Christmas Past Is Future

Because I believe in recycling (and revising, constantly revising)…

I am reposting my contemplation of our Christmas holiday from last year:

How often have we heard that we’ve lost the true spirit of Christmas in this society?

In one sense, we have.  Because if we traveled back to 17th century England, we’d find a very different Christmas.  That Christmas would be something like a combination of Mardi Gras and New Year’s Eve, with a little “Trick or Treat” thrown in the mix.

The Puritans outlawed that Christmas, but their measures didn’t last.  The Pilgrims, when they came to America, tried again and failed again.  In the darkest time of the year, when minds turn to depression and doubt, people felt the need to celebrate.  But by the 1820s, the celebration had grown even wilder–in New York city, the riotous event could spark some real riots.

We should not be surprised at this history of Christmas.  After all, the holiday comes from pagan Rome, from Saturnalia, which was held during the Winter Solstice.  When the Christians came into power, they simply substituted their own holiday for the pagan observance.  But though they changed the name, the party remained.

Obviously, over the years, our Christmases became quieter, more family-oriented.  Some attribute this change to Charles Dickens’ 1868 tour of America.  It’s believed that his public readings, in which he performed the entire text of A Christmas Carol, helped to promote a different view of the holiday.

Like the rehabilitated Scoorge, we became more generous during Christmas.  But as a result of our gift-giving, Christmas developed into a commercial enterprise.

So was there a time in American history when we focused more on the Christian story of Jesus’ birth?  I’m not sure.

Though I was raised in a very Christian community, the Christmases of my youth, with their department store Santas and Rudolphs, were as commercially-oriented as the Christmases of today.  Every October, my sister and I waited, in eager anticipation, for the arrival of the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog.  What I hear today is what I heard as a child: we’ve lost the true meaning of Christmas.

Maybe we have: Christmas past was a celebration of life in the waning light of the Winter Solstice.  It was about the paradox of new birth amid the barrenness of winter.  It was about hope in the face of doubt.

Illumined by our electric lights, both indoors and out, we can ignore the threat of darkness.  But we lose so much richness in the bargain.

Charlie Brown has been trying to get us to change the way we think about Christmas for decades now—but without much luck.  Such shifts must be a natural evolution.  Christmas is a ritual and that ritual will change as we change.

When we become less materialistic, Christmas will become less materialistic.  Perhaps then we can recognize—we can feel—the spiritual truth of an event that comes in the dead of winter, yet is a gateway to the life of spring.

That Christmas will not only rejoice in illumination, but also embrace darkness.  That Christmas will be both a wild celebration and a quiet contemplation.  Aren’t our rituals often a means of balancing?  A means of creating psychic balance through outward display and action?

Though I enjoy this time of year…

…the way we now observe Christmas certainly doesn’t seem to create much balance.

© 2009, Michael R. Patton
sky rope (subterranean rappel)
dream steps

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About Michael Patton

I am a poet, novelist, and fabulist...A new mythologist, a peace miller, a dream worker...I don't qualify as an illustrator or photographer--I just "make pictures"...I have thirteen books available at amazon... I currently reside in northwest Arkansas, but have lived and worked all over the United States... I'm self-taught, for the most part--which is like searching for the right door in the dark. It's an on-going process.... I don't want to write MY story, I want OUR story, so that's what I'm studying: the human story: past, present, future, in its many aspects--including the spiritual. I'm proceeding at a slow crawl.... I don't see the inner world and outer world as separate. By learning about myself, I learn about others, I learn about my world.... Conversely, as I struggle to understand what I see OUT THERE, I learn about myself.... But to be clear: I don't claim any special understanding. I'm still purblind, still only half-awake.... After frustrating experience with the publisher of my first novel, I've published on my own, beginning with e-books, with plans to move into print and audio. Even video.... Along with a second novel, I've now published eight books of poetry. Each poetry book focuses on a theme. For instance, the collection GLORIOUS TEDIOUS TRANSFORMATION is about the slow difficult wonderful process of change.... In that book, as with all my work, I try to be accessible to a general audience, while also striving to achieve a certain literary quality.
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