The leader of a holiday candlelight celebration on Christmas Eve (last night) at a local Buddhist temple urged us to see love and care in yesterday's holiday shopping madness. She said "People are buying gifts and preparing special food to make their loved ones happy," and she said we should rejoice in this evidence of caring, even as the hustle and bustle can frustrate us. She and the prayers/chants we recited urged us to take joy in the caring and the natural beauty around us. As a Christmas Eve observance, it was one of the more inspiring of all those I've attended in my long life.
When I was a kid, my Christmas Eve observance wasn't remotely religious. I was put to bed before my parents went off to Midnight Mass, and I spent the time watching out my bedroom window, hoping to spot Santa Claus. I didn't pray for this or that gift, but I had expectations (rarely met).
As a postulant and junior novice in the convent, we went to bed after night prayer (9 pm), and then were awakened at about 11:30pm by the senior novices singing Christmas carols as they walked down the dormitory halls carrying lighted candles. We quickly dressed and went down to the chapel for Midnight Mass. It was all quite beautiful, and I loved it. I don't remember anything spiritual about it--nothing that made me examine my thoughts, anyway.
After my marriage and the birth of my wonderful children, Christmas became something like the Buddhist leader described--my neighbors and I rushing around preparing food and gifts and decorations for those we loved.
Later, after my divorce and time in NYC, and after the kids were grown and left home, I spent one Christmas Eve with a friend who was president of her synagogue. We went to a Kosher Israeli restaurant and dined with all kinds of people, including families with young children, who were not celebrating Christmas in any way. I learned that Jewish families often went to the movies on Christmas or ate supper in a Chinese restaurant (often the only kind that was open) as something pleasant to do while their Christian friends were deep in the Santa/Baby Jesus experience.
Now that I'm old and living alone, far from the rest of my family and most of my children, I am enjoying different ways of celebrating this time of year. I especially liked last night's Buddhist event. It's certainly made me think about how I see the world and my place in it. And I can see that I need to amp up my appreciation of beauty everywhere.
My friend Cathy showed me her sister's Christmas letter, and I was blown away by her stories and pictures. Cathy said, "Yes, she's a wonderful writer." and I said, "It's more than that." Then she said, "And she has a beautiful family." And I said, "It's deeper than that...she has a loving heart."
So at this time of year and in this time of my life....I can see that the message of everything, not just of "Christmas" or the "Solstice" or "Hanukkah," is paying attention to the gifts around and within us. Some of the greatest gifts to me have been my family members and children and friends. So Merry Christmas to all once again. You have lit up my life, and I am deeply grateful.