Cultivating Presence in the Season of Presents: A Tale of Two Christmases
By: Kathy Stanley – Sacred Women Wisdom
December 2013: 4 p.m. on a Saturday in December and a light rain is falling. The outlet mall is jammed and I’m in the Coach store in a line up for the cash register. I wouldn’t normally choose to shop at the outlet mall in December however we are traveling to my family in Canada for Christmas and I feel compelled to buy nice gifts for my young nieces and nephews. My husband circles the parking lot without luck in finding a parking spot. I exit the store and we crawl home in traffic north on I-5.
The next morning after packing up the car with gifts, we head north to the Canadian border. Eight hours later, after a two hour line-up to get across the border, we arrive and the family festivities begin. Christmas dinner, parties, visits with friends. It’s wonderful to see my family but five days later, after a miserable long drive through heavy rain, we arrive back home in Portland. Exhausted, we both come down with colds and it’s all we can do to get through New Year’s with a quiet dinner at home. Welcome to the holidays.
Does it always have to be like this?
December 2015: It is three days before Christmas and I light some candles on the mantle. Handel’s Messiah is playing in the background and I settle down with a book. There is nowhere that we have to be. Since we are not traveling this year, the few presents I have to buy were already bought in November. It is the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, and I am aware that this is one of the holy days in the earth calendar. It is a time where the light returns and the earth is in deep slumber. There is an invitation offered by the earth at this time of year to go within, to quiet down, to pause and celebrate the return of the light. I accept the invitation with gratitude this year.
Christmas Day arrives and we are having a quiet day at home. Carols playing in the background, a savory brunch of pancakes with coconut syrup and sips of hot chocolate. We share a few presents in the morning and take a few phone calls. Around 5 pm we are cooking dinner when the doorbell rings. I open the door to find my beloved step-daughter who has decided to surprise us on Christmas Day from Colorado. The best presents arrive when you least expect them.
The blessing of being able to stay home for once in many years at the holidays was a stark lesson for me. My body rejoiced in being still, in not having too many obligations, in staying away from the mall, in paying attention to the earth’s rhythms. Simple pleasures like candles, uplifting music and the time and space to go inward, meditate, reflect and take stock allowed me to enjoy the season with presence. I was refreshed and re-energized once the New Year arrived.
I am reminded time and again of the potency in coming into sync with the seasons. Our culture largely ignores the deeper opportunity offered at the seasonal shifts since we lost connection to the earth’s cycles by moving into mechanical time. We’ve become accustomed to working long hours, sometimes seven days a week, and not having time to replenish our reserves. It takes a toll. Add to that the holidays where so much is expected from our attendance at events, the presents to be bought, the meals to be cooked, the house to be decorated, the celebrations to be hosted, the travel to endure. The irony is that we likely have the least reserves of energy at this time of year yet we rev things up a thousand percent. This is the time of year when we can most benefit by the quiet and slumber of the earth. Is there any question why so many fall sick around the holidays?
Naturally we all want to celebrate, have fun with the kids and make it a special time. I wonder if we can do that as well as dial it back even a little bit, so that our bodies can also receive the nurturing time that the earth offers. May we all learn to cultivate presence in the season of presents!