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.