Many people are disenchanted with Christmas, because they aren’t religious, or they eschew the materialistic pageant it has become.
To me, there is a piece of this season that is essential; it goes far beyond any one tradition or culture. Despite my eclectic beliefs, the celebration of Christmas is one of my favorite parts of the year.
Some people have a spiritual path or religious outlook that is linear; they embrace what they learned from birth, or search and hope to arrive at a destination. Others of us end up with something that’s more like a patchwork quilt. The unusual juxtapositions may not make sense to others, but we gather the truths we find, and make it into something to wrap ourselves and stay warm in the cold, dark night.
In every culture, there is an instinctual drive in the winter to light fires, light candles, to celebrate this light as a sign that we have hope. We believe despite the dark cold of winter that surrounds us, that we will survive, that we are light in the midst of it. This is why we who practice yoga say namaste. This is why we light candles for menorahs, or Christmas trees. This is why we light a Yule log. We do not celebrate light in the darkness to separate ourselves and draw dividing lines. We do not need one sacred day that elevates the language we use to describe our hope above the words that others choose.
It has been said that it is better to “light one candle than to curse the darkness.” This is the crux of this time of year.
I love so many facets of the season. We bring in an evergreen as Germanic cultures decorated a Yule tree, to remind ourselves that our lives may be sustained despite hardships. We give gifts, as has been done by everyone from the Romans celebrating Saturnalia, to the Norse Yuletide gifts thought to be brought by Oden (rather than someone else with a long white beard). We enjoy the wonderful alchemy of baking, taking scraps of paper handed down over generations to take flour and sugar and create something magical, the scent of which will always mean a holiday. We light a fire, for warmth—for comfort and joy—for our bodies and our hearts.
And we light candles to remind ourselves that no matter how much darkness there is, even one small light makes a difference.
It is dark early this time of year. We shut up our doors tightly; we insulate ourselves. We make our lists and check them twice and scramble to get everything done as if the world were ending at the end of the year. And when I read the news, I’m often saddened at seeing so much pain and hate, or at the fact that our holidays seem to have shifted to a celebration of greed. But more often than that, I look around at the world and the people in it, and am amazed at so much light. The greatest gift we can give the world is simply to be a light, to refuse to let that light be extinguished by the difficulties of life, and to share that light with all we meet.
May your December be full of sweetness that touches your heart as well as your palate. May you feel warmth, comfort and joy, despite the cold. And may you always know that the light inside you is a gift to the world.
With Love and Celebration,
Kate Bartolotta, editor-in-chief
December 1, 2013