The Christmas and seasonal decorations are on display in our home and it feels peaceful and festive. I am aware, as I place items, that it is like dressing. Choosing the outfit, the jewelry, telling a story with the choices made and the colors displayed, all symbols of how we are feeling in the day or the season. The outer display of the inner journey.
This phenomenon is alive in many forms in the month of December which honors many special days in the Christian and Jewish traditions as well as including spiritually significant days for Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans and Zoroastrians as well as African-American Kwanzaa. Each rich and alive with tradition in its many forms.
Leo’s family has a tradition of stopping at people’s homes to see their tree. That was a tradition foreign to me but with his large family and extended family all in the same area, off they would go to see a decorated tree. Each tree in each home designed by a family or family member reflecting beliefs, personality, style, taste, likes and dislikes. We each year tell a story with our ornamentation or lack there of, whether we are Christian, or secular and choosing to celebrate Christmas or any other faith or tradition honoring a tradition of celebration.
In the spring season of the Christian Easter, I have attended Jewish Passover in different locations and found this true in the way the stories are told, the seder plate, the personal tastes imbued in the foods. I have celebrated the winter solstice for many years with different friends which was a new creation each year with some elements honored and held. Some with a party, others with burning a traditional oak log, gathering water for the new year, drumming, meditation, and connecting to the earth.
Each celebration in any season brings in light, love, and that which is larger than our singular life on earth, holding all that we hand down, to be used or not, with variations of the next generations additions and subtractions.
I turn to the altar I redesigned on returning from the Camino. I enjoy altars. I have made them many times over the years. A place to honor the Divine in whatever form, adding items from nature, candles, maybe a photo of one who has left this world, or one who needs prayers at this time. As with decorating a house at a holiday, it draws our attention, gives a place to focus and center, being aware of the story told with an outward reflection of the inward journey. It offers a place to ground and is as simple as one candle and as elaborate as one can imagine.
A personal altar offers a quiet reflective place to be in a busy season. Even places of worship are busy drawing one out of the inward reflective space. We live in an extroverted, busy, talkative society. Creating a space where one can take a seat in conscious awareness is a personal gift to the self, now and any time of the year. It tells a story, reflects our inward journey, might include objects and beliefs handed down or might be inclusive of an entirely different spiritual direction. Each year we have many opportunities for ritual, many ways of tradition, as well as space for expressing the beauty and the story of this moment.
Marilyn is 80. Her husband died shortly after last year’s Christmas. This year she is emotionally revisiting those days and states that while she is a person who will decorate every room at Christmas she desires nothing this year as she sits in deep sadness, loneliness, and loss. As we sat and entered the story, she expressed that while the decorating was her delight, she and her husband found their Christmas connection in the manger scene. They always set it up together and it was a connecting piece for them in this season. As Marilyn talked of how the kids would come and bring down all the decorations from the attic, I asked if maybe this year they could just bring down the manger scene, the connecting piece for her and her beloved. I saw Marilyn’s heart open with a smile and a feeling of relief pour over her body. “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, that is just enough.” The manger scene is enough to tell her story, this year. An altar for her gaze and reflection. A connecting piece to something larger than self. This year a healing balm.