Tag Archives: holidays

A Little Light Music

winterHere we are, well into the free-fall frenzy of the final month of the year, the now super-sized holiday season that appears to be a whopping two months long instead of what used to be individual days separated by weeks of ordinary days. Growing up in my house, there was a a polar oppositeness in the recognition and observation of holidays. Dad was more of a humbug guy and, other than enjoying the fruits of all the womenfolks’ labors that resulted in a cornucopia of plenty to savor, he would have preferred to continue his daily routine uninterrupted by such unnecessary rituals.

Mom, on the other hand, believed in the magic bestowed upon special days. Probably a little too much, but maybe it was her way of trying to tip the balance from Dad’s point of view. Or maybe she just preferred fantasy. The downside of holidays is having too much expectation and always being disappointed in the reality. Between the two of them, she was likely the most unhappy as a result of holiday cheer; and, despite the evidence to the contrary, her hope sprang eternal.

Their children, as an offshoot of this bipolar environment, chose to reject traditional holidays and their underpinnings – much like Dad did – but, rather, decided to find magic in the real as opposed to the fictitious – a healthier Mom. What this means is that we resist the relentless reminders of “the season” and try to avoid the persistent false advertising about the Dickensian ideal of good will and peace on earth. No matter how many thousands of these observations of a single day or groups of days we have, as a species, it seems we are no closer to reaching the more perfect union that the holidays encourage us to seek.

We know from whence it came: we are the primitives in our caves, winter and darkness biting at our frozen digits. It must have felt like the world was ending, the sun sneaking away to warm other creatures that we didn’t know existed over the horizon. We needed some sort of story to comfort us, a way of repeating the fear – of owning it – and keeping in mind that there is hope for the return of the light. It is a primal story, and it has been molded into many variations by different sects; but, even though these groups interpret their stories in their unique tellings, it is still about the light.


This holiday is about the Winter Solstice, no matter how far afield the explanations stray. It’s funny how a natural phenomenon, so basic and so real and having such immense impact, can be interpreted in such fantastical ways. There is the physical-science explanation; the cosmic, spiritual connotations; the religious-story overlays; the familial-bonding imperative; and the commercialism spin – the Winter Solstice has become a growth industry. All these things exist otherwise, but for some reason the Winter Solstice has had to carry the load, becoming all things to all at the end of the calendar year, and being buried in there somewhere in the rubble.

I celebrate the Winter Solstice as a jumping-off point, an end to one period and the start of a new one, a cyclical reminder of nature and life, darkness and light, beginnings and endings. It is, for me, a time of reflection. A time to slow down and think about the year past and the year ahead. And even though we now know that the light will be returning, most assuredly, we must not take that for granted. Ever. It is the gift for the season and it costs nothing. Happy Winter Solstice to the entire Northern Hemisphere! That’s something to celebrate.


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Clueless Holidays

With the frenzied festive winter season behind us, I am pondering the idea of holiday gatherings and what the placeness factor of them might be. I mean, the point of such events appears to be to foster a sense of placeness; of having a place in the world (or the myths and rituals of a particular world), or having a traditional place in a family unit, or, by extension, a tiny place in a larger group with shared experience. The odd thing is, that whenever there is inclusion among humans, it often results in exclusion and the sad feelings of left-out-ness that many people experience around these winter celebrations. I am all for humans feeling happy, truly happy; not with false expectation or a hyped happiness that causes people to spend more than they have. Nor do I want people, out of some sense of obligatory duty, to seethe with an emotional resentment for what they perceive they have to present or perform that will go unappreciated for, yet, another annum.

I am not, here, referring to myself. But I think about my mother at times like this, and all the other mothers and others who have tried to make occasions special for everyone but themselves, somehow thinking that it will rub off on them, as well – the endless preparations made in offering up a stage for all the players and, in the end, the producer being left spent and let down.

And, too, I think about all the hosts and hostesses who put together parties, wanting to stimulate good cheer, but also approaching the events as investments of sorts, hoping against hope that their efforts will be reciprocated. Maybe next year.

Part of the problem seems to be the overinflated sense of what constitutes a good time. Can it be measured? Must it include lavish expense? Is the event, in all its glory, substituting for what people seem unable to share, like meaningful conversation and intimacy? New Year’s celebrations are so fraught with expectations, of … what? That some artificially designated night must either determine your fate, or else alter it? Are you with the right someone at the magical stroke of midnight, or, on this night, is being dateless the most horrifying predictor of a lonely future? In our collective DNA, these holiday observances and the thoughts surrounding them are often no further evolved than they were when our primitive ancestors sacrificed something out of fear and dread – resolving nothing except for having fear, dread and death inflicted on some poor other creature. And is it mandatory to consume large quantities of alcohol in order to enjoy oneself?

My significant other and I were trying, this year, to remember some of the highlights of New Years past. It’s funny how there were not that many that were memorable (and there have been many), very few depositing any sense of placeness in our hearts. There were now-laughably silly ones and plenty of uneventful ones, and even the occasional elegant ones. All were pretty much forgettable. But one that has stayed with us both is the one that we spent in Seattle in 1981-82. We were living there for a six-month period, and while one of us was working, the other was taking a class in stained-glass making. It was an intense but fun class with a good group of people from varied backgrounds – all with a common purpose. One of the classmates was a man named Kenji who was a graphic designer but who had a desire to try a different craft. Kenji had a winning personality and seemingly boundless energy, and could have been teaching the class, but he was there to learn. The term was due to end in mid-December and as the finale approached, all of us felt like the time had gone too quickly. Sometimes you can have, in a classroom setting, a nice mix of people and you hate to see the dynamics end. Kenji, being the most gregarious, invited us all to his house for New Year’s Eve. It was sort of impromptu. No expectations except prolonging our friendships.

Most of the classmates came with their others, if they had them. Kenji had a beautiful design-y apartment that had a placeness to it already. There were edibles brought by everyone, and drinks, but the food was not the main event. We were adults but we played the game Clue all night. Part of the magic was that we all felt like children enjoying ourselves, and not because we were tanked and out of control. We were very much present, in the moment. We all generated a creative energy in the room. There was a glowing fireplace, and the company was at that perfect cusp of knowing each other a bit but not so much that we annoyed one another. We had wonderful, sometimes meaningful conversations over the game board, and we laughed easily and together. It was the right mix, the right time, the right casual nature of the party. No roles, no pretense. We all felt at home in a place of warmth and beauty. Right there, placeness. The memories are strong and the glow of Kenji’s smile and his modern fireplace are still warm in our hearts. Happy New Year, Kenji et al.

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