The conversation this time of year often revolves around ‘so what are your plans for christmas?’
Most of my adult life I’ve shied away from Christmas stuff. There is something about this time of year which affects me deeply and which can’t really be captured in commercial Christmas celebrations. I have often chosen to spend Christmas on my own to make space for intense feelings of sadness and longing, to connect with nature and to meditate on the year gone past.
Growing up in a Scandinavian country Christmas (or Jul as we call it so I was pleased when I came across Yule) takes up a lot of space throughout December and not just on the 24th and 25th. I used to find it very stressful and sad because people around me often seemed to be affected by the pressure to do Christmas the right way rather than taking time to turn inwards and towards loved ones.
Living away from the country I was born in I have had space to develop a new relationship with the Christmas/Jul/Yule and December traditions I grew up within. Because I am not bombarded with it, I can savour it and do it my own way without getting in to comparing myself to others or feel pressure from all the media hype.
December and Christmas traditions in Denmark have strong Christian roots and I used to sing in Church choirs so I have listened to a lot of advent sermons. In Lutheran Protestant traditions there is a big emphasis on faith, hope and love and salvation through faith rather than compulsory good deeds.
I don’t identify as Christian but Christian frameworks are deep in my psyche and I feel it strongly.
But I also feel something else.
Christian celebrations throughout the year are entwined with other much older traditions. The Christian celebrations of the birth of the Son of God is entwined with celebrations of the turning of the Year and the return of the Sun, which exist in different traditions.
Nature is cyclical – not chronological – and in old traditions we didn’t move from the box of one month into the box of the next month but rather we were living within the wheel of the year.
In the Northern hemisphere this is the Dark time of the year, the fallow period where nature has turned inwards and downwards, towards the soil and roots, towards the center of this planet.
As I create Christmas decorations with circles, candles, hearts and stars and is inundated with representations of supernatural beings are everywhere – angels, elves, gnomes, Father Christmas, flying reindeers – I always ponder how far removed we humans have become from the things we long for.
And still we long. And we surround our selves with symbols that we no longer know the meaning of but refuse to let go of.
I believe in the Archetypical forces in human life.
And this time of year is full of Archetypical forces. Between Samhain and winter solstice we move within maybe the most powerful archetypical force – rebirth or change beyond our control. We used to have to surrender to the darkness, the cold and scarcity and out of the deepest darkness would always come the return of the sun, death and birth in the same moment, end and beginning intertwined.
That moment of deep dark stillness where all seems lost, where we have to let go, step into the unknown, embrace the ending and all we are left with is what is in our hearts beyond rational, superficial knowledge and opinion. At the end there is only what we deeply believe. Beyond thoughts and words is our experience of life and of ourselves as expressions of life.
Beyond our rational consciousness, just below the surface is a deep and complex collective web which holds and is shaped by all human history and universal human needs.
Like the planet holds nature, as we know it, this collective web holds humanity.
And at this time of year it feels like we are drawn towards the center. Inwards and downwards.