These days I’m part of a community that largely does not celebrate the holidays or, more generally, questions the season as a cause for celebration at all. I often find myself defending my fierce love of Christmas (which was the holiday my family chose to celebrate growing up). Fumbling over words, I try to explain that I am not a very religious person, nor do I care very much about convention, or how many gifts are laying underneath the tree for me (although, I admit, I am just in love with crafting and creating gifts for others!) It’s not even so much the day, as the time surrounding it. The one answer I always light upon is this: the season is just…. magic.
Sometimes this answer is accompanied by a minimum of eloquence or explanation on my part, often I feel at a loss of words. I believe in magic because I feel magic all around me, at all times. This time of the year, however, is always slightly different— the magic of everyday living seems incandescent, hopeful, near.
Most people know that what we call Christmas (or any of the holidays celebrated this time of the year) is closely linked to the celebration of Solstice, or the return of the sun. Around this time of December, every year, we experience the longest night of the year.
This moment has long been a time of deep reflection and celebration for indigenous peoples. Despite the long winter months to come, the Solstice was a moment that could be called upon and approached as a time of great realization and manifestation of presence, power and joy. It was a ceremonial space, a pause in which you were invited to sit within the quiet of you and your community’s own night places… and see what blessings came out of such fertile depths. After our descent into this time of dreams, togetherness, aloneness, night… the sun would begin its return, inch by inch, lingering longer in the sky, inhaling its way slowly into the easy days of summer.
Whether you honor this time of the year or not, we’re all affected by this slow descent into darkness and the even slower climb back out into the light. This time of the year calls for celebration specifically because it marks the beginning of what might be a grueling time ahead! Traditionally, the winter’s months after Christmas would surely be marked by more than a few empty stomachs.
But the same can be said for our society. What we’ve experienced, in the past few weeks, months and years has been heartbreaking, traumatizing, exposing a space of great darkness both within and without our culture— and the hard truth is that there might be even more difficult times ahead. But here’s the most amazing part of all this darkness: it can be the gateway to a truly magical transformation of spirit.
Magic exists all around us all the time. When we wake up feeling refreshed long before our alarm. When a friend calls out of the blue who you’ve been thinking about. Fresh milk on the table. The way a flower unfolds again in the morning sun. This is magic. All of it. In the time of the year when we touch the darkness most intimately, it can be easy to lose oneself in the night. But what makes this liminal time so magical is that we are encouraged to retreat into ourselves and our communities and find our own eternal light. Hope is never so far away, and the darkness is actually an incredible blessing, a rich opportunity for growth.
In many ways the pure harshness of the season— the weather, the workload, or even the obligations of spending the holidays with those who you wouldn’t normally choose to be around (its an unfortunate truth!)— can force us to go inward and find an appreciation for the beautiful, the grand, the easy…. and the hard as well.
Just living is a magical experience. Magic might be extraordinary, but that doesn’t mean it’s uncommon. We have been blessed to live at this point and time. I felt drawn to writing this piece specifically because the holidays can be difficult, meaningless, painful or triggering for so many. In the wake of all we’ve experienced as a country in the past weeks, many are feeling the heavy burdens of despair, hopelessness and sad disappointment in humanity. This time of the year is a celebration of life, of self, of community and above all—of hope. Today, it is more important than ever to remember exactly what these holidays are for— seeing and recognizing the light, in yourself, in others, and in the world. Every being, no matter who they are, who they love, or what they do, is made of the same eternal light and goodness. This is what I believe, and this is how I know magic is real.
It is my one wish, on this day set aside for wishes, that we all can begin to see the hope, the humility, the magic of our simply extraordinary lives. Regardless of your religious affiliation, beliefs, level of hope or despair, take some time today, or in the next couple of days, to simply reflect upon what is good is the world, what is still beautiful and what will remain beautiful forever. Give gratitude for everything— all things great and small, near and far, continuing and still in the realm of dreams.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a Joyous time for all!
(pssst… this post is a tribute to my father: a wonderful photographer and artist! Almost all these beautiful photos are his creations. Check out his flickr page here)