Not very long ago, customs and traditions were the same for all members in a given community, with only slight variations occurring in the privacy of each home. One could expect to be able to seamlessly blend into another family’s celebrations during holidays and festivals and know exactly what was going on, what was to be done, and (most importantly back then), WHY.
My mother’s family was Polish and Catholic. We celebrated with them on Christmas Eve. I can still smell Grandma’s fish sticks. I recently did a search on Polish holiday traditions and customs, and was impressed with the richness of tradition that every December 24th held for us in their home on Lille Street in Montreal. It was a little more reserved — conservative — but filled with love. I miss them.
The next day, after opening our gifts under our artificial tree sprayed with fake snow and decorated with a blend of decorations my brother and I had made as far back as in kindergarten, shiny bobbles, tinsel and many other things, we would get dressed up and head back into the city from our suburban home to celebrate with my father’s family. The extroverted side. The loud, Irish-French-Scottish-whatever side (also Catholic, but in more of a Christmas, Easter, wedding & funeral sense… oh, and Grandma dreams of the dead before people die, and apparently there’s a fortune teller/witch cousin in England who sees ghosts but anyhoo…). The side with MANY cousins and second cousins and second-cousins-once-removed… But it was usually Dad’s siblings, their husband’s & wives and children and us, at Grandma & Grandpa’s apartment. Sliding down the long hallway in our slippery tights was something that had to be done by the girls several times over the course of the day and evening. Our feet would stink by the time we left. Good times, good times…. Grandma made Yorkshire Pudding, there was a TON of food, and it was my Uncle’s birthday as well.
My husband was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. No Christmas. No traditions. And (not because of religion, but because of people’s ugly sides), not a whole lot of love, either.
When we got together, we were both born-again Christians, myself having jumped into the belief system after seeking Something More at 17 after too much partying and exploration of the metaphysical that still left me with a hole inside. I did not realize at that time that the hole could only truly be filled from within, and not by any external person or thing.
As we grew deeper in our faith and read and analysed the Bible (which, while encouraged to a degree in Christian circles, is also frowned upon once you start realizing that what the Bible says and what is taught in church are not one in the same), we realized that biblically, holidays such as Easter and Christmas were completely pagan and an abomination to the God we worshipped, and that celebrations such as the Passover were to be kept by believers. So we stopped celebrating, kept Passover, and challenged church leaders regarding this matter. Let’s just say that the last part did not go over very well.
The more we searched and prayed for truth, the more we were led to the realisation that while there was Someone or Something guiding us when we were sincere in our seeking, the Bible was not the depiction of Who or What They were/It was. The Bible was not Truth.
This turn of things turned our world upside down for a while (actually, it turned mine upside down — my husband is quite a bit stronger than I am and had been through a lot in life already, which allowed him to handle this change of thinking much better than I initially did). I, at times, had horrible nightmares, actually waking up feverish. We had to find our own footing, our own path. While it was initially difficult for me to “shake” the view that former practices of mine were somehow evil, I began re-exploring yoga, meditation, astrology, and witchcraft. I read about Buddhism and eastern beliefs. It was interesting to see how different beliefs had just as much (or sometimes as little?) validity as Christianity and Judaism. Cultures were different. Tribes were different. Yet there were so many similarities, even in the ones that on the surface seemed like night and day when compared to one another.
Fast forward a few years. I had placed validity in my Biblical beliefs because of experiences I had had with the supernatural, with “weird things” happening, visions, etc…. I didn’t realize that this was simply something that can happen when one spends a lot of time in prayer, or meditating, or even removes processed & refined foods & animal products from their diets. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but I am one of the people it happens to. I have a thin veil. As a Christian when I devoted myself to honest and true seeking & Bible study, prayer, and time alone in nature, a connection to Spirit was made. This has also happened when I have devoted myself to regular meditation and yoga, and again time spent in nature. I’m comfortable with it now. I do not understand the WHY of it, but accept that it just is. It’s funny how we can move from needing an explanation for everything in order to accept it, to simply accepting that we may never have all of the answers, but that doesn’t change what is.
My husband teases me about my weird ways. But he loves me and knows that given my childhood and background, and given who I am as a spiritual being, I need customs and traditions. He sometimes rolls his eyes at me, but appreciates what I bring into our home having come from a happy childhood with good memories.
I don’t like the commercialism of Christmas. I do love mini gift exchanges. Those can get tricky when kids are involved or when they risk becoming the centre of it all. I love myth, folklore, history, and the way that so many traditions were based on a connection to nature and spirit. No, I do not believe that carving a piece of wood into an old lady and then throwing it into the fire on the night of the Winter Solstice will actually banish all negativity and prevent death for the next year, but much as people will write down things they want to let go of and then symbolically burn them, I think it can be a way to shift our thinking and energies, and embrace what is to come. And my son likes to carve wood and burn things, and hang out with me doing weird stuff in general.
We have a Solstice dinner most years. Sometimes it is a large celebration, sometimes (like this year) quite small. not always on the day of the Solstice, but close to it. It is what we do. The kids gather pine cones open them in the oven, and then paint them with glitter and cinnamon, and decorate the house with them. They sometimes bring in evergreen branches as well. Nothing major, very simple. And this is what we do.
I have never burnt the old lady carving before. My husband thinks I’m nuts. Maybe I am. But I am hoping that, nuts or not, it becomes something my children look forward to every Winter Solstice. It is interesting to look at the things we do—the things we look forward to doing—simply because they are done together, and at a certain time only.
Rhythms, traditions are good. Sometimes we must create our own.
But every tradition began somewhere.