Focusing on What Really Matters

Christmas has come and gone, and I know I’m not alone in the Pagan community as I breath a big sigh of relief.  While celebrants often feel a sense of regret or let-down that Christmas is over, I am thrilled to be out of such a stressful period.  For the last few years, December has come with a certain insecurity and anxiety.  Everyone at work seems to celebrate Christmas, and they just assume that everyone else doe!  Fearful of discrimination, I don’t correct anyone.  I try to focus on the commonalities and that my coworkers mean well.  I’m not lying when I play along – I do visit my family for Christmas and exchange gifts, yet having to wear a mask is exhausting.  I can’t quite take it off after vacation starts.  Although my immediate family knows quite well that I don’t observe Christmas, they still want to spend time with me on their special day.  That’s understandable, of course, and I’m hopeful that they’ll reciprocate next year since it will be our little one’s first Winter Solstice.  The mask goes on firmly when I visit with other family members who either don’t know I’m a Druid or don’t quite understand and think I’m all about Christmas.  It’s exhausting trying to explain otherwise, and most of the time, any attempts are seen as hostile or me acting as a party pooper.  So I do my best to go along and enjoy myself all the same.

Every year, I seem to have a traditional Christmas meltdown.  High on hormones, this year was particularly bad.  I was stressed with finishing last minute gifts, wrestling with what-if explanation scenarios in my head, and girding myself for new questions about how I will raise my baby.

In the end, my anxiety was dwarfed by two very profound things.

Before driving to stay with family for their celebration, Weretoad and I went to my midwife for a checkup.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but suddenly I was on my back and she had a small instrument hooked up to a speaker.  Realization dawned on me and, suddenly, I heard my baby’s heartbeat for the first time.  It was fast and otherworldly sounding, and yet there it was – the rhythm of life.  The midwife confirmed that it was a healthy heartbeat.  My husband and I smiled at each other, and he hurriedly found a recording app on his phone so he could share the special moment with loved ones.

Later that evening, we shuffled into our grandparents’ home for our traditional Christmas Eve visit and gift exchange.  When my sister and I were little, this included Christmas Eve mass at a Catholic church.  I’m in the broom closet with this group, more or less.  In December, my anxiety level is always highest visiting this part of my family.  We were warned ahead of time, however, that grandma and grandpa had taken a turn.  Sure enough, our  grandmother was forced to remain sitting the whole time having injured one of her hips.  Our grandfather, on the other hand, has been struggling with cancer this year.  A side of his face droops due to chemotherapy-related nerve damage.  He winced almost continually from pain.  My uncles, his sons, were holding off on his sleep-inducing pain medication so he could see us.  Gifts were handed out at a rapid pace and we agreed that we should go so he could take his medicine and rest.  As we scurried back out into the cold night, my sister cried.  I tend to maintain composure in such situations, but it shook me a bit as well.  My grandmother, despite her injury, is still very alert, talkative, and sharp,  My grandfather, on the other hand, has been reduced from a very active repairman, salesman, town historian, and author to a squinting, shaking, wincing, nearly deaf man who can barely whisper a few words at a time.  His face is misshapen and full of chemical-related pain.  I recalled something he said to me when I was much younger: “The day I stop working is the day I die.”

Thus Christmas Eve was framed by this juxtaposition: coming birth and impending death.  I’ve been reflecting on it since that day, and how timely it is with the themes of winter.  We talk about birth and death in Druidism.  It is in our lore, our symbolism, our music, our ritual, our art.  I like to think we have a greater appreciation and acceptance of the dance of life because of this, yet it always gives us pause when it occurs in our own lives.

I tried my best to focus on family during the Christmas celebration after that.  That is, of course, what really matters regardless of religion or holiday.  I understand that is not easy for all of my readers, but I’m grateful that my family is as kind, loving, generous, fun, and (mostly) easy to be around.

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

10 thoughts on “Focusing on What Really Matters

  1. Poor Grey! My fiance’s grandfathers (his biological one and his other one) have both suffered from health issues this year. I somewhat know what you are going through. You will be in my thoughts.

    On the other hand, hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the first time is amazing! Perhaps the spirit of your baby will reflect those of your family.

    I send you many blessings and love.

    1. Thanks Victoria. I keep reminding myself that it’s part of life – life changes and, without those changes, we would cease to exist. Hearing my baby’s heartbeat for the first time was truly spectacular – magical even! It brightened everyone’s mood. 🙂

  2. Clearly an emotional rollercoaster. I’m sorry that you feel you would face discrimmination at work. That seems to have been a stressor for you for a long time now. Watching our loved ones grow old and approach that final milestone is always heartbreaking. The new life growing does help to bring perspective but also probably apprehension as well. Its a big world to face. Know that you do have people to support you. And as always your patrons among the Kindreds will be there for you as well.

    1. Yeah, the work situation is interesting. On the one hand, I think I’ve established myself fairly well there that everyone would understand I’m a good person. I hope my actions would speak well of myself and my path. On the other I’m very cautious. There are some very conservative Christians at work. I’m more worried about creating an awkward work environment. Perhaps one day I will feel comfortable. I don’t complain about the emphasis they place on Christmas because they allow just as much fun around Halloween.

      There has been quite a bit of sadness in the world recently, so it does make me worry for the wee life in me – but I’m also optimistic. New life can mean so many positive things. I’m trying to focus on that. 🙂

      I very much appreciate your care and support. I know you, and Muin Mound, will always be there for us. We love you guys very much!

  3. From between 24th Dec and 2nd Jan it is like sailing into either storm or becalming waters, with a gladness to be on the other side. I am highly anti-Christmas, and won’t celebrate it, compromising by marking Winter Solstice instead. Dickens Scrooge has nothing on me at this time of year, the impact upon my health and wealth is low from the 2012 Christmas period.

    This was a deep and moving post. I liked it. Chemotherapy seems to do more damage to the body than the cancer it is trying to kill.

  4. I get what you’re saying about the discomfort. But I look at it like this. When I am at work, I put on a persona in general because I work with small children. They don’t need to know about my religion or sexuality any more than they need to know my political affiliation or emotional grievances. i expect adults to act as such, but since that is a rarity I simply do not leave it up for discussion.

  5. I lost my grandfather just 2 1/2 weeks before Christmas this year, and it was rough. I’m sorry to hear about your grandparents. Even though we know death is a part of life, that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, in my opinion.

    On a happier note, that must have been very exciting to hear your baby’s heartbeat 🙂 Someday, in a few years, I may be asking for the name of your midwife, I hope 😉

    Also, I hope you had a pleasant Winter Solstice, despite the stress of the holidays. It stinks that you have to feel like you’re walking on thin ice, around your co-workers but especially around your family. I wish everyone could understand that no matter what holidays we celebrate, we’re all in this life together and should respect each others’ beliefs and wish each other well all year round.

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