The popular American Christmas way is for the birds. A friend commented on a previous Christmas entry about what I think a key to making this time of year meaningful: quiet. American Christmas is the extreme opposite of this truth. Even the most solemn Christmas hymns from days long past are reworked into loud and noxious sounds that exude disrespect for calm. You know when a well-known Christian singer, Amy Grant, writes a Christmas song entitled "I Need a Silent Night," that things are out of hand.
So, this is what I care about this time of year -- stories read by the fire, candlelit dinners with close friends and family, beautiful music and walks under the stars. All of my best Christmas memories are about quiet sharing on dark nights, not about gifts, but about being in the moment. I do enjoy Christmas music sung around a piano by people of varying talent, but not so much blaring over mall speakers. I loved being in La Posada one year in a far away Mexican village, ending at the inn with a piñata for children and Mariachis singing joyfully with words I barely understood. One year I made a Hanukkiah of the earth, eight plus one candles placed in the ground, lit by me alone under the starry night sky, fragile light fighting against the long night. Another year I made a spiral walk of stones and lit candles on the Winter Solstice. Every year I've given my children each an ornament, and now they have enough to cover our small tree, and I like to watch them decorate it (often placing bunches of ornaments too close together and leaving blank spots otherwise). I like to walk a labyrinth in solitude. The deafening quiet of the world after a fresh snow deeply touches my heart, but so does a warm breeze from the ocean and waving palm fronds against the moon.
For me true Christmas is not a place, nor is it a specific group of people even. It is not about expectations from family or friends. Christmas is not about extravagance and glitter. It is not even about one day that we may or may not agree a Savior was born in Bethlehem. Christmas, ideally, for me is about reverence for the moment. A day in the Southern hemisphere may be about sitting on the beach and watching the sun rise on the one of longest days of the year. In the Northern hemisphere Christmas could be the crunch of boots in the snow under a starry sky. A great meal at a long table filled with loved ones is miraculous, but if I'm ever alone on Christmas I hope that I remember that all I need to do is let the grace of quiet waft over me to recollect the journey of a year gone by, and to look forward to the years to come, to be with the moment as fully as the flame of a candle, to breath and appreciate how a complex life can be made simple. It is one of those days to mark on a calendar, a rite of passage in a year, the winding down of expectations, the setting aside of goals for an hour or two. Christmas could be a point of stillness in an otherwise busy life, if we chose to make it so.