For many people, Christmas has become an almost meaningless repetition. Present giving is about “getting things” for other people, often from high street stores or from online retailers. The act of generosity in the giving of a present can vary from being a well chosen gift that lights up another, to the same bath salts for grandma who gives them to a neighbour as soon as your back is turned. Christmas symbols, with more or less religious meaning, adorn shop windows, and have been plundered, simplified and repackaged by the advertising industry.
Christmas can be expensive. For many people, for whom Christmas has little real meaning, it becomes about having a real Christmas tree. Under that Christmas tree are often presents that have been chosen in advance (the latest Ninjago lego set) and then wrapped up to be knowingly opened on Christmas Day.
What can you do, if you find yourself looking at another looming Christmas, and all the deeper meaning has gone out of it for you, like a star snuffing out in the winter sky?
You have one option, which is to drop it entirely, and simply cosy up for the winter. Or you have another alternative to surfing yet another pointless Christmas repetition: You can reclaim Christmas for yourself and those you love, and you can make it real again.
One way to do that is to reconnect with the meaning that is already there. Another is to forge some new meaning.
It is going to be easier to connect to the meaning that is already there if you live in a part of the world where winter is cold. This is because so many of the symbols of Christmas are rooted in the imagination of cold winter months.
“Yuletide” is separate the Christmas Story of Christianity and has been fused into it. Originating in Germany, this winter festival has also be suggested dates back to pre-Christian times and was associated with the winter solstice (Northen Hemisphere). So, Yule, a time of winter, of closing shutters on windows, ensuring there is enough wood for the fire, of waiting for the warmth of spring and the change to sow new life into the ground. The “yule log”, (according to accounts from the 17th Century) was a large log brought in to be burned to celebrate the winter festival. A piece of the log would be preserved for the coming year and it provided protection for the year ahead, and then burned the following year with the new long, and this process would continue.
So, a log for the fire, you take a piece of it and keep it safe for next year. That’s a lovely symbol of continuity and one for the children to wonder at. Fire does protect us if we use it wisely – it keeps us warm. If we burn all we have then we will soon be cold. Keeping something for the future and remembering the protective nature of warmth for human beings, all of these can be meaningful and enjoyable on December 25th. Even the chocolate yule log – the cake made to look like a wooden log – we can save a little of it and put it in the earth to help the soil be reach for the coming year, be it a farm field, a garden, or even a window box. We slice the yule log carefully into parts and share this together. Sharing, and remembering that in winter, the “logs”, be they in our stove burners, or feeding the power stations far away, these give us warmth that help us to survive the winter. Taking out the yule log (a wooden one from the wood store – we can also have a grandparent or a friend deliver it, or a cake one, taken out at hungry time in the afternoon), can become a lovely little ritual for winter. As a child gets older he or she can be allowed to cut the cake, and we might even tell a story of the woodcutter and brining the yule log home…). Such a simple thing can become quite magical for adults and children alike.
Christmas can be like that, even now. A celebration of some lovely symbolism.
We can find meaning and authentic value in the story of Saint Nicholas, a man responding to the needy by leaving gifts by climbing through their window or down their chimney.
We can enjoy the warmth of generosity and celebration of being alive, in the depths of mid-winter.
We can imagine the birth of a child in a stable under a star, a turning point in Time, where we learn to walk freely, not among rules and structures, but through spontaneity born of a wish to serve others. Yes, the more you look at the Christmas story, before it was changed by a lot of editing over the years, you’ll find a bright star of a tale, shining in the dark of winter.
The giving of gifts, the celebration of life and warmth, Christmas, with all of its symbols and rituals, can be a genuinely magical experience. Each of us is a star, unique, shining our own individual light. Think of those you give a gift to, think of what makes them who they are, and direct your presents with presence.