Innocence. Love. Divine faith. The link between the spiritual world and humanity. In the Christmas story, Mary represents all of these elements.
Back when Nyasha and Shanté were babies, a television show named Northern Exposure hit the media world. It is even more relevant today as it was cutting edge when it premiered. The mix of cultures, the effort to teach significant acceptance of differences, and the familial love of people portrayed in the tiny Alaskan town brought unprecedented recognition and awards.
In the Northern Exposure episode titled Seoul Mates, the story of Divine love is explored, touchingly, through many cultures. In one subplot, Shelly is missing the Catholic experience of the holiday, the creche, the mass, the music. As the show ends, we see that Holling has transformed the town hall. She comes to pray, and finds the statuary, candle light, and sound of tradition. With his euphonious voice, her love sings the Ave Maria. I never get through it without tears, never.
My kids will tell you that I have spent entire days, if not entire weeks, listening to strands on youtube, various forms of the Ave Maria. Schubert’s version enlivens a part of my heart that is inexplicable. It melts me, inside.
Kwami and I caught André Rieu in concert a couple of years back. I am constantly moved by the music. It is like the entire plight of humanity, all of our struggles and complications and issues, transform into light. The connection between humanity and Spirit. “Mary.” Love.
We play a game on Christmas morning… I code clues; they have to decipher them.
So many decisions are being made this season. Some are actually running under the radar. Kyle said that his mom called, sobbing, desperate to see him at the holiday. She considers herself immune compromised. But as a resident of the Eastern part of the state, I imagine that she is far more dangerous to Kyle than he is to her (by outward behaviors and misguided beliefs about science). He agreed to travel, seeing the family for the first time in six months.
People are making life and death decisions. Covid deaths did spike to double as an after effect of Thanksgiving. Some are staying exclusive and reclusive, changing the events of the season entirely. DeeDee and Joe have cancelled Christmas, the traditional Christmas.
And many are ignoring all warnings, and playing roulette with the elder and vulnerable lives. Complex decisions. Ignored and made to seem simple.
When we create the non-Covid related experiences of any holiday season, we make one original choice. I watch myself do it. I tend to pick “complex”. The voice says “Why stop now”… or, rather, “This may be the last.” I’m on a roll. I may as well take the snowball to the finish line.
There is some inner judgment. We could eat take out or frozen lasagna. Simple choices, and everyone would come away equally happy. But I have the refrigerator and freezer packed with the traditional foods, African Peanut Butter Soup ingredients for Kwami, cinnamon rolls for the kids, a beef roast because that is what I remember (and I am the only one who really wants to eat it).
We play a game on Christmas morning, that is, whichever morning we deem as Christmas (December 26th this year). Complex. In a good way. I code clues; they have to decipher them. We are all just humoring one another… biding time ‘til the game drops to grand-kid level. It just didn’t stop, and now stopping feels futile.
I won’t commit to simple. There is too much of my type of love in complex. But I know what simple looks like, and it could be a choice in the future. Simple IS a frozen lasagna, french bread and salad dinner. Simple is one gift to the entire group, maybe another Airbnb at the ocean.
But, humanity is complex. The point of the season is simple. We choose how to live each day, and particularly the Holy Days. There is no shame in complex. It is a choice.
But can we all find the part that is simple within the complexities? The baseline. The peace. As they say, wise women and men will seek It.
The Christmas story, the story of bringing the Christ presence to every heart, is a basic theme of many cultural stories.
Mom shared the memory of one Christmas Eve. She was very young. In the house with her mom and dad on Christmas Eve, she heard bells on the rooftop. Santa had arrived! They dashed outside to see, and there stood a brand new, Radio Flyer sled. I picture the little green house, covered in snow, a perfect wonderland scene. The black haired, dark lipped child, sparkling with joy.
She pondered who had been outside with the bells. Mom entirely believed that they rang from the rooftop. No one from the family cleared the question, even as she surpassed the age of 60. Christmas magic.
When I was young, Christmas was the winter holiday. In school, especially high school, some societal recognition emerged. We started to hear about Hanukkah, incorrectly portrayed, but at least recognized.
And in my last three decades on the planet, everything has expanded. My viewpoint and my exposure and the people I know have increased. I know people who live in Africa and Germany. I know people who have lived in countless countries, and many with ethnic origins on other continents.
And significant to the holidays, Christmas is not the only one! The Christmas story, the story of bringing the Christ presence to every heart, is a basic theme of many cultural stories. The hero or heroine shifts, but the light comes to the people. It is magical and beautiful, the enlightenment of the individual joining in Unity with its Source.
Some Indigenous people tell the story of the Raven. The virgin births are echoed in Buddha, Krishna, Laozi, gods in mythology, and Jesus. There is a reason. One spirituality cannot meet the awareness of billions on the planet. But one Truth can.
