Three Days after Solstice

Even though I didn’t celebrate Yule the way I wanted and had envisioned, I still enjoyed the moment as it passed.

I have a clear memory of a conversation I had with my mother, though whether I was 11 or 12 at the time isn’t certain. What I do remember is telling her that when I became an adult, I would be celebrating Christmas as an expression of joy in winter: that I would be rejoicing in the change of seasons, in the beauty of winter, because that was the value I saw in the holiday.

I still see that.

And that is what I have been doing. I’ve been listening to traditional Christmas carols — the songs about sleigh rides, snow, evergreens, mistletoe. None of the winter elements of the holiday have much to do with the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem. But they have everything to do with Saturnalia, with Yule, with the time of the year when Persephone has descended to the underworld and life sleeps. When the snow comes, and the days shorten, we have two choices, as I see it: we can run away and hide from it, OR we can embrace it.

This year, I have chosen to embrace the cold. I’m doing much better at taking my children outside to play and slide and make snow angels. I’m lighting candles, and enjoying the peace of the dark nights. I’m taking my dog for walks in the winter night, admiring the lights on neighbourhood houses.

All of the colour, the glowing, the giving and receiving of gifts — it speaks to me of balance. When the world grows dark and cold, we join together (whenever we can) to reflect on our blessings and share our abundance, so everyone has enough to get through. There is so much symbolism in gift-giving, in the plump energy of Santa Claus. We party, and feast, and decorate, keeping our spirits going.

So, as a Pagan and a Wiccan, and a witch, this season has a lot of meaning for me. It goes deeper than the label. I may not have done the ritual I wanted to perform for Yule, but already, three days later, I can feel how the wheel of life has turned. It’s an intangible sensation in the air, in the body, in the sunshine. We’ve passed the test of the dark and the sunlight is slowly returning. When my children and my husband open their gifts tomorrow morning, and I receive their tokens of love, we’ll be completing our own ritual, celebrating our beliefs in each other, and in the potential of humanity to overcome all that is cold, dead, and wrong in the world.

On the practical side, until then, I will be cleaning and getting the children to help me with that, until their father comes home and our fun activities can begin.

I hope that, whatever you believe, you are with family and friends this week, or next. That you are safe, happy, healthy, have enough to eat, clean water, warmth, and love with you.

BB

Feelings, Logic, and Christmas

I did not attend my staff Christmas party last night. I think I should have gone, but I can’t change the fact that I stayed home.

I told myself that I was staying home to save a bit of money. We’ve had some unforeseen expenses this month, so it seemed like a good decision at the time.

I told myself that I am a socially awkward penguin and it would be better if I avoided my peers again. (I’ve been eating most of my lunches alone, quite content to not engage in conversations with anyone.)

I didn’t want to risk hearing about our current job action, and knowing that my husband is sometimes uncomfortable around my colleagues, I didn’t want to have to worry about that.

When he told me I could have gone alone, that just felt…weird.

I think what is bothering me the most — in my attempt to look at my feelings logically — is that the staff Christmas party is an annual gathering, a ritual that is part of the season, and by not participating in it, I have skewed some of the balance in my life. (Well — what balance there is.)

Some of my best memories of Christmas as a child have to do with going to see people. I love certain Christmas songs because I remember sitting in the back of my parents’ car, snuggled warmly in coats and blankets, travelling the highway either to relatives or on the way back home. That security of knowing I was loved, protected, and at peace with the world — it seems to come more rarely these days.

We won’t be seeing much of our family this year. Maybe that’s also what is bothering me.

We’ll be able to see my parents on Christmas Day, since they’re only an hour and a half from here, but to go another five hours and visit our in-laws and my brother — it’s just not going to happen. We managed it, very last minute, last year, after telling ourselves we weren’t going to go anywhere. But this year we are definitely staying home.

It hurts that no-one has offered to come up and see us. I know that some members of our family are just as cash-strapped, but the ones who could probably afford it haven’t offered or said they wished they could come.

To me, Christmas is a time for gathering with your loved ones, enjoying their company, catching up and just being together. I hate the pressure to buy things, so I often make gifts if I give myself enough time. (I haven’t made any this year, as yet.) But I love watching someone open a gift I have chosen or made for them. I love feeling welcomed into someone’s home, or having someone here. We don’t often have guests in our little house, but I like it when we do.

So maybe my bad feelings today are linked to that knowledge that we won’t be seeing our extended family at Christmas. It’s too expensive and the distances are too far this time. The big family gatherings I remember from my childhood are happening less and less. I know this hurts my dad and my mom, too — this is one of the reasons why they’ve given me a hard time over missing my cousins’ weddings in the last few years.

I also tend to feel the weight of the world at this time of year. I am acutely conscious of the suffering that happens in so many places. I get torn over what charity to donate to, and the barrage of pleas to help suffering children tears at my heart. I feel most vulnerable at this time of year, as fragile as one of the ornaments on my tree. I also tend to get physically sick when I get my break from work, and I’m already feeling the most recent virus getting its party on in my body.

Christmas feels like such a lonely time to me. I can feel myself beginning to spiral down into depression, and though I’m taking steps to try to stop it — walks with my dog, attempting to keep my house clean, sending cards and wrapping my children’s gifts every night — it feels like a black hole has opened beneath me and is slowly pulling me in. I am unhappy. Over the last few days, I’ve just wanted to cry all the time. I wonder whether knowing we were going to have visitors would help… Certainly, it would add to my stress, but it would also give me incentive.

Last night, I watched a holiday episode of “Community” in which Abed was having difficulty accepting that his mother wasn’t going to visit him for Christmas. I understand that very much. The feeling of wanting to just shut down, shut everything out, because numbness is easier than pain…

That was another reason why I didn’t go to the party last night. I long for numbness, and I think I would have had way too much to drink. My husband went to work at 4:30 this morning. I didn’t relish the thought of being alone with my kids with a wicked hangover. And I know that drinking is not the answer to my mental illness.

Christmas, Yule — the celebration of togetherness, of working our way through the darkest nights of the year, blowing off steam, glorying in the purity and beauty of winter — is both pleasure and pain to me. I love it and I hate it. I want to indulge, and I want to withdraw. I want to make my loved ones happy, and I want to be surprised by someone I love, to spend time with them and yes, maybe even be given a token of their affection. Knowing that the latter is not going to happen — that I won’t see my big brother (with whom I have only recently begun communicating with, on a regular basis) and his family, my sister-in-law and her family, etc. — it hurts a lot.

And I know, in the grand scheme of things, that I have a lot to be grateful for in my life. I also feel what I feel. And right now, I feel…miserable. Christmas songs make me feel sad. Seeing trees lit up through the windows of my neighbours make me feel sad. I want to take to my bed and sleep through the holiday. It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way. Won’t be the last.

So if there is anyone out there who feels like this at Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate — or if you know anyone who suffers with depression at this time of year — please, leave a comment below. Sometimes knowing I’m not alone in this is incredibly helpful. Sharing coping strategies would be good, too. I’m told frequently that I put too much pressure on myself, and this time of year it’s particularly strong. Leave a comment, and I’ll consider it a hug of support.

Love,
Tori