I just finished reading Judith Flanders’ CHRISTMAS A BIOGRAPHY and WHAT a REFRESHING read!!! I bought the book on a whim, hoping to find some justifications for simplifying duties as well as to glean insights into the old conundrum of religious vs. secular tensions. And what I got by reading the book is a more balanced perspective and historical understanding of winter holidays. Perhaps I am not the only one trying to sort through the mountains of seasonal activities, seeking a deeper meaning.
Flanders’ light tone of voice presents historic evidence with ease. The cool ‘Legend’ and ‘Partial Holiday Calendar’ helps the reader follow along with icons, denoting various aspect of Christmas ~ brilliant tools for making sense of the origins of multitudinous activities. Her research spans all sorts of sources, from The Children’s Friend Magazine to The Lamplighter.
I was particularly relieved to realize that norms have shifted through the centuries according to cross pollination of cultures, to get us to where we are in the present. In context of European history, we are creating our holiday season as much in our own image as in the image of previous generations. We use resources at hand to create a meaningful experience for ourselves and those we love, just as families long ago. Human nature has changed little, and the human psyche still craves light in the darkness.
The most impactful section of the book for me was on page 3, where Flanders spoke of how the Germans approach Christmas as a feeling. We work so hard to create (and many time to recreate) spontaneous feelings of comfort and joy. But in my experience, feelings are more illusive than any environment can create. Feelings happen from the inside out. Feelings are notorious for being triggered by something unexpected, such a a song or smell. Such is the Christmas feeling, when the scents and sounds of the season set the mood. Tradition and ritual can also invoke the mood, unless it strays further from the heart of its meaning.
The archetypes of trees, time, divine birth, sacrifice, stars, light remind us not only of where we came from, but where we are going. At this time of year, it is wise to stop and consider where we have come from and where we wish to go from here…. to take stock of what matters and then rejoice in the privilege of walking this earth for another spin around the sun!
So, however you celebrate the Season, all the best to you and those you love!