We’ve reached the finish line for 2023 —- which seems quite absurd. Weren’t the leaves just falling and wasn’t it just autumn? Christmas decorations are still up, and a gift of roses and mums allows me the fantasy of blooming flowers in the house. It is comfortable to just mellow out and not think too much. However, when we are this close to December’s end, most of us are somewhat reluctant to let the old year go, while at the same time, are hoping that a new year ahead will, somehow be better. I am quite sure that each our years have their very own medley of dark and light days; of joys and sorrows; of balms and irritants but we are forever optimistic at the beginning of a year.
Christmas Day is over and it was a lovely day; actually, a series of lovely days. Family members stopped by to visit the week prior to Christmas, and it was a warm and congenial time. We enjoyed a rather unexpected lunch with friends at a lovely place and that added to our festivities. Gifts beneath the tree were thoughtful and welcome, but the togetherness was our most appreciated present. As we looked through photos of other Christmas celebrations (I’m an album addict!), I was remembering gifts from earlier days. For many years, I created things from fabric — like baby mobiles or puppets — or appliqued pillows and hangings. Kerm made things from wood; games or carefully-crafted, cut-out words to hang from brass chains, or puzzles. He also built creche stables. In Pennsylvania, my 4-H Club created sand and ice candles in my kitchen. This was a bit messy, but what unique candles we turned out. Later, we acquired molds of various shapes and sizes, melted wax in an old double boiler and carefully poured it into the metal molds around a wick.
Gifts received were equally as creative. We still have, hanging in our kitchen, a plaque that Kerm’s brother made from a stable floor plank, with a cross carved and burned into the wood, and on our wood stove, sits a sculpture fashioned by another family member, from a railroad tie. Depending on one’s perspective, it can resemble a camel or the word “Jesus”. Our Christmas tree has several ornaments made by skillful fingers of family and friends.
Christmas gifting has become, for many, an expensive and frustrating hassle. Once again, we may be trying to fit ourselves into some prescribed mold of perfection. I suffered from that notion when I was younger, and often found myself worn out and cranky by Christmas Eve. What we really need to give each other is our time, a listening ear, and our no-strings-attached love. Of course, I still try to find an appropriate gift for those who will be with us at Christmas time and I enjoy doing that. But I also try to remember that just being together, paying attention to each other, is the gift we all need, and therein lies the magic of Christmas. We’d have a good time were there nothing at all under the tree.
This is Thursday, so we are three days into Kwanzaa, and then —- “what are you doing New Year’s? New Year’s Eve?” Kwanzaa is a festival celebrating African-American culture, and runs from December 26 through January 1st. It is a colorful, warm time of family and community. Our nation is a collection of cultures, and it is good to keep bits and pieces of those cultural memories alive. Before Christmas there is St. Nicholas Day, Santa Lucia Day and after Christmas, don’t forget Boxing Day and Epiphany. Like a beautiful pieced quilt, traditions keep us feeling the warmth of connection; of our roots.
My background is both Scottish and French (and who knows what else), so, we have some northern European baking (Fruit cake but, NO Haggis!), and a creche of French tradition, with Santons (many small figures) to accompany it. And we’ve adopted a few other customs that weren’t ours, like mistletoe (Scandinavia), poinsettias (Mexico) and a Christmas tree (Germany).
New Year’s Eve celebrations tend to be splashed all over TV. Who hasn’t, at least once or twice, stayed up to watch the ball drop, in Times Square? At the turn of the century into 2000, I remained awake to watch the new year begin all over the world starting in New Zealand or Australia as I recall. Kerm peacefully slept through it all. As a teenager and college student, I expected to do something fun on New Year’s Eve, a party or dancing. When we had younger children, Kerm and I were more inclined to invite people over for an evening of games, laughter and conversation. For a few years, our church had what is called a Watch Night service where we sat together in small groups, singing, praying, and sharing thoughts about the new year. Most recently, we have simply, and contentedly, stayed home; maybe watched New Year’s celebrations on TV or, more likely, listened to music, and slipped off to slumber even before midnight. Sometimes I will make a special eggnog and a large bowl of popcorn for our at-home journey into a new year.
It is a universal hope that troubles will fall off the edge of the old year, and not follow us into the new one. I can envision, with some humor, fibromyalgia, vision issues and the heaviness of world problems, falling into an abyss never to return. If only! Some people make New Year’s Resolutions. For me, this is futile. I can, however, be grateful for what I might have learned in 2023 that will make me wiser in 2024. Our Christmas challenge, this year, from our pastor was to “grow more beautiful” during the season of Advent. This same thought could surely be our resolution for 2024 as well. Right now, we have three days remaining in this year; a whole weekend ahead for contemplation, resolution, growth and celebration. And we can enjoy clean new pages in our calendars! Lovely to anticipate!
In reading an essay from 2017, I noted that several of us were considering a question; “What if we allowed our spiritual guidance to determine our calendar/activities? How would that change my days?” I’m not sure how seriously any of us who were in that chat, have considered that in the last seven years. I fear that most of us glance at our calendars (or phones) and if there is a blank slot, we agree to do whatever we are being asked to do. Perhaps there could be a longer consideration time before we say “Yes”? Think – how does our use of time affect those around us? How does it affect our rest? Our mental/spiritual growth? Are we feeling called to this, or are we just being people-pleasers? Time, especially as one grows older, is a super-precious commodity. Giving a bit more thought before we scatter our hours abroad, seems like a good plan. Wait a bit before mucking up those pure-as-the-driven-snow calendar pages.
Most of us, when considering our hopes for this coming year probably will think of universal struggles with wars, with violence, with ridiculous racial and cultural biases, our fears for the future. Our new year would be truly blessed if suddenly we humans looked at each other with care and concern. We all tend to be considerably vocal about our personal freedoms and are loudly concerned every time a curb is put on personal behavior. But in this new year, I would hope we would stop confusing liberty with license. Freedom is only acceptable when it hurts no one else; when my freedom doesn’t impinge on your freedom. Compromise and consideration are not dirty words! Most of us are notably selfish when it comes to making decisions about what is “good for all”. We don’t like to be either inconvenienced or thwarted in what we choose to do.
Perhaps our one lasting resolution (especially if we are looking at being more beautiful) might be laying aside our biases, our “what we’ve always done and thought” and looking with clear eyes and clear thinking at how we live and what might make life better for people who are not us. As Desmond Tutu said: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it is all those little bits of good, put all together, that overwhelm the world.” *
The giving spirit that overtakes us in December, can be extended into the year ahead. Kindness and consideration, listening and hearing can be gifts for all seasons. And speaking of gifts, it is, even in the midst of chilly winds and blowing snow, time to check out those seed catalogs that came before Christmas. How lovely to envision clouds of baby’s breath, tall zinnia sentinels, layers of petaled roses and velvety pansies. Ahh!!!! My gardens, even in my imagination, are a gift in mid-winter: “Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January, with a dream.” ** So — pleasant dreams and I’m wishing you many actual blessings for this 2024. And may your calendar retain many pure, white empty squares!
Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Desmond Tutu —Sout African Anglican Bishop knows for his anti-apartheid and human rights advocacy.
**Josephine Neuse—A Master Gardener and garden writer. 1923-2012.