The Holidays Are Over.

The holidays are finally over. In our family, “The Holiday Season” extends through an early January birthday party. But now we can settle back down into what the Catholics call “Ordinary Time.”

In my own life, the celebration of Christmas is a balancing act. It’s part of my cultural tradition, with trees and colored lights and stockings filled by Santa Claus. My growing Christian leadings, aka my attempts to follow Jesus, would not include hanging unnecessary electric lights or monocropping evergreen trees or consuming excess sugar and chocolate.

My adopted religious tradition leans on the side of no celebration at all. But I think the essential Quaker witness is about not using empty forms and calling it worship. So I’m still experimenting with which cultural practices seem harmless and bring me and my family joy, and which are actually pernicious, even if they bring us momentary happiness.

I’ve had a pretty minimal, handmade, practical approach to gift-giving for years. Mostly for economic reasons, but it coincides nicely with my ecological concerns. For example, last year I gave a lot of hats I crocheted out of organic cotton yarn.

Some of my leading is just toward moderation, in sugar cookies, in busyness, in hanging Christmas lights. For next year, I may not do all the things I did this year, which was a lot more than I did last year, but this was a good experiment in finding our own balance between participating in culture and following Jesus out of our cultural expectations.

The key I think is to seek what brings me/us strength and Light and to give up what makes us feel vaguely guilty. That niggling sense is worth paying attention to. As in so many things, Quakers, and not just Quakers, know better than we do. We can do better. On Holy Days and in Ordinary Time.

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Blogger Gregg Koskela said...

Thank you! It's good for me to read about your own journey, because I see where there is similarity. And the places of difference highlight for me where I am not aware of how what I consider normal, or simply don't consider at all, actually are choices.

1/06/2009 1:11 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you, Gregg. I meant to tell you sooner that, thanks to your inspiration, we gave our first Kiva gift certificate this year. To a child-free sister-in-law who sent a big box for our kids but said she didn't want anything for herself. (When is a gift not a gift? When it's a loan.) Turns out she had heard of Kiva but not participated before, and was happy to get it.

1/06/2009 1:40 AM  
Blogger Imperfect Serenity said...

Thanks, Robin. A few years ago we gave up paper Christmas cards, both for their environmental impact and for the stress and guilt they caused me since they were never done before Christmas. Lately we have been sending an email letter to distant friends, though I was noticing that we were losing touch with older relatives and friends who didn't have email, or whose email addresses we didn't have because our friendships were older than that technology. So this year we sent the email letter the day before Christmas and I spent the next few weeks gradually phoning people I had lost touch with--my uncle who is a recent widower and a childhood friend. I still love hanging other people's Christmas cards around our mantle, but I am glad to feel free of the pressure they put on me, which didn't seem to have anything to do with what Christmas is supposed to be about.

1/06/2009 11:34 AM  
Blogger Angelique said...

Thanks for a wonderfully thoughtful post, Robin. I know exactly what you mean about the excess of Christmas. For years, we've been trying to keep it simple. We've given up buying gifts for people other than our children. We usually give homemade gifts, if we give anything at all (there are many people we've mutually ceased exchanging gifts with, in the spirit of simplifying). Last year, we made homemade dough ornaments for people. This year, we made candy.

Most of our relatives seem to understand. I like to give something to people, but I completely object to spending money I don't have, and time I don't have shopping in malls and buying up a bunch of junk to give away. I can't reconcile how that makes us closer to God, exactly.

Like you, I find the excess of lights and tacky decorations to be a distraction. Sure, we enjoy the occasional neighborhood light display, but I personally think people go way overboard, making their homes look like Las Vegas. It seems like it is a waste of energy, too.

I learn something new about myself every year after the holidays pass, and I hope that each year will get easier. This year, I learned that I don't have to prepare a huge feast to make Christmas meaningful. I also learned that I live in a house with three other people. We, each of us, have our own notions about what makes a good holiday and it is important to compromise. I am enjoying creating traditions that speak to less commercialized ways to celebrating the holiday.

Anyway, happy new year to you and your family!

1/06/2009 1:08 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Eileen, Christmas cards are a great example of things that cause some people joy and some people stress. For me, I think that writing once a year on paper to my relatives and faraway friends is not too much. I long ago gave up concern about when exactly I mail them, except in years when we have moved, when I try to send our cards early since we never manage to send change of address notices. What I love is that I can now include several pictures of our family on the same page with our letter without feeling like I'm burdening people with photographs they might feel obliged to keep and that can't be recycled. But your substitute of actually calling your friends and relations on the phone during the holidays - that would stress me out. When is a good time? What would I say? What is their second kid's name? I'd rather lick 50 envelopes. :-)

Angelique, this year we went to a potluck dinner on Christmas day. It was a lovely mix of eating a feast and only cooking the dishes I like to make. (In this case, pie and gravy.)

Trying to reconcile my children's ideas of a good holiday and mine is an adventure. They were so amazed when we hung lights in our windows and put up a tree this year. I don't think S. had ever seen our ornaments, most of which are handmedowns from Chris's parents, since most years we've been at someone else's house for Christmas morning, so I didn't bother with putting up a tree at our house. So we might do that again next year, if we're home. Their favorite suggestion for Christmas is to visit their cousins in Colorado where there's snow. But that's not going to happen every year either.

