Thoughts For December

Today ( Dec. 6th ) is St. Nicholas Day —- and my sister-in-law’s birthday. Nickie is no longer with us in body, so thinking about the fine times with her is a good way to celebrate her life on this, her natal day. She and I both graduated from Cornell’s College of Home Economics (as it was called then), but twenty years apart. We occasionally enjoyed sharing our very different Cornell experiences…..when women were still safely in their dorms by 11 PM and wore skirts to dinner☺ . When I was nine or ten, she helped with my 4-H sewing projects and quite a few years later, took on the tedious job of sewing about 40 tiny satin-covered buttons up the back of my wedding dress. Some of her daughters and I grew up together; played paper dolls together, shared chicken pox and measles, occasionally got into trouble together, and are still a wonderful part of my life. We all miss Nickie and wish we could share cake, ice cream and conversation with her on this day.

We are into Advent now; the hanging of the greens has been accomplished at church and at home. I’m working on our annual Christmas card and letter. Every year, I’m tempted to just go out and buy cards —- but somehow, inspiration always hits —– eventually—– a sketch comes to mind, a verse tugs at my thoughts —- and a card emerges. They may reach the mail box after Christmas but since the wishes are for the entire year, a bit of tardiness is acceptable to most of our friends and family.

People seem to be in a celebratory mood through all of December and there are several centuries-old special days if anyone needs a reason. I mentioned St. Nicholas day, but there is St. Ambrose (the bishop of Milan) on December 7th, Pope Gregory on December 10th, Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, St. Lucia on December 13th and John of the Cross on December 14th. Following Christmas there’s St. Stephen’s Day on December 26th — also Boxing Day in England. I think there are more; just Google “December Saints of the Church” and see how many you can find. Protestant churches tend not to note the saints’ days as do Roman Catholic churches. But I like the stories of courage, inspiration and faith that led to their sainthood, so I say CELEBRATE!! And share their stories of courage, deep faith and the impact they had on their world.
The whole panorama of December includes ringing Salvation Army bells, homes outlined in lights and seasonal music pouring from nearly every place of business. Fresh green trees are stacked at farm stands and the “magic of the season” has begun. Retailers do their best to convince us that they are the source of this magic, and if we’ll just buy whatever it is they are selling our lives will be wonderful and Christmas will be more “Christmas-y”. Wisdom tell us, however, that our mystic wellspring of joy does not originate in things, glittery or otherwise, but from our own spiritual Source. And to feel refreshed, we need to spend some time at the fountain where it originates. Enjoying the sparkle is fun, but it does no good service to inflict upon ourselves the stress of trying to meet over-the-top expectations set by those selling holiday goods and services. We very much need times of quiet or we’ll be missing the true magic — the love and holiness that begets the season.

We must remember that there are also those for whom the constant “ho-ho-hos” and canned music drives them deeper into sadness or despair. One of several Christmas books on our shelves tells a story of four angels who have been assigned to help a human woman. “This woman constantly thought in terms of “me” and “mine”! So the first angel said: ‘I will work on her loving power. She doesn’t know that loving is the beginning of Christmas.’ ‘Then I will work on her giving power’ said the second angel, ‘to teach her the joy of giving to those who need, for giving is the joy of Christmas.’ The third angel said, ‘I shall work on her doing power; doing for others is the giving of one’s self and doing is the happiness of Christmas.’ Then the fourth angel said, ‘And that leaves me to help her being power. If I fail to make her grow into a better person because of the experience of Christmas, then all your work will be in vain.’” We miss what Christmas is really about if we are oblivious to the hurting people around us and insensitive to their needs. In helping someone else, we often find our own lives shining with more light and happiness.

Another place where we need open hearts is for those who celebrate other days than Christmas. Some Christmas devotees seem to resent the celebration of Hanukkah, the Solstice, Kwanza, etc. It is as though they are saying, “Keep quiet unless you can join us in Merry Christmas; don’t muddy-up our December celebrations with yours.” One of our fundamental freedoms in this nation, is that of religion —- which some, in their enthusiasm for their own faith, forget. Jesus never said to stomp upon other religions; Jesus told us simply to be so kind and so caring, that others would wish to be with us because of our love. So, depending on who I’m having a conversation with, I’m quite glad to wish joy to them, whether it be via “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays” or “A blessed Hanukkah” or simply ‘Happy Yule”. Love does not believe in being exclusive! And the more joy, the better!

A couple of weeks ago, at Thanksgiving time, we were blessed to have quite a lot of family with us for a day. Not everyone has this privilege so I am exceedingly grateful, and never take our extended family for granted. Our sons and families were here, some of our nephews and a couple of nieces joined us, and we had a warm and wonderful afternoon. We shared family stories, spoke a bit wistfully of those who are no longer with us, and filled ourselves with laughter and good food. We are all old enough to realize, with Henri-Frederic Amiel*, that “Life is short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.” Perhaps if we taught this concept along with arithmetic and reading, there’d be fewer people problems in this world.

Quite a few December days are still ahead of us. I’d like to think that I will treasure each day. As the holiday season continues, I hope we all allow ourselves to be filled with the aroma of fir trees, baking cookies and Chanel #5 (or whatever your favorite scent might be). I hope the lights that are everywhere light up both our outer and inner worlds. Really, wishes for this time of year are quite simple; that we find ourselves with understanding hearts, open arms and hearts filled with empathy and concern for those around us. There is a Japanese proverb that is good advice: “Be an open bowl and opportunity may drop in.” And the Gospel of Luke reminds us to “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with….the worries of this world.” In other words — and a reminder from a previous essay — enjoy the crumbs of each day. May these next few weeks be good ones.

*-Henri-Frederic Amiel—- Swiss philosopher, poet and critic. 1821-1881

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