And the world continues to turn, the sun continues to rise and set, the moon to wax and wane.
Slowly. Slowly. The days grow longer.
And still, we wait.
We wait for the sun’s return, for a Son to be born, for peace, hope, love and joy to descend upon all mankind.
We wait and as we wait, our patience grows thin. We rush about, fighting crowds and traffic. We wait in endless check-out lines to buy one more gift, to put one more check-mark or scratch off one more item on the list that seemed to grow longer as the days grew shorter.
And as we wait, our minds wander to thoughts of those who are no longer here. We remember their laughter. Their sweet voices. Their glowing eyes. Their dancing steps. And our heart yearns to hold them near, to feel their gentle touch, to see their beautiful smile.
And amidst the glitter and bows, the twinkling lights and crinkly paper, amidst the holiday cheer and ho, ho, ho’s, we wonder, how can this be? How can they be gone when the magic and wonder and mystery of Christmas is all around? How can they not be here when as predictably as Christmas decorations appearing in the mall the day after Halloween, we counted upon their presence to remind us that love is all around, love is all we need at this special time of year, at any time of year.
How can this be?
And so this is Christmas.
Our heart’s know what our mind does not want to believe. Time has turned, days have passed, weeks, months, years have slipped by. And in their passing, those who were once held fast to this time and place have passed on and nothing we do or say or wish can bring them back. We cannot touch them, hear them, feel them. We cannot bring them back and so must let them go so that we can listen for our hearts calling us to awaken from these long dark nights of winter.
For in their passing, life goes on, our hearts keep beating, our bodies keep doing and our minds keep remembering Christmases past as we slip into this moment to hear life reminding us to smile, to laugh and sing and call out to passers-by, greetings of the season, wishes of the New Year to come.
We have come through the time of endless nights growing darker. Of day’s light growing weaker in the soft approach of winter solstice, in the coming light of the child’s birth drawing near.
We are entering the time of waiting for the darkness to pass. Of remembering the day will come beyond the night where we will stand once again beneath a glowing sun and feel the welcoming warmth of its soft embrace reminding us to awaken.
This is a time of waiting and remembering. Of practicing patience. Of holding space for light.
This is a time for hope, peace, love and joy.
Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. No matter your celebration, may your heart be filled with hope, peace love and joy.
In loving memory of Clive, George and Roz, my dad.
Advent is upon us and I find myself ‘too busy’ to contemplate its arrival.
As I got the house ready for the market, I moved all our Christmas decorations into the storage pod in our driveway. Now, with the closing of the sale on this house imminent and the movers arriving next Tuesday to pack up our belongings and move them into storage until we complete the renovations on our new home, I will not be pulling out the decorations this year.
And I breathe.
The Advent season isn’t about the decorations or the sparkle and glitter of tinsel and bows. It’s about preparation. About quieting my restless mind and body. About breathing into the anticipation of new beginnings, new birth, new life.
And I breathe.
The calendar days will turn. Houses will be trimmed in holiday glitter and carols will be sung — whether I put up a tree, or decorate the mantle, the season isn’t about what I put out to recognize its presence. It’s about what I do to welcome this sacred time into my heart and life.
Below is a piece I wrote for a course I created a couple of years ago called, Make Time for the Sacred. It is a four week meditative journey through Advent. If you would like to join in this contemplative thoughtfulness of Advent, please click HERE. Over the next weeks, I will be working through the course material to reawaken Advent in my world.
Advent Journey. Week 1
Whether waiting for the birth of the Sun or the Son of God, advent is a time of waiting. Of
anticipation, of preparation for the coming of the light that will radiate around the world and
awaken the promise of life to come.
Today, I wait in the quiet of dawn suspended behind the darkness of night. Snow blankets the
world outside my window. I wait.
He is coming, they sing. His birth heralded around the world by shepherds watching and three
Kings drawing near. Angels we have heard on high.
He is coming.
And the world waits. It waits for a child to be born of Mary. A child for whom good tidings will
ring across the land. Hail Mary full of grace. Your time draws near.
Draw near. Draw nearer my heart and let its beat call you into this song of hope. Sing loud this
song of peace for all mankind.
Sing loud. Rejoice. Rejoice O Israel. To thee shall come Emmanuel.
Come. Come into my heart and let joy to the world resound with every breath. Let joy become
Joy to the world. He is coming.
Let us rejoice.
Believer or non-believer, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim. No matter our faith, let us rejoice in
this prayer for hope, peace, love and joy in our world.
Let peace become us. Let there be peace among us. Let there be peace.
