For most of my life, my Holiday Season was centered around traditions that originated in the Anglican community. We celebrated Advent, then Christmas, and finally Epiphany. For forty years, beginning when I was 7 years old, I sang in an Episcopal Church choir and spent a good portion of my Christmas break in rehearsal and in church. The birth of Jesus was the reason for the season, and I never told my children there was a Santa Claus. The first gift they unwrapped was always the wooden Christ figure for the creche, in a golden box marked “Unto Us”. These traditions were rich, comforting, and firm. I think they provided many benefits to my four young children. As the children grew, our family made Christmas about broader values. We supported needy families, donated to organizations that contributed to world causes, and gave gifts that were homemade or from sustainable sources. As my children became young adults, we approached our holiday traditions with hard questions about life and meaning and community. What is truly holy and valuable to us? How do we celebrate the divine spark in all of life? Perhaps the most poignant question became “What is our family now that Dad has died?” Transitions are the hallmark of growth. Things that are growing change; living things evolve. There are Universal transitions that are holy. December 21 is the Winter Solstice, when the Earth is furthest from the Sun and daylight is at its ebb. This year, Saturn and Jupiter will align on that day. And three of my children will be living in Oregon with me. The list of transitions our family has braved over the last year is weighty. It includes several moves, relationship changes, and my mother’s death. In the midst of all these changes, we remember and celebrate the thing that makes a Holy Season: the invitation to Love and the recognition of divine presence in every living thing.
I’m sure that for many people around the world, this will be a Holiday Season that seems very unusual, perhaps quite unsettling. I wish us all the Peace of knowing that transition and change is intrinsic to Life. May we reach out in holy Love and celebrate the divine presence in all living things, expressing our gratitude and committing to doing good.
After the wedding, when the guests have returned by car and airplane to their separate homes, and your brain comes off of the social high of meeting, greeting and paying attention to details, there is a quiet, warm place of relaxation. This may be called the honeymoon for the newly married couple, and it may be a kind of honeymoon for the mother of the bride, too! I am thinking of all the things I most appreciated about the week, all the kindnesses and beauty, all the timeless moments when events folded on top of each other to create a curved sense of space and time. Here are a few that I am holding dear right now:
— I learned that my sister Sarah and my brother David, the artists in the family, have been secretly working away at projects and have gifted my daughter with some amazing artifacts that I’m sure will become family heirlooms for generations. My brother painted an acrylic fantasy featuring the spirit animals of Susan (pirate squirrel) and Andy (Ninja otter) and framed it, hoping only to add a mobile vestibule in which to hang it wherever they might take up residence. I saw this painting only in a photo on his handheld phone, but it was colorful and impressive even so. He has designed fantasy art for a card game (Magic) in the past, so his skills are quite professional. My sister pieced together a crib sized quilt (*oh, happy thought!*) from Celtic knot squares that she’s been working on for 20 years, with a border that she began when she was a member of SCA (the Society of Creative Anachronism). She was delighted to finally have an occasion to finish it and give it to the appropriately appreciative person. Here’s a photo:
–My mother, Anne Louise, who walked into the park where the wedding took place with the help of her trusty, collapsible cane, now has a new nickname. She went from Granne Louise to “Grandalf”, a wizard of wisdom and wit and nurturing. The photographer wanted to adopt her as her own grandmother because she reminded her of her heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt, and she posted a great photo of my mom on her blog, showing off her fly moves to the disco groove on the dance floor. When I told my mother about the photographer’s comment, she replied, “Eleanor couldn’t dance!” (My mom, one-upping Eleanor Roosevelt!!!) She gave a reading as part of the ceremony, quoting the Bible, John Ford, William Shakespeare, the Book of Common Prayer, my father and her self, all cleverly woven into rhyme and verse. It made me weep in rehearsal. Here’s a photo of me & “Grandalf” processing down the aisle after the ceremony:
— My dance with my daughter was very special, and I have yet to see a photographic image of it. We chose to dance to “What A Wonderful World” sung by Louis Armstrong. The first time I heard that song was when Susan sang it with the Barrington Children’s Choir on tour in Europe after her 8th grade year in school. I went along as a chaperone. That trip, all the associations that I have with that song, and with her father singing it, too, and also David Attenborough’s video, make it a perfect choice. “I hear babies cry/ I watch them grow/ They’ll learn much more/ Than I’ll ever know/ And I think to myself….what a wonderful world!”
I will probably bask in the glow of this honeymoon for a while to come, and post bits and pieces about it as they come to mind. How can I keep from singing? From sharing? From being so happy that love and family and hope and future are still a part of this world and of lives being shaped in this century?