Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reflections on Christmas 2011--Number Two

A shamanist friend—one who is much more immersed in the mysteries and journeys of shamanism than I probably ever will be—asked me what Christmas means to me. Being as how it IS “Christ”-mas and all. This friend knows that I have left Christianity behind and am traveling a path of alternative spirituality. I’m sure it must seem odd, then, that I post stories about encounters with animal spirit guides on the same page with pictures of my five Christmas trees and outdoor light display.

My answer takes into consideration one undeniable fact: I was brought up Christian. Not just Christian, but Catholic. It was not my choice, but it IS my history. As much a part of me as the brown eyes I got from my dad or the short legs I inherited from my mother.

In Catholic school, we were all about the “Christ” part of Christmas. Midnight Mass and fasting before Communion and the gorgeous Italian crèche with the three-foot-high figures set up in one of the side niches of the church. And of course, as all-American baby boomers, we did not eschew Santa Claus (in whom I believed until I was almost ten years old…) or presents or Christmas trees. My childhood was rich in all the trappings of the holiday season—both religious and secular. And we were okay with it. Somehow we managed to fit the baby Jesus right in there alongside Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman, yet remain aware of the “real” meaning of Christmas.

The REAL meaning of Christmas. What is that, exactly? Arguments have been made placing the actual birth of Christ on half a dozen different dates, depending upon the criteria examined. The truth is, no one really knows when Christ was born. In fact, there is no surviving historical record THAT Christ was born. So it seemed simple enough, several hundred years ago, to assign the commemoration of Christ’s birth to a holiday that was nearly universally celebrated in some way in the lands into which the Christian faith was expanding: the Winter Solstice. I have to smile when I hear present-day Christians whining about “keeping the Christ in Christmas,” when it was their ancestors who plunked Christ into a holiday where he didn’t historically belong.

But I have no real beef with Christians celebrating Christmas at Solstice. Human beings almost instinctively celebrate the promise of lengthening days and shortening darkness. One feast of light and life is as good as another, as far as I’m concerned. There’s no need for us to disrespect the customs of others, nor to compel others to celebrate as we do. The Almighty is an expansive force. I’m sure It can appreciate and include more celebrations of Creation than we have the capacity to invent. It’s when we start saying, “THIS is the right way to celebrate, and YOU are doing it wrong!” that we get into trouble.

So I don’t see any particular disconnect between my current spiritual views and my love of all things Christmas. Christmas is largely a secular, social holiday. I’m smack in the middle of my fifty-seventh experience of this cultural phenomenon. Of course it’s very much a part of me, and I see no reason for this to change. I can indulge in the decorating and the shopping and the gift-giving and the eating without feeling that I am somehow denying my spiritual direction.

Still, I have a new path that begs acknowledgment now. I am impressed by how gently the Almighty has reminded me of this. A week ago, had you asked me how or even if I planned to celebrate the Solstice, I would have replied, “Ummmm….” What with all the decorating and entertaining and party prep, I hadn’t really thought much about it. As luck (or the Almighty) would have it, my party is over, my decorating is done, shopping is accomplished and I suddenly find myself with a couple of days to just…be. And I find I’m “being” nudged in the direction of Solstice. Of considering its significance. Of pondering its elemental place in the circle of life. Of crafting my own ceremony of acknowledgment and participation in something very ancient and very deeply real.

I’ve decided upon a Fire Ceremony. The Winter Solstice fire is a North fire. It honors ancestors and teachers. I’ll build a fire on my north deck and think about my ancestors; especially my parents. Christmas is so much about family, particularly those we miss—a significant connection between the two celebrations, as I see it.

Also, the Solstice fire is a cleansing fire. One ritual has participants choosing a stick to add to the fire. The stick represents all the things that “no longer serve.” We put the torch to these things to make more room for the new, and for things of lasting importance. Truthfully, this is a hard one for me. I find myself at a crossroads, and I am undeniably burdened with a lot of meaningless junk. But I’m not really sure what no longer serves. There are times I feel that my entire life no longer serves…and then, there are times I’m afraid to let go of anything, for fear that may be the thing from which my next chapter was meant to spring.

But I have already chosen my stick; I pulled a dead branch out of my plum tree this afternoon after I raked the leaves. The branch is sitting on my “altar” now—the place where I keep my crystals and my ritual trappings. My hope is that it will absorb some of the energy of these things touched by my hands and my spirit. Tomorrow morning I’ll hold the stick and meditate on what things I will attach to it—what things no longer serve—to be burned in my Solstice fire of cleansing and remembering.

Is this the correct, or accepted, or ONLY way to commemorate Solstice? I have no idea. But it is MY way, at this stage of my journey. And I’m really looking forward to it.


  1. Your fire ceremony sounds beautiful and light filled. According to some teachers the barrier between this world and other world is thinnest in the darkest time of the year. What better time to keep in touch with those have passed over but still remain very much a part of you. I know I thought about dad lot while we were decorating the house

    And I'll be thinking about him while we bake and get ready for company. There was this time I thought I'd found the perfect recipe for dinner rolls. Soft, thin crust......guess who lived for crusty bread? LOL

  2. Being one who is completely lost between holidays, it seems that whatever can bring you meaning during this season is of value.

    Enjoy your solstice holiday and have a wonderful Christmas. I actually think the solstice ritual sounds lovely. Wish I was less than 3000 miles away....


  3. Joyously chose for yourself any way that feels right for you for celebrating any occasion.



  4. "one who is much more immersed in the mysteries and journeys of shamanism than I probably ever will be"

    Don't sell yourself short.