So, the key is finding the right solutions for each of us, and not feeling obliged to do it the same way every year, just because we've always done it that way.

1/07/2009 1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

monocropping evergreen trees

If it's any comfort, "christmas" trees are grown on very marginal far northern lands that won't support much in the way of productive food crops. They provide employment to unskilled workers in places where such employment is scarce. I know they are cut and trucked, and need to be disposed, but I still think it's better than to buy some oil-based fake shipped from the far east.

The question remains: what do these remnants of the saturnalia have to do with a people who number days, for gosh sakes, to avoid the stink of paganism.

1/08/2009 10:18 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

David, thanks for your comment. Are you from the far North?

In fact, some Christmas trees are grown not very far from here, but I know you're right that it's not highly productive farm land and it's basically a cash crop in cash-poor regions. I grew up in the northern Sierras where we cut our own trees each year on Forest Service land that they had marked for thinning. When I was in college on the East Coast, my dad mailed little ones to me in a fluorescent light bulb carton. I have no interest in fake trees. I agree that's worse. For aesthetic as well as environmental reasons.

This year, we didn't cut our own tree, but we walked across the street to the grocery store parking lot and carried our tree home by hand. It had a little of the same effect.

Your question made me smile. I have nearly given up the affectation of numbering the days of the week and month, mostly because I don't feel God calling me to that. But I am intrigued. I wonder how many Friends who persist in the Quaker calendar system also have Christmas trees in their homes? Or mistletoe, or Easter eggs?

1/09/2009 12:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, thanks for your comment. Are you from the far North?
One summer when I was in high school, I worked on a tree farm in northern Michigan. There were basically two types of people who worked there, summer kids who couldn't get the prestigious job at the Dairy Queen, and native americans, for whom the two months of tree shearing might be their only job all year. Now, some folks may not know that a pine tree just won't grow into a dense christmas tree shape without being trimmed every year, for the seven or eight years of it's growth cycle. It's trimmed with a machete in broiling hot sun, seven strokes and on to the next tree. You have a leg guard on your right leg to protect you from any missed swipes. The white kids had nice fitted plastic leg guards. The Indians had a piece of stove pipe with a leather strap. If a white kid got hurt, everything was dropped and they were rushed to Cheboygan hospital. If an Indian guy got hurt, they were told to sit under a tree until lunch or end of day. It was my first real taste of how the world really works.

You couldn't wear a shirt because it was so hot, but you had to wear pants because of the blade and the undergrowth. At the end of the summer I was a sight in a bathing suit: Brown on top and white underneath, my right arm like a body builder and my left arm my usual spindly self.

And no, "up north" you can't grow much of anything save poplars, pines and ferns.

1/09/2009 10:48 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I thought more about the Friends I know who are most dedicated to the First Day, Seventh Month system of calendaring. And I realized that they aren't doing it because of their own concern about paganism, they're doing it because their Quaker predecessors did it. And I know some of them feel deeply led to it. But historical reenactment is just not a valid Quaker tradition in my mind. Any one want to contradict me?

1/10/2009 1:09 AM  
Blogger naturalmom said...

No contradiction from me Robin. :o) As a convinced Friend, I am not inclined to use the old calender language and would never dream of giving up Christmas celebrations. Christmas brings me joy, and does make me feel closer to God. (Perhaps because I grew up in a fundamentalist family, where the focus of the holiday was strongly on the birth of Jesus, though we certainly did the gift/tree/lights thing too.) Like you, I'm mindful of keeping it somewhat simple, and I strive to keep things *joyful* rather than stressful, but I do get uplifted by many of the traditions. I also like doing Christmas cards. I'm kind of sad that so many people are giving them up. I understand why, and I don't want people to stress about them, but I so love getting them and every year we get fewer and fewer. :o( I still send out about 35 every year along with a letter and a photo (this year printed on the letter).

I appreciate David's tree farm experience. I live in Michigan, which I believe is the top state in Christmas tree production. I live in the lower peninsula, but there are many farms right around here. Buying local trees is a snap, though I admit to having a small 4 ft. fake tree for the last several years. We've put it in our bow window (out of reach of little fingers) since our first child was a young toddler. It's been a blessing for various reasons, but I think next year will be back to the real thing. The fake tree is getting raggedy looking, and I miss having a real one -- the adventure of going to pick one out and the wonderful smell it brings into the house.

Thanks for this thoughtful post. I guess I've rambled on enough now!


1/10/2009 11:15 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Stephanie, the smell of our tree was great, even though we got it in a parking lot. The boys smelled delicious too.

1/11/2009 12:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like a fruit left too long on the tree, the Christmas tradition is clinging to you (or you to it, rather). It may eventually just fall away. My family rejected Christmas due to it's extra-Biblical and pagan orgins when I was a child (about 9 years old), and I've lived a life without it. I understand the draw it has to people, but really, you can create new meaningful family traditions without building them on a foundation of paganism.

1/12/2009 8:56 PM  

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