We just celebrated the Solstice, and every picture of the configuration of planets that I saw echoed the pictures of the star that shone over the Christ child. And the astrologers say that this night sky echoes the sky of two thousand years ago.
Many people I know celebrate the scientific Solstice, the shift from dark to light, as their “Christmas”.
If we all start by realizing the Unity, that we as humans on the planet are more alike than different, we will move ourselves into the new age without pain.
The entire planet is witnessing the rebirth, the virgin birth, the multi cultural reality that we are shifting. Individually, collectively, we are called to the light, to the Christ within, to the Whole of all that is. Let’s go!
The staff at Brookdale Memory Care, working with Dad every day, every hour, when things are beyond difficult and messy.
So many people work to make our world flow like a well oiled machine. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the numbers. And Christmas is a time when we can share our gratitude. Even as that thought arose, my mind pointed to the overwhelm being an attempt to squish so much into a tiny space in our time (and even financial) continuum. First thought, let the gratitude flow.
I can start in November at Thanksgiving and ooze on over to Valentine’s Day. Easy. That will allow for covering more people with less stress! I’ve already blown the window for November/December of this year.
Usually, the breadth of the people who touch my life contains itself a bit more. 2020 blasts the door off the past. There are so many people I will never be able to thank.
A medical team literally saved my life this year. The anesthetist, the surgeon, the nurses and technicians, the people who kept the spaces clean, the ones who donated blood and those who draw mine regularly, the people who prepared the medications in the lab, the infusion center staff. The list is longer. I will never even know. I will send out prayers of gratitude for everyone. I would love to thank them personally, and can with a few.
At Christmas, I am usually scoping out my daily existence. The mail delivery, that visits us so many days of the year, endlessly delivering the packages to our doorstep. The garbage and recycling people, here once a week without fail, doing a job I enjoy admiring from afar. The staff at Brookdale Memory Care, working with Dad every day, every hour, when things are beyond difficult and messy. My wound care nurse, again, a regular job that just isn’t pretty.
Brookdale Alderwood Memory Care
The list goes on. People have hairdressers, counselors, massage therapists, cleaners. There might be people that work on the home or organize the book club. Every week, a support crew of many makes shopping and living possible.
Where I am able, a personal thank you is especially important. If I can thank someone directly, I am acting with my gratitude, but also collecting the gratitude of others that feel the same way. People who realize that the waiter or waitress is giving energy and positivity to our food need their hearts to be replenished with our love and gratitude.
So I look around, and I thank the overwhelm and send it away. I focus on this enormous number of people who make my life work, and I let that really sink into my heart. It feels like the Grinch heart, like it’s expanding, growing three size larger, five, ten. I am so thankful! I am abundantly grateful.
And, when possible, I figure out ways to share that feeling, to touch the individuals that I can touch. It could be looking into the eyes of the person behind the cash register, asking how their day is going, and listening. That’s enough. A sincere “thank you for being here for us” makes a difference.
It can be tokens, or tips, or other physical forms of gratitude for the ones in the closer circle. A quick card. A quirky little line. A small but thoughtful remembrance. Anything, everything. It matters. The noticing, the effort, the love matters.
Since the entire symbolism of the season is the bringing of the light, expressing the light is the point. Go out there and shine!
(And then don’t stop because January starts. Take it to the next day, and the next, and the next…)
There are so many homemade embellishments on the tree. Many were not made in innocent years. So there are bells and stuffed gingerbread men, but also hotty hooker ornaments
As the holiday decorations came out of the box, I realized that we would need to make a video. Kwami is embracing my wish to have the stories of the “junk” travel with the junk.
The shelves are also covered with memories, creations, and memorabilia. Some of it is junk. But some of it oozes with historical meaning and nostalgia. The beauty of the identification. The joy of sorting.
I think I am identifying trash from treasures, at least from the order of my mind. It can all be trash once I am gone. Trust me, I will not care. But I do own a lot of things that are about “how they look and feel,” that have no other purpose than my joy. It isn’t a bad thing. Joy is a wonderful thing, and it is my theme for December. Joy is hiding, super close to the surface actually. It hasn’t been difficult to unearth.
Will I actually separate ornaments and talk about them, say what they mean to me? There are some that are extremely special. Nyasha and Shante both have clay hand-prints, created by well meaning parents, upside down (why?), by the Kindergarten classes at Mountain Way Elementary.
There are so many homemade embellishments on the tree. Many were not made in innocent years. So there are bells and stuffed gingerbread men, but also hotty hooker ornaments and a penis created by Andrew out of old fashioned wooden clothes pins. There are intricate, hand painted soldiers, beaded wreaths and bell strands, carefully crafted by Rosanna and Karolynne and a whole host of others.
