Earlier this week I left my garret feeling a bit twisted and conflicted with thoughts of Christmas tasks struggling for dominance in my head. It was time to fix dinner, but, instead I was drawn by the soft lights in the living room. I have been reading a small book called Christmas on Jane Street http://www.harpercollins.com/9780061626425/christmas-on-jane-street by Billy Romp (Don't you love that name?) with Wanda Urbanska, a true story about a family in Vermont who go to New York City to sell Christmas trees every year for the month of December. It is one of those heart-warming stories reminding one of the importance of love and compassion and how keeping those values in view allows us to change and grow.
I finished reading the book, sighing with pleasure at the end, and instead of weariness overtaking me, which is what sometimes happens if I relax right before fixing dinner, I felt lighter, calmer. Then, instead of listening to the news on the radio, my more normal routine while fixing dinner, I listened to Christmas music on one of my Pandora stations. Dinner was ordinary--scrambled eggs with ham and cheese, English muffins, and clementines--but each step felt more meditative. I was in the midst of a walking meditation. I breathed in and out, finding my own rhythm, releasing the unfinished list, opening my heart to Spirit's guidance.
As I filled our plates--Christmas dishes which always remind me of my mother, for she started us on this collection--I thought about how the habits of Christmas can haunt us; how the way we have always done something can stay with us long after its usefulness. That can be true, also, with the pace we whip ourselves into during this holiday or other busy times of our lives. When we were raising our families and working full-time and being active in communities whether it was our faith communities, schools, or neighborhoods, adding in all the must-do's of Christmas was exhausting. The pace was frenetic.
There were years when it all seemed overwhelming, and days were not long enough to do all the Christmas-related tasks I wanted to do or felt compelled to do. Rush, rush, rush. Too much to do in too little time.
That was then and this is now.
Yes, there is still lots to do, but now I am in a different stage of life; one in which the taffy-pull of life isn't as intense, but unless I intentionally move in a walking meditation, I still find myself reverting to those former years when Advent was more a time of deadlines and expectations than sacred waiting and anticipation. I sometimes get caught in the rush-hour habits of those earlier years.
What I try to do now, want to do now is focus on those aspects of Christmas preparations I love the most.
* I love the decorating, surrounding myself with the context for the other tasks. Re-imagining the house for these days of magic and expectation.
* I love picking out Christmas cards and writing our annual Christmas letter, as well as more personal notes. When I write our letter I think about the highlights of our year that would be shared over a glass of wine, if we were to meet in person. Is there news that is cause for rejoicing or news that is hard to share, but those who have known us over the years would want to know? I try to express a new learning or understanding, a piece of spiritual growth and deepening that I hope will resonate our ongoing connection.
* I love the music of the season, the Advent hymns, the carols. Most of the time I write with silence as my background, but this year I can't get enough of the sounds. The music reminds me to listen with the ears of my heart.
Of course, I love the family times and gathering of friends and family in our home. I even enjoy the shopping and finding gifts that will be enjoyed, although wrapping is not my favorite Christmas activity. And while I love to cook, baking cookies is not my thing. I will make our traditional cherry walnut bread, and I better get started doing that next week, but leave the plates of a dozen different varieties of cookies to someone else. That decision is one way I have chosen to decrease that crazy, swirling out of control feeling of earlier years.
This year I am trying to be present to each day and not think about the new year yet. Thoughts about what I want to do come January--the organizing typical of the new year, my writing goals, my reading plans--hover near the surface, but I won't have this day ever again, and this is the day, this Advent day, that needs to be lived to the best of my ability with love and joy and openness.
Thanks be to God.
What Christmas expectations can you set aside? Do you know what you most love to do during this season? Is that what you are doing? I would love to know.