Two little words.

I’m getting more irritated than previously with two little words. You can probably guess what they are, given the time of year: Merry Christmas. It’s not that I object to holiday wishes – I don’t. But I think that wishing me a happy holiday that isn’t mine just to make conversation is, perhaps, not the greatest thing ever. I admit I’m sensitive to words: I try to choose and use them carefully.

Work is easy: I work at a private non-religious school which has a substantial Christian population – but also a number of Jews (with a wide range of approach to practice), as well as some Muslim students and faculty, and some Hindu students. (So far as I know, I’m the only Pagan, but I honestly *don’t* know. I’ve told a few specific people, and a few others have guessed based on how I handle specific topics.)

For all of these reasons, we hear “Happy holidays” and “Have a great break!” far more than “Merry Christmas.” (the latter is said only to people you know actually celebrate it.) And I like that. They speak directly to me as a person, and they consider what I might or might not be doing, and while they’re generic, they’re not implying I *should* be celebrating something or doing something.

I think of a close friend who’s grieving too many deaths in her life in the last two years. This holiday season will have good times for her – but exactly how merry it will be, I don’t know. Encouraging her to feel merry certainly seems dismissive at best and downright nasty at worst. I think of people I know who will be dealing with difficult family situations, stress about money, pressure to do more, to conform, to fit into the mold – and I don’t know how merry that is, either.

Is the casual potential cruelty of a “Merry Christmas” really helpful? Or friendly? Do we need to say it to everyone we see for a month running?

Waiting

But this year, something is also bothering me this year: the lack of anticipation. Back when I was (an active and heavily involved) Catholic, one of my home parish priests was very fixed on the idea of not celebrating Christmas until it was actually Christmas. The older I’ve gotten, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I absolutely agree with him.

My mother also took it seriously. We’d have our Advent wreath, but we’d also wait to get our tree until quite late – when I was in college, it was often on the 22nd or 23rd, when I came home from exams. (Mom couldn’t haul a tree by herself.) Ten years later, it’s hard to find a tree lot that’s still open or has much stock that late.

This year, the Christmas stuff showed up en masse in stores well before Thanksgiving – and I started seeing it before Halloween. How can we wait, how can we anticipate – and how can we avoid imploding from stress – when we can’t escape it?

As I’ve looked at my own practices, I wonder what it would be like to go from the flurry of a witchy Samhain to the quiet of Yule, celebrating the return of the light, but without the stress and strain of melding it with secular and family events. I enjoy travelling to see my family (and I treat Christmas, these days, as part of remembering and honoring my family and my ancestors.) But it’s not my holiday in a religious sense.

I don’t want to get drawn into the trap of neglecting the anticipation for the event. I learn things from the waiting. I need to learn the quiet, and the reflective surface, the soft music and the pleasure of a cup of tea, just as much as I need to learn the shiny and the bright lights, the trumpets and drums and feasts of food.

I’m intrigued by Beth Owl’s Daughter‘s Solstice spell (her introductory post is here): I found this too late to get things together (both in practical terms, and available energy ones) this year, but I am reading along, thinking, and looking for ways to develop something that will work for me. I think about the Cauldron Farm’s article on seasonal sustenance, and how I might combine that with some sort of ongoing working from Sabbat to Sabbat.

These are not simple goals: they take time, they are complicated to fit into a busy life that runs on other people’s schedules in terms of what music I hear in the stores, when I have days off work, and so on. But I am committed to figuring out things – small things, ongoing things – that make my home a refuge from the chaos, and that help bring a little rest from the constant din to those around me who wish it.

There’s nothing here that others – hundreds of others – in many religious traditions haven’t also said, more or less. One more voice for quiet seems rather ironic. But at the same time – one more voice might intrigue or inspire one more person. That’d be nice.

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