The ornaments are beauty (hmm, maybe not the penis, but it IS creativity). Our fake tree is alive!
Lutefisk on the table. Glog in the crock pot. Swedish meatballs, lingonberries, rolepolse, gjestost, rice custard, and potato sausage, always present.
For me, for my generation, we have never known a time without the extended family gathering for a yearly Smorgasbord. But some people remember when it began. They are a wee bit older. I’m not being sarcastic. The sexagenarians (lovin’ that word!) might remember the beginning. My mom was a teenager.
People can really add and correct here. The story in my head goes like this: My Great Uncle Royal evolved a lot of things in the world and one of those things was research into our family heritage. He collected the information about the history of the family tree, back to the first family member landing on the continent, when it was not easy or cool to do so. And he is credited with beginning the family tradition of the Swedish Smorgasbord.
Doing a bit of math, less than twenty participants attended that first Smorgasbord Christmas, around 65 years ago, because that was the extent of the lineage. Some of the yearly attendees were literally children, most of us yet to be born. Nearly a dozen look on from higher realms, and smile down at us now.
Depending on the year, forty to sixty people find their way back to reconnect and share. Like fish swimming to their birth place. Lutefisk on the table. Glog in the crockpot. Swedish meatballs, lingonberries, rolepolse, gjestost, rice custard, rye bread and potato sausage, always present. The traditions of Swedish foods emerged over time, yet have always been in my memory, in my kid’s memory.
When I was young, we gathered at my aunt’s and uncle’s homes. My grandma lived in a space that was already too small for the growing group. The date was Christmas Eve, and although at my earliest unremembered years, we hit both sets of grandparents’ events on that night, the years in my memory glowed with Smorgasbord and the Christmas service at Bothell United Methodist Church (where the small chapel was the only chapel), before Santa made his rounds.
So many people, cousins, sounds, hustle and bustle, women scurrying in the kitchen before and after the meal. It was love. Warm and friendly. Exciting. Uncle Royal pushing out his stomach, wearing his various costumes and hats.
When the people had gathered, we all held hands like Whos down in Whoville, sang the Doxology, and started through the line of food. There is a two tier wooden construction, shelflike, to help the food fit on the table. It has always been there. And the Swedish Goat, made of straw, representing the goat that accompanies Yul Tomten on his rounds, he has also followed us through generations (some version of him).
At our house, the straw goats have successfully bred. There are four in my view. The family members have also increased significantly. Although I have not done the math, definitely more than a hundred folks are invited to this shindig.
When I was a kid, we did presents for everyone, and opened our large gifts from Grandma F at this event. It was a bit overwhelming, yet still manageable. Even in my adult years, that all giving tradition was in action. Eventually a dollar limit was encouraged, then more recently it moved to the gift game. The children have always received gifts at the Smorgasbord.
Nyasha and Shanté were small when things were changing. They might be able to remember the homes, the singing Mickey Mouse display on Aunt Donna and Uncle Royal’s wall. At some point, there was a meeting of the minds. The elder cluster was moving to more manageable spaces, and the conclusion, if you can even believe this, was to end the experience.
Mom, the representative of our line at that meeting, told me about the outcome. I remember saying, “You aren’t being very creative.” I went on to suggest a rented space, a different date… And the minds met again.
I was not there. But everything shifted. We started the new experience at Northshore Senior Center, Auntie Esther on the piano. My memory can see me speaking with the volunteer behind the desk, discussing unimportant shenanigans with Wayne in the parking lot, my girls carrying the packages in through the arched entry. The Woodcrest Estates Clubhouse has hosted us now for so many years. And we keep shifting… a little Zoom for the pandemic.
There will be another meeting of the elders when the current option expires. Ever changing. Assessing the worth of tradition, the cost, the incredible behind the scenes investment of work, the value of the experience. The memories, the connection. Does it live large? Does it shift down to an extension of those who care?
Society is constantly pushing us in this way. And often we get lost, misguided by the whole, following values like money, time crunches, consumerism. If we could only be quiet long enough, listen deeply enough, to hear the whispers of the Eternal, to feel the pulse of the Universal. Everything might change. Nothing may change. Both.
Traditional thinking holds us in spaces that need to be blasted out of the park (think genocide, it is time to leave genocide behind). But tradition can also ground us to an interpretation of the basis of all existence, the love that we may be unable to see alone.
That tofurkey that you are cooking, to save the savagery of animal murder, go ahead and eat a real turkey. You will be ridding the world of avian villainy.
When we lived in Granite Falls, we had a neighbor who decided to use his cleared five acres to raise farm animals. This was an interesting choice. He had a large herd of amusing goats. But, they were goats. (Oh dear, I haven’t posted a goat on facebook, for no reason, in far too long. I must remember to follow up and send that out.)