Over 2000 years ago, a mother and father huddled together in a tiny stable and witnessed the birth of their child. The story of the Christ child’s birth has lived throughout the years. It touches all our hearts, Christian and non-Christian, believer and non-believer. No matter if we believe He came to earth to ‘save our souls from Satan’s power’, or if he was simply a powerful prophet, or just a great man whose story has survived the ages, His birth represents the power of love to create peace in the world and to restore our spirits as we celebrate the miracle of life.
Christmas is a time to celebrate. A time when we are connected through love’s grace to the miracle of one child’s birth long ago that reminds us, every year, that we too are miracles of birth inspired by the act of love that ignites our journey of life – in all its limitless possibilities.
Last night, as I wrapped presents and reflected on the meaning of Christmas, I felt immersed in Love. Sitting in my cozy living room, surrounded by twinkling lights and festive bows and crinkly wrapping paper, I felt connected to the millions of other parents, grandparents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers who wrapped and taped and lovingly placed gifts beneath a twinkling tree – a tree they had decorated together with loved ones, sharing in the joy of hanging each ornament, old and new, upon its fragrant boughs.
As I wrapped and hummed a Christmas melody (and maybe even sipped a glass of cheer!), I felt the power of Christmas surround me. As I placed a pretty bow upon each gift I thought about the person to whom I was giving and my heart was filled with love. In that love lay the true meaning of Christmas. It wasn’t in the gifts, or the giving. It didn’t lay in colourful disarray piled beneath the tree, but in the love that filled my heart as I thought about my husband, daughters, family and friends whom I love so dearly and who mean the world to me and who create such meaning in my world.
What a miracle Christmas is! 2000 years ago a child was born and from His birth has grown this night where the world stops, and takes a collective breath as we join in a song of love, faith, hope and joy. 2000 years ago a child’s birth gave birth to my evening last night.
As I sat in the quiet, I felt the power of that moment touch me. I took a deep breath in and felt my heart expand in love. In that breath, I was connected by the circle of love into which I was born and which encircled my daughters as I embraced the miracle of their lives to change my life. For just as the Christchild was a gift of love for his parents, and ultimately the world, with my daughters’ births I was given the greatest gift of all — the awesome reminder that life is a miracle and each birth a precious gift of love; powerful, enduring, everlasting.
This Christmas, as I reflect upon my life, I am reminded, once again, of the power of love to heal, to make peace and to create miracles.
And that is the true meaning of Christmas for me. A celebration of birth, of life, of love. A healing. An awakening. A miracle that wraps us all in a never-ending circle of love.
Whatever your celebration — Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Bodi day, the Fast of Ramadan, the ancient sabbat – or a family-centered gathering, a Blessed Holiday to each and everyone of you. May your spirits be light, your hearts full of love and may your world be filled with the limitless possibilities of the miracle of your life as you live each moment, filled with love, joy, gratitude and peace.
Merry Christmas from my heart to yours.
I posted the original of this post on Recover Your Joy December 24, 2007. My first year of blogging. It has been an amazing journey! Thank you Mark K for the inspiration in March of 2007 to begin blogging.
She hadn’t had a Christmas tree in four years. Not because she didn’t want one. She never gave up wanting one. She didn’t have one because for four years she didn’t have a home to put one up in.
And now, she does. Now, she has a place of her own. She has a tree.
It’s not a large tree, but in her one bedroom apartment, it fits perfectly. “I love the smell,” she says as she ties another silver ball onto a branch. She breathes deeply. “Oh wow! This is so exciting.”
I am sitting in a chair watching her, chatting, attaching hooks to each ball in preparation of its placement on the tree. Joelle had agreed to have her photo taken for the brochure as a way to give back to the agency that has, as she describes it, ‘saved my life’.
I knew Joelle* when she was staying at the shelter where I used to work. A tiny birdlike woman, chronic health conditions, addiction, a messy divorce, life missteps left her without a home, or the ability to work. In her weakened state, she became one of those who ‘fall through the cracks’ and end up on the doorstep of shelters across the country. Struggling with life, poor health, poverty, addiction, they run out of resources to keep a roof over their head and find themselves knocking on a shelter door.
If they’re really lucky, and there’s a focus in their community on affordable housing for those living on the margins they will get a place to call home, just as Joelle did.
On this day, just before Christmas several years ago when I still worked at an emergency shelter, I watched Joelle carefully place decorations on the tree and was moved and touched and reminded of the delicacy of this thread called the human condition. A thread made up of tiny moments that link us to the wonder, and sometimes sorrow, of being human, of being part of humankind, alone, yet not alone. Together, yet separate.
