Four years ago, when I was baking special Christmas cookies called Basler Brunsli, made from almonds, chocolate, sugar, egg whites and spices (hmm, I guess this makes them gluten free as well as delicious) my grandchildren Sophie and Rowan were close at hand, faces aglow, as I removed them from the oven. They were four and eight, at the time.
Sophie, leaned over and quietly said this to her younger brother, as he eyed the tray of small, chocolate bears. “Rowan, you need to know that Nana turns a blind eye to the cookies at Christmas.”
At that moment, I felt pure delight if not enlightened. Like I had done something so supremely good in the world that I hadn’t even been aware of. As I looked into the faces of these dear children, I was grateful to be the one who “turned a blind eye to the cookies at Christmas.” They were unaware that I had overheard the conversation. I thought then, as I still think now, that is enough for me. This is what I want to be remembered for.
And it isn’t completely about the cookies.
It is about the confidence they have in me that at Christmas time they can enjoy these special little cookies with ease and joy and on their own terms. When I open the freezer and see crumbs scattered and the container not fully closed, I smile to myself.
Am I worried that they will eat too many and get sick? Nope. I’m not. It hasn’t happened yet. My confidence in the ritual of certain traditions and the knowledge that chocolate is also a vitamin (vitamin CH) allows me to celebrate their joy.
And that is one of several reasons why I love Christmas. I also understand why Christmas gets a bad rap. I mostly avoid those aspects by staying out of malls, not being caught up in the excesses of it all and concentrating on small things that mean something to me and my family. I claim my own traditions and ignore the rest.
The Christmas tree is another example. In the darkness of November and December, in our northern climate, we need to warm our bodies and souls. Lights, candles, fireplaces, good food and a beautiful green tree in the house does just that, for me, along with the good company of loved ones. The fragrance of the noble fir transports me to a wondrous place the moment I come in from the cold and my senses are greeted by that old, familiar smell.
As we decorate our tree, we dedicate the first few favourite ornaments to others, and say why. It turns the process into a reflective and fun event as we sometimes have tears and laughter in our remembering. After a couple of rounds we go back to finding just the right spot for whatever decoration we hold in our hands and then at random times one of us pauses (me, in this case) and says, “I want to dedicate this beautiful star to my friends in Calgary,” as an example. The children always remember their family who live in different areas of the country so Grandma and Grandpa, Opa and uncle Rob, Jonathan and Michael and Great Grandma and so on…they eventually all get named. If not this year, next.
Don’t get me wrong. I too can be overwhelmed at Christmas, and I still love it. This year, however, I have thought about a quieter Christmas. I will be out west, and we will be a small family gathering with time to sit and admire the tree and contemplate all the beautiful memories strung from bough to bough. There will be wonderful music and comfortable chairs to curl up into where we can read for a few hours. Maybe have a nap for those who like such things. And always the tree to glance at, in all its splendor.
Several years ago, a new friend was dismayed that I had a real tree in my home at Christmas.
“It must be a very small one,” she commented.
“No,” I said. “It is always very tall and beautiful.”
There was silence.
Despite her disapproval I could not disavow my love for the Christmas tree. I like to think the tree enjoys being in our home where it is so deeply admired and appreciated by all, every single day.
And so, the holidays have arrived, and all of us arrive with our own traditions of bringing light to the darkness.
However we choose to spend this time may it be with love and joy and yes, sadness, too for all of our losses. May we say yes to what is important and meaningful and no to the things that no longer matter to us.
I do urge you, nonetheless, to celebrate all that is good in your lives and not succumb to the cynicism and despair that can so easily gather in a crowd of sorrows. Find your people, those whom light you up, and be that light to others.
Warmest wishes, Trudy
Note 1: the big people in my family are just as excited about those cookies, so when I go out west on Saturday, the recipes come with me. I turn a blind eye to the adults too.
Note 2: Every year in December I haul out this reflection by GK Chesterton because I love it. It is a unique perspective on Santa/life/reality…you may enjoy it too. The photo of this tree was taken in Quebec City last December. Roaming around the old city was a fun filled afternoon with delightful surprises around every corner. This is my favourite image from that day. And here is Chesterton:
“What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.
As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . . What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.
Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.
Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.” G.K. Chesterton