I’ve just reached the end of first round edits on The Locket and the Flintlock (coming from Bold Strokes Books in May 2012). It’s exciting. I’ve created characters I love so much I wish I really could bring them to life so I could meet them. And I’m feeling very inspired for the book I want to write next too…very inspired. Like I might actually start writing. Which is all excellent and distracting. I’d barely noticed the passage of time until I went into a supermarket today and noticed the shelves had been stripped bare as though there was a natural disaster on the way. Of course there isn’t. It’s just Christmas…though I don’t know how on earth it got here so quickly…
So, it’s the night before the night before Christmas. It’s quite possibly going to be the strangest Christmas ever. For reasons in my life that I won’t go into, I don’t have a tree…or garlands…or tinsel…or lights. I do have a Christmas pudding. I mean, some things are too important to miss. I don’t have a pile of gifts waiting to be opened (a few, but not a pile). And I don’t care.
This isn’t going to be a “bah humbug” blog post though. I’m not going to bemoan the commerciality of Christmas and be all self-righteous about having opted out of it. I haven’t really. It’s just happened. But I’m incredibly glad it has, even if some of the reasons for it aren’t ones to celebrate.For once, Christmas is about connecting with the spirit of this time of year. Because they’re not being outshone by decorations and lights, each and every card means more to me, and I’m really thinking of the people who took time to send them to me. And there’s quite a crowd on the shelf, which never ceases to surprise me. That many people thought of me for long enough to write a card. Wow. I’ll always be grateful. And there’s all the e-mail greetings, hugs and smiles. All of them mean the world.
I’m also very aware of the meaning of Christmas this year. For me, going to church is involved and that’s been incredibly special. Tomorrow I’ll be at a Christingle service where we will hold oranges representing the earth and candles representing Jesus as the light of the world. In so many ways Christmas–for Christians–represents the beginning of the story, the birth of hope and joy. Whatever religious doubts there are–and I have plenty of my own–it’s hard not to feel some of that. More than that, the coming together of people to celebrate light in the depths of winter is something so much more ancient than Christianity. This is the time of solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, Hannukah…and countless other celebrations to banish the darkness and encourage the coming of the light…just because my winter celebration is framed in Christian terms, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel connected to all of those other festivals. All of those people who have celebrated at this time of the year…for centuries…all the people who will celebrate this year. Christmas is a time of community, of being together…and even when I am alone, when I think of Christmas, I am part of something.Christmas is a time of childhood, of course. We sing the carols we’ve always known. We remember waiting for Santa to arrive. As such, for me at least, it’s a time for reflection too. Childhood is over. Santa is not going to come, I’ll never be Mary or an angel in the nativity play. But that’s because I’ve grown up and while there’s a certain amount of loss involved in moving on, in becoming an adult, and while some hopes have to be abandoned, others take their place. I don’t think about what I want for Christmas anymore. I pause and contemplate my hopes for the coming year.
When I was a child, every year without fail, I was dressed in a costume for Christmas. It started with Santa, with a red dressing gown and cotton wool beard. I was a fairy with sequins sewed onto a white vest and a netting skirt. I’ve been a cracker, a parcel, a tree. My mother made these costumes for me. I would put them on and then parade around in front of grandparents, uncles and cousins and be admired. Or should I say, the costume would be admired. According to those who saw this display, the best of them all was the year I dressed as a snowman. It was quite a costume. Made of white, thin foam, it covered me from shoulders to toes, and even had mittens to hide my hands. The head was a huge hollow ball of the same foam with a snowman face (coal black circles of card for a smile and a cardboard carrot nose) glued to the front. I viewed the world through two blue plastic circles to be sure my eyes didn’t detract from the overall effect. Impressive. A fun Christmas memory for my family. But I honestly don’t remember whether I enjoyed being in there or not. It’s a blank. No one else really knew whether I enjoyed it or not either.
I think a lot of Christmases have been like that, even without the costume. And not just for me. We do what we think we should and forget what it’s all about. All that outward festivity and inward stress. All the commerciality in the name of a spiritual festival. All the family celebrations barely masking hidden tensions.
But this year is different. I’m not dressing up as anything. I’m happy to be me. I’m happy for Christmas itself to be stripped back to basics. A time of quiet and peace and allowing the light in to the dark places.
So, tomorrow, my Christingle candle will have a lot of meaning for me. Even if you’re not celebrating the holidays in a way that involves lighting a candle, I would urge you to do it anyway. Just for you. Have your own festival of light. Light a candle. Think of all the other diverse people in the world lighting candles…dancing in the light…or longing for it in darkness. Feel connected and part of something. And think of the year ahead. The message of Christmas is hope. What do you hope for? Allow yourself those hopes and be at peace with them. In doing so, you will allow others their hopes too. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, that is the most wonderful of Christmas gifts.
Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this…and may 2012 bring you joy, love and peace.
And a fabulous Doctor Who Christmas special! Another essential of the season! 😀