkly splendour that goes with the desired end result. Having stood our fresh tree in a metal bucket of water, the trunk held steady with variously sized stones, we light the interior of the deep green needled branches with warmly coloured strands of Christmassy light, then surround the base of the tree with a plain calico cloth, upon which our gifts are placed on Christmas Eve. As we build the scene, we try to keep things calm and co-ordinated, choosing baubles, little wooden ornaments and glistening stars from a selection that has travelled from southern to northern hemisphere with us … the shiny red apples a gift from my mother on my first Christmas in Australia, always a regular on our tree. Nothing is ever hung before the little wooden nativity scene has been safely secured in a visible spot, nestled amongst the boughs, the real meaning of Christmas taking pride of place in our home.
Today, I broke with tradition once more and began to create a Christmas pudding for Christmas Day … something I had intended to do on the weekend of “Stir Up Sunday”, a month ago. No doubt I have left this task too late for the flavours to mellow and mingle, but a wish and a prayer might see it through to become a taste sensation, hopefully producing a good waft of dessert joy. This year I shall attempt to create our pudding successfully with a gluten free flour and, if it turns out really well, we might enjoy it at a future gathering with the wider family, where everyone can happily tuck in. I wish I had started this process earlier in the year, but the ‘ideal’ time had other pressing commitments, and so this one will happen now, traditional timing out the Advent window, so to speak.
Four days before Christmas … if said pudding works and I pull it off in this time, a new pudding tradition may well have begun. The very act of stirring those fruits and zests and liquids, as the Christmas Pudding’s raw ingredients came together bit by bit today, was enough to get me powered forward. As I breathed the lovely, familiar smells of Christmas, in calm silence, without any music needed to add to the ambience, I was filled with hope that, despite all that remains on my list To Do, I shall manage to do only what needs to be done, and only in a way that retains calm and can be done lovingly and well.
In closing my record of thoughts leading up to Christmas, I have been pondering too that yesterday I read a mindful piece about Christmas, written by a Buddhist monk. In his thoughtful article, the writer mentioned that “The Pope has shared that this Christmas there is nothing to be joyous about, because there are so many among us choosing hate and violence instead of peace and love.” It is a sobering thought, and so sad that Pope Francis should feel moved to say this, isn’t it? We, who are safe and loved, have so much to be grateful for. If you would like to read it too, the full article is at http://plumvillage.org/news/a-green-santa-and-a-hug-of-love/
I hope that in these days leading up to Christmas, you will know an abiding peace in your heart, and that all your plans and hopes for Christmas will be beautifully and fruitfully realised. Let’s spare thoughts and share our hearts and treasures with those not quite as blessed as us.
In Peace and evergreen Love,