“A sense of the universe, a sense of the all, the nostalgia which seizes us when confronted by nature, beauty, music – these seem to be an expectation and awareness of a Great Presence.” ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
With Christmas almost upon us, it has been interesting to reflect on the strange absence of that Christmas feeling. I suppose I am a few generations removed from being a child myself, with all of the anticipation and hope that the season would bring. Whether it was the decorations, or the Christmas carols; the tree placed above the entrance to the church, or the slight change in weather (in the tropics we would get a ‘Christmas breeze’ traveling down from Canada), but you knew Christmas was coming.
Traditions go a long way to cementing that feeling, doing the same thing every year. So once you leave home, and perhaps (very shocking to the system) embark on a career where you work holidays and weekends; evenings and nights; your sense of normal evaporates very quickly. This week one of my sons reminded me of how elusive sleep would be for the kids in the nights leading up to Christmas, which sparked another memory. The first year none of the kids woke up early on Christmas Day to be surprised once again by the gifts and stockings under the tree, that was depressing. My kids were too old to give me the pleasure of seeing their eyes light up with surprise while a good old Jamaican breakfast was cooking on the stove, and the meat for Christmas dinner was already seasoned and waiting to go on next.
Our minds are interesting places, full of random connection and tangential thoughts. Thinking of having difficulty sleeping, I remembered my father once telling me that when sleep eluded him, he would imagine himself driving the road from May Pen to Chapelton, carefully recalling each turn in the road, each pothole, each colorful house on the hillside. He had driven it many times, but when I tried to recall it, I could only remember pieces and patches, and now, fifty years later, I am lucky if I can get out of the town! From May Pen you turn at Guinep Tree (a supermarket, no tree has been there for as long as we knew it), and go up Chapelton Road. When you get to May Pen woods there is a dip in the road that turns into a raging river during rainy season. My father would not recognize much of the journey now, especially since they chopped down the soursop tree at Soursop Bend – a true hairpin bend that was also known as ‘Shake hands corner’ – the joke being that the turn was so sharp that you could shake hands from one side to the next. The road is smoothed out and widened now, not the hairpin it used to be.
After he had left Jamaica and went with my mother to live in North Wales, he was driving a once familiar route, and soon he replaced his nighttime Jamaica remembering with the journey over the mountains of Snowdonia. The roads there are as narrow as those in Jamaica, but better maintained. No potholes to anticipate; far less crazy drivers imagining they own the whole road. I wonder how far he got before he fell asleep.
But the insomnia of adulthood is way different from that excited sleeplessness of childhood. It may be that your daily worklife seeps over into your nighttime concerns; or perhaps it is just the aging process rendering sleep less urgent. But many of us well know the thankless task of trying to talk yourself to sleep.
This week I sat in the audience at my granddaughter’s school Holiday performance. They carefully warned us that although there may be references to particular religious traditions, the children were not influenced one way or another, it was just a representation of different holiday traditions. So my granddaughter was the grandmother who got run over by the reindeer! And there were other delightful renditions of traditional songs, lively dances, and thought-provoking skits. In one of skits, a young girl is complaining that ‘it just doesn’t feel like Christmas’ which definitely resonated with the adults in the room. By the end of the skit, she had reconnected with that feeling by going to a homeless shelter and meeting another child whose reality was far different from her own.
Christmas songs and carols that seem to fill the air from mid-November can either help you feel the spirit or make you want to throw the radio across the room! I read something interesting about the origin of the song ‘Oh Holy night’ that was for a while banned by the church since the writers were an atheist and a Jew! It was translated into English by an anti-slave abolitionist in the mid-19th century. In fact, there was a verse (long since omitted) with the lines: ‘Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease.’ Which makes you look at the carol quite differently.
On this eve of Christmas Eve, I hope that you can still recall that Christmas spirit, and see that it is still alive, if we look for it. We can stand in awe at a story that has been retold countless times over the past two thousand years, yet still captures attention. We can remember those Christmases when money was tight, but still, somehow, treats were found, and excitement was everywhere.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!