Which Christmas?

Shider, vispix.com

For a moment, the shopping mall is magical–the twinkling lights, the soft sweaters, the peppermint cappuccinos.

This is the Christmas of soap operas–of shiny new outfits and fancy gatherings. It is my stepmother’s annual black tie event–carols on the baby grand, champagne in the crystal, salmon on the silver.

There’s a part of me that still craves this Christmas, like an old recipe insisting on its place. But there is another Christmas that woos me too–the quiet Christmas of fresh evergreens and fire places and simple delights.

This Christmas requires homemade gifts and handwritten cards; mornings in the kitchen, afternoons at the work bench, evenings on the sewing machine–joyfully rendering no matter what the hour–while the sweet sound of string music plays in the background.

And then, there is my “real” Christmas–the one fraught with tension between presence and presents, commerce and contentment, decorations and deities.

It’s no wonder that I short-circuit.

What is it that I can distill from these competing visions?

What is it that I truly appreciate about this season of light?

It is this ritual that I love…

preparation |ˌprepəˈrā sh ən| noun  ORIGIN late Middle English; via Old French from Latin praeparatio(n-), from praeparare ‘make ready before’

In the northern hemisphere, the winter holidays come at the darkest time of year. Their light helps us enter the winter months while our rituals of preparation make the journey sacred.

It’s hard to align department stores and cocktails parties and frantic hours of wrapping with a sense of the sacred; but I can understand the impulse. We are gathering. We are making sure we have enough. We are afraid we don’t.

It’s time to unplug from that ancient fear, at least for those of us who have enough food and heat and clothing.  It is time to notice that our fear not only robs others of what they need; but also robs each of us of the gift of enough.

May Sarton writes, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is… an instrument of grace.”

May our rituals of preparation be such an instrument, knowing that we are and we have… enough.

Kelly Salasin, December 2011

More on Christmas:

Those Damn Christmas Cookies

“Come in and Know me better, man

The Gift of Christmas Presence

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

“Cease trying to work everything out with your minds. It will get you nowhere. Live by intuition and inspiration and let your whole life be…Revelation.”

~Eileen Caddy


Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is also my birthday–which is why the nurses at the Sisters of Mercy begged my mother to name me Mary on the misty morning that I was born in their hospital by the sea.

Did you know that Mary was immaculately conceived?

If you’re not Catholic, this is probably a shock. And the good news about this news is that if you are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to attend a Catholic school, you get that day off–every year–which is pretty special when it’s your birthday, and probably explains why I continue to take this day off, even though I’m not Catholic.

Well, actually, I’m kind of Catholic, because supposedly my Irish Catholic grandmother, Loretta, baptized me in my carriage. If I remember correctly, baptism is the one Catholic sacrament for which you do not need a priest–which my agnostic father would have never tolerated, especially after The Church refused to marry him and my mother because of his Jewish heritage.  (Not to mention that she was pregnant with me.)

My own husband and I were married in the month of Mary (May) and gave birth to our first son on August 15–the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.  (Did you know that Mary was “assumed” into heaven? )

Given that my mother was born on Christmas Day, I became intrigued with my family’s growing Mary connection. When I later discovered that my husband’s birthday, September 8th, was celebrated as The Feast Day of Mary–her very own birthday–I was beside myself!

Imagine my delight while deliberating over a piece of land in Southern Vermont only to find that the closest neighbor was a summer camp–owned and operated by Guess Who?  The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception!

At this juncture of my tale, I’m must confess that our second son was born on a Pagan holiday which I was sure had jinxed us… until Mary started moving.

A new statue of Mary, that I received for my birthday last December 8th, was set on the cabinet facing the woodstove; but by summer, I noticed that she had inched her way west toward the pond–and toward the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception–who return there each July.  

I would turn her back, liking things just so, only to find her turned ever so slightly again.

Everyone in the house thought I was crazy, but when I swore that I hadn’t touched her, they became concerned. We all agreed to leave Mary gazing at the pond instead of the fire.

Lately I’ve been walking through lots of FIRES of my own making… I’ve discovered work that resonates deeply with my passions, yet I continue to resist and suffer. The mission of this organization is intercultural understanding which means that I get the privilege of connecting to members all around the world from this little corner of rural Vermont. When one of our offices notified me that they would be closed on December 8th for the national observance of the holiday, I felt the tug of alignment once again.

Arriving home that evening, another email came from an old college friend, saying that she always remembers my birthday because it falls on the Feast of the Conception. I joked that I liked any religion that associated conception with “feasting;” but what I didn’t say was that I was finally beginning to realize a deeper meaning and connection to the Immaculate Conception.

I am too humbled and ashamed to make such a claim, but it is true. For despite my overwhelming fear, and my daily grumblings of hardship, this work was certainly brought toward me by the deep waters of alignment and trust. I didn’t grab after it with my mind, as I have so often done (in the wrong direction); it reached out for me –by the heart–and the loins–conceiving of a new self-expression inhabited by allowing the Divine.

Sadly, there is no happily ever after. I’m still human.  I’m still Kelly.  I’m not going to sail off into the sunset, assumed into Heaven like the Holy Mother. 

There is work to be done–on the INside, and the OUTside–and often, I make that HARD. Yet despite this attachment to hardship, DREAMS do come true–again and again–when I open myself to Heaven’s part.

Kelly Salasin, December 8, 2010

(ps. thank you to my wise friend Carolyn who helped me recognize the Immaculate Conception in my own life.)

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