The final month of the year is a world of holidays. From Christmas to Krampus, Solstice to Santa Lucia, Kwanzaa to Hanukkah, and ending with a bang on New Year’s Eve, December is a month of celebration in countries and cultures all over the world. It also happens to be our theme for this month’s CEC.
I am a card carrying celebrant – one who engages in merrymaking especially in honour of a special occasion. I come by it honestly. I grew up in a family that celebrated everything, with a Mom that some (myself) might lovingly call a “Holidork”. My mom celebrated every occasion – all the holidays, big and small – in the grandest of style. The house was decorated thematically with each new holiday, right down to the freshly laundered, seasonally-appropriate bathroom hand towels.
But no other celebration in our house could hold a candle to Christmastime. Despite not being a particularly Christian household, like so many all over the world we still celebrated the holiday as the biggest one of the year. And my mom pulled out all the stops. The whole house was transformed into a magical wonderland by lights, fires, and music that never played the rest of the year. For the month of December, I swear the whole house smelled like freshly baked cookies. My mom was (and still is!) the June Cleaver of Christmas.
So I was excited when asked to write this newsletter on Celebration. I lived for celebrations, and grew up always looking forward to the next one. But the day I sat down to write my first draft, there was a suspected terrorist attack at the Canada/US Niagara border. It turned out not to be a terrorist attack, just an incredibly tragic event, but still, it consumed me and stymied any kind of celebratory mood. And from there I went into the darkness.
The plethora of problems on our planet today started to weigh heavy on me: the climate crisis, the housing crisis, not one, but two, ongoing and devastating wars, the rising cost of groceries (and everything!), the possible resurgence of Covid, and the people who are struggling to meet basic needs. What was there to celebrate, I wondered?
There is no shortage of current events these days to kill any cause for celebration. I couldn’t bring myself to write. I couldn’t find my merry and bright, which is normally present through most days, but especially during the holidays. I was uninspired and dejected.
And then came the next celebration in the calendar. It was not one of my own faith or tradition, but as the Northern neighbour (yes, we put a “U” in neighbour my American friends) to the influential USA, it’s hard not to get swept up in the American celebration of Thanksgiving. That’s when I learned from a friend in Canada that she and her husband took the American holiday off every year to put up their own Christmas Tree. Neither were American. They have no kids. I’m not even sure they were Christian. They just used the occasion to add a little meaningful, beautiful ritual to their lives.
Their story was a turning point for me, igniting a light in a deep ocean of darkness. It reminded me how important it was to create and keep these traditions in our lives – no matter what is happening in the world outside. That even amongst the darkest of times, there can be light. That even in sorrow we can experience joy. They are in fact two sides of the same coin.
From a glimpse of this couples’ sweet, simple tradition, inspiration slowly crept back in. They reminded me that we can craft our own customs and create occasions for joy. That all the wonderful attributes of celebration – the connection, the community, the jubilation, the honouring – are ones we can create. And we are not bound by what, who, where, how or even why we celebrate. It’s up to us to choose celebration. I began to realize amidst the darkness there is still so much to celebrate, starting with the first breath I take every morning.
With my official celebrant card back in pocket, I started to celebrate small wins. Like checking onething off my holiday to-do list – no matter how many more remained. Braving, and winning at, Black Friday sales. And Wednesdays, because it’s my day off (when I’m not trying to write newsletters!). And date night, because that’s only happened twice in the last 5 years since the birth of my daughter, and it also happened to be on a Wednesday.
Just like in meditation, when we pick a focus – the breath, the earth, sounds, sensations – we start to attune to that focus. We begin to notice more. Our perspective shifts. When I started to actively turn my awareness towards celebration, there was no shortage of content and possibility, of reasons and occasions to partake in some revelry.
Perhaps it’s because December is the darkest month of the year that there are so many celebrations worldwide. Many honour and celebrate light. This year I’ve gained a new appreciation for the celebration of Winter Solstice, where people gather in community on the darkest night of the year and usher in the return of the light with family, friends, feasts, and fire. It is in these darkest times when we need celebration the most. So celebrate everything. Especially Wednesdays. Especially the light.