Joelle’s tree was a gift. A gift from a woman she met during the summer while in hospital for six weeks receiving chemotherapy. The woman, Sarah, was in the next bed. For six weeks the two women from very separate and different walks of life connected. They talked and shared and when Joelle got out of hospital, Sarah took it upon herself to create a welcome home for Joelle in her new apartment.
And that’s where the magic kept unfolding.
Being released from hospital into homelessness is one of the tragedies in our social fabric. For Joelle, being released back to the shelter was a given. Until through Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness and the housing the shelter provided, Joelle was housed.
She was provided the basics, furniture, dishes, but the place still lacked that feminine touch, that sense of — ‘Joelle’. And then Sarah, stepped in and ‘prettied up’ the place. She held a house-warming for Joelle, inviting her lady friends to come and create a place of comfort and beauty for this woman she’d met while lying in a hospital bed, recovering from her own serious medical condition.
I sat and watched and chatted with Joelle and I knew it was there. In that room with us. It was palpable.
The spirit of Christmas.
The best of our human condition dancing in the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree that was a gift from a stranger who has become a friend and who continues to take the time to ensure this woman for whom life has not been easy, finds a less stressful, more beautiful path.
“What does having your own place this Christmas mean to you?” I ask Joelle as she tosses tinsel and reminisces about Christmases past.
“It means I get to spend it with my daughter. We get to be a family.”
And there it was, all over again. The meaning of Christmas shining in the light of one woman’s eyes filled with wonder as she decorated a tree and dreamt of spending time with the ones she loves. And in the wonder of the moment I was reminded once again that Christmas is not in the baubles and glitter, the gifts or the Christmas cards strung along a mantle. It’s right here. Right where we are. It’s a place to belong. To be welcomed. To be together. A place where family meets and connects to what makes magic happen — our human condition shining in Love.
It is Christmas. No matter where we are, no matter how far from home we have strayed, may we all come home to the heart of sharing peace, love and joy at this special time of year.
For stories of Christmas and recovery and having a home, please visit The Gift Project.
This article has been revised from its original version posted in 2010. I have changed the names of the individuals involved.
In my early twenties I would go to the shelter where my mom worked to interview clients for their annual Christmas Wishlist. The list was in fact a website (now called Homeless Partners) where people could go and donate a personalized gift to one of the hundreds of men and women who would be waking up in a shelter on Christmas morning. My job was to collect a little information about the clients and ask what they were wishing for that season.
The first year I took part, I gathered in the shelter office with all the other volunteers and was given a list of questions to ask the clients. On the back of the sheet was a list of acceptable items they could request: Work boots, calling cards, transit passes, jackets. The program coordinator cautioned us to divert wishes away from gift certificates and expensive electronics which could easily become gifts for dealers instead of clients.
I admit, I was hesitant about the interview process. Worried I’d come across as condescending. That the interviewees would take one look at my Aritzia jacket and Sorel boots and tell me and the Christmas Spirit to go f*ck ourselves.
The Christmas trees of my youth had always been overflowing with more packages than my sister and I knew what to do with. Though I know my parents often struggled to keep up financially, each Christmas they would exclaim that now was the time to ask for what we really wanted. The year they divorced two weeks before Christmas, they softened the blow with the assurance that two Christmases would be better than one. As step-parents and new siblings entered the mix, Christmas shopping became even more extravagant. The price for our acceptance when we weren’t willing to give it on our own accord. Who were my sister and I to complain if the shiny things made them all feel better about wrecking our family?
But now in my twenties, Christmas just made me feel sick to my stomach. Requests for my Christmas list had become a reminder of how I’d wasted countless holiday seasons demanding love via presents. How I’d only ever received with judgement, and given out of obligation. If there were gifts to be had now, I didn’t deserve them.
So when the first interviewee pulled up their chair to mine on that first day at the shelter, I wasn’t expecting the next two hours to be an unravelling of the giant knot I’d tied around all my complicated holiday feelings.
My first interview is with Donna*, a blonde woman in her forties. She smiles, tentatively, as I begin to go through the questions. What are some of the reasons you’re on the street? How long have you been homeless? What do you want for Christmas?
Donna tells me of the relationship that ended five years ago. How she’d been left with nothing. She speaks about her teenage daughter. How she doesn’t like her coming down to the shelter – it’s too dangerous. Her daughter will call and leave a message at the shelter office. Sometimes Donna doesn’t get them. She tells me about how it hurts that she can’t be there for the girl whose name is tattooed across her shoulders.
Her Christmas wish? That someday her daughter will be able to visit her in a place all of her own.
