Thank you, Jason, for inviting me to write this blog and giving me the topic “traditions, favorite memories, what the holidays mean to you.” It is always a new process each year as I wind my way through the season, and each year the understanding and appreciation deepens. Certainly, the period of “holidaying” requires for me, and from me, some quiet time to consider just what drives it all and how I fit into it.
Overall, December is always a slightly surreal time of year loaded as it is with auspicious dates – Christmas, Hanukkah and the Solstice to name three. For as long as I can remember, growing up in rural Australia as part of a nominally religious Episcopal family, I have felt as if there is something happening of which I should be aware.
As children, my sister and I always made sure the horses and dogs got special Christmas goodies and made sure that they knew we were including them in the celebrations. Not doing so would somehow fail the spirit of the season. (Of course the fact that it was always very hot and making sure the water troughs and dishes were full, regardless of our own event, helped with that!)
I also remember, for several years, going out to my horse at some point during the excitement of Christmas Day itself, lifting my arms up high around her neck and pressing my face against her shoulder. Was I enveloped in a wave of sadness? Beauty? Wonder? I didn’t know then and cannot say for sure today. But surely something magical and awesome was afoot.
Many years later, at least 45 since those days, I live in America. I have explored, studied, embraced and evolved through a range of spiritual forms. I have struggled with the muddiness of the holiday season as it is now practiced, at least in dominant public culture. The pressure to buy, to be happy, to socialize and to make everyone else happy can bury any real feelings of joy and delight. The effort it takes to simply meet the deadlines and do so with an appearance of ease can make me feel as if I am living a double life.
My daughter went through a rather militant stage when she refused to do cards, buy gifts or in anyway feed the machine that was Christmas shopping. However, at the same time, her grandmothers and aunts took great care to choose special gifts for her, mail them from Australia, and we gave them to her during the family dinner here in the USA. The dilemma then, that we negotiated, was how to be gracious with that?
I offer these little snapshots as stepping stones along the path to where I am today. The journey from Australia to the USA, from a 10 year old in the horse yards to a 50+ year old in Arizona (still with a horse in the yards!) has brought me to my current place with December.
I love choosing gifts for my family and friends, finding just the right thing for each person and doing so without landing myself in the poorhouse! For years, my daughter and I made things for everyone – candles, cloth art in frames and hand-decorated boxes (part of the solution to the presents dilemma!). I still tend in the direction of handmade things although I don’t make them myself anymore.
I really like seeing people I don’t see very often. I like writing “the Christmas letter” with pictures and news. Today, I do it digitally although I print a few to mail. For almost 16 years I did it with my daughter, who added art, then text and helped address the envelopes or send them off in the boxes of gifts. (With so many friends and family in Australia it made perfect sense!)
I love the odd quiet that comes over everything. When the rush stops, when even the day seems to breathe out and relax. I still go see my horse, and lean unto her and wonder if she knows there is a different energy in the air. I take her a “gift” and enjoy being away from it all for a bit.
Living now in the northern hemisphere, I have a very different experience of weather, with winter arriving with Christmas. (Remember that for years we only saw snow on cards, and we cooked boiling hot traditional English meals in temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit!) In the cold, I can understand better the impetus to have parties, the need to celebrate and stomp about with warm food and drinks. I love the lights and noise that brightens up the long dark of the winter season. Back home the heat often meant that all we wanted to do was lie in a heap!
Also Christmas here comes right after Thanksgiving, which comes right after Halloween. In Australia there was no Halloween and certainly no Thanksgiving. Back home, it was the real arrival of summer, schools were out for the long holidays, and people were planning vacations.
All in all, it is still an odd feeling although one I can easily navigate. I have arrived where I recognize December as a time to slow down and, with seasonal reason, give thoughtful gifts to the best of my capacity and time. December is an opportunity to acknowledge those whom I love and whom have helped me over the past year and/or my life.
Most of all, and the real “Aha!” for me in terms of December rituals, is “The New Year Box.” One of the boxes long past decorated has become the repository of an annual New Year letter to myself – and it is as much an “Old” Year letter.
Along with that, I have renamed the general Christmas letter the “New Year letter” and get it out between the two dates. I take the time to go back over the years’ appointment book, journals, special events, and to thank, enjoy and mourn, if necessary, the stepping stones of the year’s journey. I write a letter to myself summarizing the previous year and naming intentions for the year ahead, add pictures and, with the New Year’s letter that goes to all, place them into the “New Year Box.”
That original box is stuffed, and I may have to make a bigger one as I go into this new year. I plan to do this for at least the next 25 years! It is a terrific record of the journey and, for me, the annual ritual ties the old with the new, the holidays with the work of personal evolution, the joy with the sadness and the reality with the dreams.
About Kate Hawkes
Kate Hawkes has earned degrees in education, theatre and counseling, and has taught many different groups, ages and places. She works with veterans, children, teenagers and adults, from elementary through high school, community and college groups. She is also a theatre professional with expertise in all areas – actress, director, producer and playwright. As a consultant with The Society for Arts in Healthcare, she helps groups develop arts programs specifically tailored to meet the needs of healthcare. Kate created Performing Wellness ™ and teaches workshops throughout the country. Recently, she published a book “PERSONAL MAGIC: Conscious Empowerment through Creativity & Spirit.” Kate lives in central Arizona, and when not conducting a workshop or a rehearsal or at her computer engaged in a myriad of endeavors, she rides her horse through ancient rocks, up windswept peaks and along the streambeds that keep her grounded.