THOUGHTS FROM THE YULETIDE 2010
Dearest family and friends, old and new;
Greetings from the slushy, drizzling, overcast, and fog-riddled, slightly-far north town of Eagle, Idaho! We fervently hope the holiday season is bringing you a lot more sunlight than we’ve seen here over the last month, and that your vitamin D and serotonin levels are correspondingly higher. I really shouldn’t complain of course. We need the moisture, and the snow in the mountains is a godsend. But still. We’ve been buried under low, heavy clouds and dense fog for so long now that it’s starting to feel a lot like Venus.
The family is doing well. Cal’s had a great year at work and, yes, he’s still traveling back and forth to the Northeast every month and loving the job. Go figure. A double life really seems to suit him. And thanks to both good luck and their stellar work ethics, Lorin and Kit survived the transition and still have jobs after Hewlett Packard bought Palm last year, laying off a lot of the old work force in the merger. McKenna graduates from Boise State University in a few days with a B.A. in English/writing emphasis and a minor in History and has developed into both a talented academic and a sensible, hard working woman. We really couldn’t be prouder. As for me, I was eventually buried under the organizational demands of trying to write a book about dying, so I shelved the project and started a blog about dying instead. Turns out it’s a lot easier to continue to sound coherent in a few paragraphs than it is throughout hundreds of pages. Who knew? I have a deepened respect for anyone who writes an entire book about anything.
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Well, right after I wrote the above paragraphs two weeks ago the tsunami hit and I was swept out to sea by the combined demands of holiday preparations, graduation celebrations, blogging schedule, joining a gym (not the best timing on that one…), and cramming a block of dental/medical appointments into the end of the year to try and catch the insurance benefits before they expire. That’s how I find myself sitting here a day and a half before Christmas, stuffed and tired, pressured by deadlines, sweating and sore, screened and cleaned, just a wee bit stressed out, and still trying to think of something warm, fuzzy, and holiday themed to say in the yuletide letter this year.
Actually, I say that carefully. A few years ago Cal and I took a walk along the river on Christmas day and ran into an older couple who wished us a Merry Christmas as they passed by. When we smiled and wished them the same, to our surprise they became agitated and stopped to talk. Evidently, they’d wished someone else a Merry Christmas earlier in the day and whoever it was had bristled and taken offense at the greeting. Our older couple had retaliated by taking offense at the fact that offense had been taken and, lo and behold, in direct opposition to the spirit of the season, the cycle of bad feelings was up and running, passing on its merry little way downriver to us.
I’ve thought about that one ever since. I realize there’s often tension these days around what Christmas…and other traditions for that matter…are supposed to mean, how they’re supposed to be celebrated, and whether or not they should even hold the prominent place they do in a secular society. It’s understandable. I think we all tend to get a little territorial about the traditions that are most important to us, and it’s only natural to resist the intrusion of other traditions onto our own.
The urge to protect the unique rituals, values, and celebrations that nourish, strengthen, and guide us in our lives is universal. I know I certainly don’t want anyone else messing with the way I celebrate my season. But having said that, please believe me when I say that neither do I have any desire to dictate how you should celebrate yours.
We weren’t a particularly religious family when I was growing up, so my parents took the Santa Claus track and really poured themselves into celebrating the magic of Christmas. They went to great lengths to create as much joy, wonder, and sense of miracle for us kids as possible and, funny though it might sound, some of the most important, foundational lessons of my life were learned from the way they taught us to celebrate the season.
First of all, they taught me that Santa Claus was real. That there actually existed a jolly, caring, magical being who was so generous–so loving and happy–that he devoted his whole life to flying through the world to try and touch, enrich, or bring love to every last, living person in it. Naturally, this understanding evolved quite a bit as I grew up. (You’ll be relieved to know I no longer believe in Santa.) However, it also instilled a couple of lasting and important beliefs in me:
1) There are powerful and benign forces at work in creation that sincerely desire my happiness, and
2) Gifts aren’t always given because they’re earned or deserved. Sometimes generosity is just for its own sake.
Secondly, my parents taught me that sometimes miracles come in the night, and I can’t begin to tell you how much courage and hope I’ve drawn from that lesson over the years. Throughout my childhood and on into adulthood, it’s helped me to be less afraid of the shadows, to trust that along with the monsters, darkness also harbors miraculous, luminous gifts. And I honestly think the odd faith I developed from that early lesson helped me more during the lean, dark years of my battle with depression than anything else.
Third, my mom and dad required us, from the time we were small, to think about, select, wrap, and give gifts to each other. And when we finally got to open them all on Christmas morning, we always did it one at a time, each of us taking turns opening a present while everyone else watched and shared in our excitement. We circled around and around this way, as many times as it took, until everyone was done and it was this ritual, more than any other in my life, that taught me how the giving and receiving of gifts is really a banquet for everyone to sit down and enjoy. I learned that whether I’m giving or receiving, ripples of happiness can be created either way, and the truer the spirit with which I do both, the wider the ripples become.
There were a thousand other lessons of course, opportunities to develop qualities like patience and self-control, as well as learning how to manage things like disappointment, envy, and greed. I’ve continued to build on these early lessons all my life, and I feel like the Christmas traditions practiced by my family were actually fundamental and essential to the development of my deepest sense of humanity. I’ve always known that my family’s way of celebrating Christmas was neither the “right” way nor the only one, but it was our way and that made it beautiful, nourishing, and perfect for us. It created magical ties of love, faith, strength, and generosity that bound us closer together, and gave us a way to reaffirm each year the things that my family cherished most. And I’ve done my level best to pass the same gifts and lessons down to my own children.
I guess this is all just a long way of trying to explain that, if Cal and I wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Peace of the Season or any other kind of holiday wish, it’s not because we’re trying to impose our childhoods, or beliefs, or values, or culture on you. We’re not. We don’t believe in that. We love the fact that everyone gets to find and draw meaning for their life in the way that feels right and true and most nourishing to them. And we love even more that we all have the freedom to do just that. No. All we’re really trying to do with the greeting is make a deep, sincere, and heartfelt wish for you from the language of our childhood joy:
For us Merry Christmas means that, no matter what holiday you do or don’t observe, and no matter how you do or don’t observe it, from the depths of our hearts and with the greatest good will, we wish for you all that is best in your world, from all that is best in ours.
With great love and even greater hope,
Cal and Dia
copyright Dia Osborn 2010