A young man sits down next. He’s a year younger than me. He’s lost contact with his family. Made some poor decisions. I ask him what would lift his spirits? “A gift from somebody…anybody,” his eyes cast toward the floor.
More men sit down. One with a black eye and a sad smile who wishes for nothing more than to see his kids. They’re in New Brunswick though. Too far to go this year. I want to add plane tickets to the list of acceptable items. But the man tells me a new pair of work boots might help him see his kids next Christmas.
There is another man who won’t see his kids during the holidays. “They’re ashamed that I’m in this place,” he says. We talk for a while and as he pulls back his chair to leave, he takes a crumpled twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and hands it to me: “Can you make sure someone else on the list gets this?”
An older gentleman pulls up a chair. I ask his birthdate. His face is weathered and cracked from the twelve years he’s been on the streets since he lost much of his sight – and his job. He tells me stories from Christmases past. When I ask him what he wants for Christmas this year, his voice cracks and tears well up in his eyes. He speaks so softly I have to lean in to hear him. “Peace on earth and goodwill amongst men,” he says, his voice cracking.
I ask if I can give him a hug. I’m not sure if it’s in the rules, but as he holds his hand across his heart and nods a silent yes, it doesn’t matter. We embrace for a few moments and when he pulls away, we are both wiping tears from our eyes. “Hey,” he smiles, “if that peace on earth thing is too much, an am/fm radio would be alright.”
Almost ten years later I still think of that first night at the shelter whenever the holiday season rolls around. I think of the men and women who entrusted me with their stories, and their hopes for the holidays. And how they taught me that the most valuable gifts are the ones you cannot wrap or tie a bow around.
Guest blog by Alexis Maledy
Alexis Maledy is a Vancouver-based writer and professional communicator. Her website is currently under construction, but you can follow her on Instagram…if she remembers to post stuff.
You can also check out her work at My Modern Closet.
We have entered the second week of Advent. A time of waiting, anticipation, contemplation.
The nights grow ever longer, the cold ever stronger.
And we wait.
When I was a child, I always knew Christmas was drawing near when both my parents disappeared into the kitchen and the pots and pans started clanking and the smells started wafting throughout our home.
Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Allspice. Cloves.
These are the smells of Christmas.
Flaky crusted tourtiere. Mince tarts and lemon squares.
Christmas cakes soaking in a bath of rum.
Buttertarts and sugar cookies. Lemon loaves and fresh baked bread.
These are the tastes.
Both my parents loved to cook, and at Christmas they always outdid themselves.
Sometimes, they even competed.
One Christmas, when I was in my twenties, I flew from my home in Alberta to my parent’s home in Germany. I arrived at Frankfurt airport to be greeted by both my parents. Before the hugs and kisses were barely finished my father and mother handed me a plate with two buttertarts. Looking at them, they seemed identical. Light flaky pastry cooked to golden brown. Edges perfectly crimped.
“What’s this?” I asked. I had no idea the hellstorm I was about to unleash.
“We want you to decide,” my mother told me. “Which one is better? Your dad doesn’t put walnuts in. I do.”
I still don’t know what caused that year to become, The Great ButterTart Bake-off, but no matter how vehemently I insisted I thought they both looked perfect, and with or without walnuts was always a personal preference, they were adamant that I make a judgement.
I copped out.
I don’t like buttertarts I told them.
Yes you do my mother insisted.
And the war was on.
Me insisting I didn’t.
She insisting I did.
My father, quickly recognizing the state of affairs was close to bubbling over into a boiling mess of angry words and hurt feelings, bundled us up into the car for the 2 hour drive home. As we sped south on the Autobahn, my mother kept asking me to try the buttertarts. I kept refusing with a petulant, I don’t like them.
No matter the distance nor time between us, my mother and I still knew how to engage in our most dysfunctional patterns without even taking a bite out of the possibility of something different.
It was our way. From childhood to adulthood, my mother would ask me to do something ‘her way’. I would insist on doing it mine, regardless of where I was or whether I thought her way was a good idea, or not.
Neither my father nor my mother make buttertarts anymore. My father passed away 20 years ago and my mother no longer has a kitchen. She lives in a lodge where meals are served and cooking by residents is not on the menu. Plus, at 94, her arthritic fingers cannot hold a rolling pin nor take the pain of cutting out the little pastry shells for the tarts.
I miss the smells of Christmas that permeated our home when I was growing up. The busyness in the kitchen. My father rattling pans, my mother cleaning up after him. I miss the lemon loaves and cherry cakes, the gingerbread men and shortbread cookies. And most of all, I miss my mother’s buttertarts. Because, even though my father’s were good, I prefer my buttertarts with walnuts.
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