Despite the time and energy it takes to participate in the religious and social rituals associated with Christmas, the result is that I am spiritually grounded, emotionally provoked, mentally rested, and physically fed. Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, and the last week of the year are times when I reconnect to what is important to me, and the holiday rituals help me do this.
The “holiday season” is upon us, and I’m still busy and exhausted, as I’m sure many of you are. Although my life isn’t as stressful as it was in October, I am still juggling multiple commitments while trying to make significant progress on my dissertation. This past weekend, I spent some time with other dissertation writers in the same predicament, and quite a few of them were thinking of cancelling Christmas in their households in response.
My immediate reaction to canceling Christmas (or another alternative they mentioned, micro-Christmas) was to inwardly scream “THAT’S RIDICULOUS!!!!” To be honest, I’m not sure my facial expression didn’t make my reaction plain. But since I value my relationships with these people and I genuinely respect their insights, I decided to keep my reaction to myself and to give the matter more thought. I realized later on that all of the “cancel Christmas” advocates were women. So I began to consider what the implications of cancelling Christmas would be for women.
The obvious reasoning for cancelling Christmas is that time, energy, and money spent on the many rituals related to the holiday season could be better spent on other tasks. Christmastime is not just a religious celebration (or not even a religious celebration for many people), but a social event. There are parties to attend; gifts to make, purchase, wrap, and deliver; meals to prepare; decorations to hang; and travel arrangements to be made. In Christian communities, there is commonly extra activity –pageants and plays to conduct, music to learn, service projects to conduct. Much of the responsibility falls to women as organizers, managers of the home, and caretakers of families to perform. So it is fitting that a sense of self-care might provoke them to declare ENOUGH and focus on more important things than obligations to others that lack a real purpose or that are accomplished at a cost to the health and well-being of the self.
Yet, self-care is what motivates me to keep Christmas as the light in a dark season. Despite the time and energy it takes to participate in the religious and social rituals associated with Christmas, the result for me is that I am spiritually grounded, emotionally provoked, mentally rested, and physically fed. Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, and the last week of the year (when I am fortunate enough to have vacation time) are times when I reconnect to what is important to me, and the holiday rituals help me do this. Tasks like sending Christmas cards and shopping for gifts are enjoyable because they allow me to intentionally remember the loved ones close and near and think about the particular characteristics that make them so endearing to me.
Decorating the tree and hanging decorations gives me time to beautify my home, and literally fill it with light. Thanks to the magic of a timer, as soon as I enter my home in the evening, I see a glimmering tower of greenery, colorful objects, and lights. Many of my ornaments have sentimental meanings and memories attached, so as I hang them, I remember important milestones. Not all are happy. One ornament memorializes my sister’s cat, my dear companion, who died in 2009. I often cry when I hang the ornament, but I also remember happy moments we had at Christmas. This year, my roommate helped me trim the Christmas tree on a weekend when she was grieving recent losses. The time spent in each other’s company, building something beautiful together, was beneficial to us both.
Advent, the weeks leading to Christmas, is a meaningful time to me for religious reasons, and I began to experience it as an adult. Traditionally, Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus during this time by reflecting upon the longing of the Jews in the biblical narratives and their own selves for a Savior. As someone who experiences divine love through Jesus, it is a time for me to reflect on what the inbreaking of Christ in history and in my life really means. In past years, I have thought deeply about Mary’s story. This year, I’m thinking more about hope, and about the responsibility I have to bring the world closer to ideals of justice and love.
I can understand why someone–especially a woman overwhelmed with responsibilities– would want to cancel Christmas. But for me, Christmas is a time to remember why I have those responsibilities, and why I am blessed to be able to carry them out. It’s an important pause in a busy season.
I wish all of you a meaningful, inspirational season full of love and light.
Elise M. Edwards is a Ph.D. candidate in Theology, Ethics, and Culture at Claremont Graduate University and registered architect in the State of Florida. She does interdisciplinary work in the fields of theology, ethics, and aesthetics, examining issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.