Christmas 101...

<My first impulse was to call this post ‘Uh-oh. Christmas: here we go again!’>

It’s a couple of weeks before Christmas as I write this. Oh, Christmas – season of emotional confusion & messiness, & (in some cases very likely) emotional blackmail, even. (What fun! Not…)

Season of all our wanting & neediness to reach preposterous levels – & our dissatisfactions & pain, also.

The emotional complexity of this time of year boggles my mind! Stirs up my own emotions & emotional neediness like some great big bubbling, messy stew. And has, now, for more years than I care to think about.

I can’t help but wonder: do Jews & Muslims experience this season (or any season) in this same way?? Is this great big annual mixed-up, emotion-laden season the sole province of “Christian” people? (quotation marks because I & so many of us are, of course, merely “cultural Christians.”)

Christmas has always been a bit loaded for me (&, I think, for many). It seems to be all tied up with nostalgia – nostalgia for those “perfect” Christmases we had as children. (Ha! Since so many of us come from dysfunctional families, I think many readers will “get” that little ironic chuckle of mine there.)

A long-time un-fan of waste (of any & all kinds), & of this culture’s excessive consumerism, Christmas has long been an ambivalent time for me.

I want it to be about family, & love, & togetherness, & laughter, & preferably some snowy activity such as skating or tobogganing, with a little (or even a lot) of chocolate thrown in – & truthfully, I’m grateful to be able to say, I do spend some very enjoyable Christmas days – but the weeks of agonizing over who is going to be where (divorce, eh? That gift that keeps right on giving…) & what to get for everyone & … the angst, the angst! Sheesh!!

This year is proving no exception. We families of divorce have our awkwardnesses to navigate, year after year after year. It’s a real bummer. This year’s crop of personal angst (details not important) is helping me “get” a few things, I think, about the “human condition.”

First off, & apologies in advance for the offence this will very likely cause to some, but I do not believe for a moment that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Christmas celebrations are really about the big blow-out human beings have been having to celebrate the end of that painful trajectory of growing darkness – those days that grow shorter & shorter until December 21st. Our species has apparently been hosting big bashes at the time of the winter solstice for … a whole heckuva lot of years!! (Do look this up, if you like. That’s what Google is for!!)

So, wanting to “party” at this time is practically primal. It’s virtually wired into us.

All the gift-giving … baloney… All the hoopla & the excessive consumerism – that’s just modern-day nonsense.(1)

I have my own theory about Christmas – first floated in 2006 in one of the “Letters to My Daughters” collection I was then working on. I keep fine-tuning this little theory, & recent/current events are adding more ingredients to the mix.

I think what really comes out in (many of) us at Christmas is the pain of our abandonment. I believe we all have feelings of pain & abandonment; every last one of us, one way & another. It’s a matter of degree.

Long story short?

We human beings evolved to be tribal creatures. We need more than these ever-so-aptly-named “nuclear” families. On the big picture, geological time scale, we only walked out of those caves yesterday afternoon. You get what I’m saying?

Not only do we each have our very own personal experiences of abandonment, we feel abandonment/alienation as a species.

We feel lonely, alone, adrift, isolated, alienated. Why? 10,000 years(2) of living in opposition to our very nature as tribal (communal, if you prefer) creatures have left us feeling this way.

Don’t buy this? Well, you don’t really have to.

Bring it back down to the level of the personal. To Christmas, & our nostalgia & our neuroses & our angst – every year, like clockwork, at this season.

As I alluded to, some recent/current “stuff” in my own life is helping me rassle with this. On the personal level – on the very down-to-earth, Janet McNeill level, I am rassling with it all, trust me!

& I am “getting”:

  1. I have emotional pain that rears its head for me most particularly at Thanksgiving & Christmas.
  2. Divorce is a very generous contributor, in my case, to this annual angst. There is simply no getting around that. No point pretending it isn’t so.
  3. In my pain, it is very tempting to lash out. To want to “punish” someone else for the pain I am feeling inside me.
  4. This emotion of wanting to spread the pain around (“Misery loves company,” hmm?) is very…real. (Can you say “war,” anyone?? Can you say “So-&-so just did such-&-such; let’s whack her/him/them with a 2 x 4, or a rocket launcher, or a missile, or a nuclear bomb,” or…you’re getting my drift, hmmm?)
  5. I can’t just “talk myself out of” the pain that comes up sometimes over some of this ancient or more recent or current personal slights & slings & arrows. It does seem to help an awful lot, though, to be fully honest with myself about what I am feeling – & sometimes even to articulate it out loud.
  6. And then do my best to take that understanding of my own self, my own situation – my own emotional conflictedness…to understand better what other people are feeling – without making them wrong for their feelings.(3)
  7. Because being petty & mean-spirited in my own “personal life,” & acting as though making other people miserable (punishing them, in essence) will make me feel better is only so much futile nonsense. It doesn’t work... That way does not lie happiness.
  8. So. I know I have some more figuring out to do. The nuts & bolts of this year’s Christmas remain to be fine-tuned. I’m hoping that some of my understanding of the “big picture” (millennia of celebrations at the time of the winter solstice; universal feelings among human beings of loss & abandonment; the state of life here on Planet Earth at this so-very-sobering time in human history) will help me out on the personal level. I need to be sensitive to – mindful of – my own emotional … stews; to know with certainty that making others miserable will not make me feel good; and to figure out how to balance simple honesty about the challenges that rise up at this time every year with sensitivity to everyone else’s personal share of emotional ambivalence & pain…

& try to have some fun!! I do believe the blow-outs we human beings have been having at this time of year – for millennia now – are really all about what some brilliant thinkers(4) say the whole point of human life on Planet Earth actually is:

Celebration!!

Janet

p.s. Over the years, I’ve written environment columns for several small town newspapers. The most recent one was the North Renfrew Times, during the Deep River phase of my life. A few of these columns can be found under the NRT Columns tab. The one that springs to mind right now is ‘Transforming Christmas.’

p.p.s. I just came across a scrap of paper that reminded me of Sister Joan Chittister’s phrase that describes our current way of living. “Pathological individualism.” Bang on, I'd say!

p.p.p.s. I came up very recently with a thought that maybe I should share here. It was this: The human tendency toward pettiness should never be underestimated. You can quote me on that! It came up while I was out on one of my daily walks. I had an episode of personal pettiness come over me, & up sprang those words…We can all, of course, resort at times to pettiness & mean-spiritedness. But it never really makes us feel good, does it?? I think we tend to feel much better when we strive to be big…not when we get all caught up in unpleasant “little me” stuff.


(1) & btw, if you have not already watched the brilliant little animated show “The Story of Stuff, get thee to it & watch!! It’s funny & very smart & packs one heck of a punch into a few short minutes’ viewing. Highly recommended!!

(2) Other posts have dealt with this 10,000 year idea:

(3) The way we so often make other people wrong is a key concept I took away from my Landmark Forum (LMF) experience. The blog posting ‘Landmark Experience is relevant here, but I think in that post I may have failed to mention this insight about how we make other people wrong, & how this really doesn’t help any of us a whole heck of a lot…

(4) I think both Matthew Fox & Thomas Berry have written about this. & they are (were, in Berry’s case) big, BIG thinkers…