December is a month that seems to sweep us off our feet – full of joy, stress, bad weather, bargain hunting, friends, travel, being away from home or having a lot of guests in your home, expectations, more stress, family, and did I mention stress?
The month seems to go blazing by. We’ve just had our Thanksgiving dinners, and suddenly there’s less than a week to Christmas. For several years I used to make the trip from New York to Oregon, and that was fun – worrying about plane cancellations, stranded in airports with other passengers just about as grouchy as me. And travel by car can also be harrowing during the winter. This year has been a prime example.
But every year, it is a time most of us still look forward to. A time, when, Christian or not, family and friends make the time to get together to celebrate. If you were brought up in the Christian faith, it a time of a miracle of Christ’s birth, a gift. Chanukah is also revolves about a miracle. And then of course during this season, there’s also Santa Claus, and A Miracle on 34th Street, and the season of giving. It’s a time where we supposed to drop our daily meditations on the annoying and mundane, and embrace the spirit of love, generosity and possibility.
Growing up, I seemed to feel that holiday spirit more. Shopping was fun – there was music, colorful lights, the smell of freshly cut fir trees, everybody wishing everybody else a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. I don’t quite feel that spirit as much anymore, but still, despite our hectic lives, there are still lights – albeit usually LED, most people are making an effort to be a bit kinder, and there is that seemingly universal and eternal hope that nobody will get too drunk, or too angry with each other over the Christmas dinner, and that the Jimmy Stewart moment will make an appearance in our lives in some shape or form.
But, it is also a time when family can disappoint, perhaps because one’s expectations are unrealistic. We expect magic and sometimes we just get Mom, Dad, and Uncle Joe, with all their warts, their foibles, their ordinary selves. And yet even in the middle of squabbles, rehashed battlegrounds, there are at least moments (moments that can last a lifetime), when we look around and realize that these are the people we love.
Of course it is also a time that is very difficult for some. For those who can’t be with family, or for those who have lost a loved one – this is a time where that absence is felt most keenly. It might seem that nobody else in the whole wide world is as alone as you. But I think that each of us is always alone and never alone. There are living things all around us, and there are what we might consider to be non-living things present with us – our memories of moments passed, the energy of those not with us. If we can allow ourselves to feel that, I think it helps.
As a young woman, I used to like to grab a break from the hustle of Christmas gatherings in that post present-opening lull to say I needed to take my dog for a walk. I need my alone time, each and every day. That’s just me. I want a time to reflect. While walking my dog on those Christmas days, it would seem that everybody else was inside with family or friends, and that the quiet world was mine alone. My thoughts would drift to friends and wonder how they were spending their day. I would think of the new year that would soon be upon us, bringing what? And off my mind would go to hopes of romance, opportunities for expansion, and movement towards a brighter future. But at the same time, I was soaking in the beautiful fields, the chill of the air, enjoying seeing my dog at that time, my loyal German Shepherd mix, Mishka, run and feeling her freedom. The day was usually quiet because then most places were closed, and it would be magical.
December is a marker – the end of another year, time that is somehow felt as being more gone than it was in March or August or even November. In our country, the land has also gone dormant, the days are short and dark. It is a time for looking back and evaluating whether we have spent the time wisely. We might think of the plans we made a year ago, the list of things we wanted to accomplish. For most of us, we realize that December is not the only month that has slipped by like a ghost. It is frightening to think of how fast the time has sped by. We might have made tentative plans to see an old friend or thought about a place we wanted to travel to, or a project we wanted to complete, and now the year is irretrievably gone.
I think perhaps it is good that all of these things coincide. Maybe the heightened sense of the passage of time, the emotional intensity of being around family and friends or of not being around family and friends, the religious and mythical elements of mystery, miracle and magic that linger on the air like a familiar fragrance touching upon past associations might take us to a place where we can remember how we felt as a child with eyes full of excitement and wonder, minds with a consciousness of the possibilities that lay ahead and hearts that are wide open.
Especially the end of December – the week between Christmas and the New Year is a wonderful time for reflecting upon the past and thinking of the possibilities for the future. My wishes for the upcoming year are: that I attempt not to take any hardships personally or pity myself, but remember that there are others who have far less, experience far worse, and that any challenges that arise for me are but one drop in a sea of suffering; that I realize that I’m a spiritual being and growth on that level is the most important; that I remember to be kind and patient (one of my life’s challenges); that I endeavor to be conscious of the beauty around me in people, places and things. What are your wishes? I hope you can find some time this month to find your own peaceful moments for reflection. May the spirit of the season be upon you!