“Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, love Divine.” ~ Christina Rosetti.
It really doesn’t matter what side of the world you were born, so long as you were raised in a Christian household, Christmas is special. Even for those who follow different religious beliefs, there is something about Christmas. There are even some Christian denominations which do not ‘celebrate’ Christmas, but the secular took over the religious a long time ago. For many people, watching a Christmas movie that has no mention of the Nativity story but instead has plenty of snow, gifts and happy endings, is the true definition of Christmas.
But for the child in us, there was something about that impatient anticipation, that build-up and tension that made the day special. And of course, doing certain things that you only did at Christmas. Perhaps it was a special Christmas tablecloth, or special candles, or just making the house extra spic and span that all added to the flavor of Christmas. In Jamaica we had the early morning Christmas service, the only day when the Christmas Carols were day appropriate, when children tried to hide their excitement and the Christmas breeze hit you when you came out of church, the sun barely rising over the ridge, the mist hanging in the valley.
A tradition, by virtue of definition, is doing things the same way as they have been done for decades, or in the case of religious practices, for centuries. But families can create their own traditions. The Christmases I had with my children may have resembled those of my own childhood, but much was different. The food for a start. My mother’s cooked breakfasts were limited to ‘porridge’. My Miami Christmases kicked off with ackee and saltfish, with the seasoned goat and oxtail waiting to go on the stove as soon as the breakfast was cleared away.
When I have gone back to the UK over Christmas, a tradition I started once my parents’ health began to deteriorate, I always took dried sorrel with me. So in my sister’s kitchen, surrounded by snow-tipped mountains, the smell of sorrel and ginger became a part of the blended tradition. When the extended family gathered (not on Christmas day itself, but on some convenient day soon after), everyone would bring food. I would fix some curried chicken so my parents (when they were still alive) would have a little taste of Jamaica. When I fixed my sorrel, I would always give my mother a little ‘tups’ to taste – wanting to make sure it was to her liking. One year as I watched her, she told me not to look, in case she didn’t like it and had to screw up her face! But that was what I wanted to see – to know if I needed to go back and add more sugar!
The best thing about 2020 is that it has forced us to examine everything we took for granted, everything that we thought was the only way to do things, everything of value. We have had to reframe our expectations, change the way we earn our living, come up with new ways of doing things. And, especially over the holidays, it has forced us to recognize that we can always change our traditions. If following traditions (large families gathering from near and far) leads to the ill-health and possible death of even one family member, what is wrong with pausing for a year? And, there may be unexpected benefits. How many families spend way too much on Christmas each year, only to struggle to pay the bills in January?
One of the most interesting lessons from Buddhism, is that when faced with a challenging situation, instead of getting frustrated you should look for the blessings in the situation. Something that would normally provoke anger, should make you pivot, and think ‘thank you for the opportunity to exercise patience’. 2020 has been such a year. Instead of cursing the COVID, we should be thankful for the opportunity to rethink our priorities, to reimagine our lives lived in a different way, to appreciate each moment that we can take a breath.
On this Christmas morning in South Florida, a cool and showery 57°F, I am giving thanks for the love that was behind every tradition from my childhood to the present. There has been love baked into every Jamaican black cake; love wrapped into every tricky Christmas present; love withdrawn from the ATM to pay for the special treats. As a child I would receive Christmas packages sent with love all the way from the UK to Jamaica. My own children received similar packages. There is love shown to strangers by those who offer their time in ‘soup kitchens’ and food lines. There is love demonstrated by those frontline workers whose jobs don’t allow them to be home for the holidays. There are the Christmas dishes lovingly prepared and later washed; the trees decorated with love and lights; the gifts lovingly received.
Have a loving Christmas, Family, and may Health and Happiness stay with you through the New Year and beyond.