The goats ran around free far more often than they stayed behind the fence. Goats are experts at creating their own realities. They must also manifest going back to the Eternal at rapid rates. The cougars loved a good goat dinner. Farmland and forest land do not mix.
Apparently, all of the farm animals were free to come and go from the actual house. The people who bought that house were forced to gut it. There is a line, people who love too much, love the animals far too much.
One of these animals was an enormous male turkey. We learned very quickly that turkeys either hate or adore Girl Scouts, hard to identify which. The troop played games and sang songs outdoors. The turkey would come, thrumming and charging the young girls. Perhaps he loved thin mints, and was irritated when so many Scouts had not one box to offer. He would run at us, and I would yell at and chase him. He was far larger than any of the girls. In retrospect, it might have been amusing to the watching eye.
On peaceful days, the turkey sat around our house, not within it. He was in love with our hose. He often made advances toward his green girlfriend. She didn’t seem to mind. It might have been welcome and encouraged. I didn’t have many conversations with her to see if she needed representation. She was usually quiet. I also realize that I didn’t know about checking for pronouns at the time. So, hmm, I may be misrepresenting an innocent hose.
What compelled the turkey to bring his new love interest to our house? Cold and heartless scoundrel. Flaunting his new strumpet mere feet from the discarded lover in green. The new girl was a peahen, strutting some more attractive stuff, warm blood and feathers. She sat on the railing of our deck. I didn’t catch her name. I didn’t really want either of them on our property, but they didn’t ask permission, and didn’t care about our opinions.
What is my point? That tofurkey that you are cooking, to save the savagery of animal murder, go ahead and eat a real turkey. You will be ridding the world of avian villainy.
I know that you are desperate to hear that the turkey lived and was forever protected. Your compassion is misguided. The turkey was so stupid that it thrummed and rushed the back end of the neighbor’s truck while it was in motion. It could have been suicide. But it was actually arrogance and insolence and idiocy. He lived that life, and died that death.
The neighbor’s wife was distraught. The neighbor, himself, was banned to the barn for hitting it purposely. He did not. And the most ironic twist, no one ate that turkey. Someone had to bury it!
We cringe at the way that colonists later celebrated the deaths of almost a thousand indigenous people through additional thanksgiving feasts, wince to hear from the mouths of African Americans how their families were stolen from their homes and dragged to this country in chains, writhe to see the way many humans in our country are still striving to obtain rights and obtain the ability to just be heard.
By Nyasha Stowell
As we gather, or in this case don’t gather, for Thanksgiving around a table this year, I wonder what does it mean to us? Is it just the beginning of another holiday season? The passage of time marked by the winding down of another year? A celebration of colonization? Perhaps a bit of all those things.
A teaspoon of being thankful to be here, when there are more than 250,000 Americans whose lives have been ended by a virus allowed to run rampant. A pinch of appreciation for another year on this planet and the lessons we’ve learned. Just a smidge of that awkward feeling, celebrating some “historical event” very clearly written from a fully European perspective.
Thanksgiving curriculum back in the 90’s was an over simplified affair. Creating some black pilgrim hats with shiny buckles out of construction paper, the idea of “Indians” in feather headbands and deer skin clothes, this strange mythology of white people saved by indigenous allies who didn’t want to see them starve, it all smacks now as propaganda taught to children. Fake news. Since the 90’s, I’ve learned a lot more about that first Thanksgiving. It’s not really the wholesome illustrated book depiction I grew up with.
Now, what does that really mean? Should we shut down Thanksgiving? Banish a holiday that continues to celebrate some mythology connected to European exceptionalism, while ignoring the inconvenient truths of the time period? Remove the only thing left standing in the way of Christmas music’s slow takeover of the entire year? I don’t think that’s necessarily the answer, although I seriously hope that schools now have curriculum that presents a far less fictional view of that moment in history.
Can we salvage something of Thanksgiving from the mishmash of European idealism and actually focus our attention elsewhere? Should we even do so? Would that step only serve to further silence the innate issues that come along with the holiday’s premise?
Not questions I think anyone really wants to answer, or at least any reasonably guilty European descendant. It’s a question that requires actually looking to the real story of Thanksgiving and wallowing just a little in our own discomfort. And of course, since no one alive today was there, and the “new world” seems to have an unfortunate knack for silencing indigenous voices, there really isn’t a clear view of the real story in any case.
The general consensus, if you look to a string of European writers (irony? I think not) who come up on Google when you search out the true story of Thanksgiving, is that the Plymouth Colony was having a three day celebratory feast and that when the indigenous Wampanoag tribe heard them making a ruckus by shooting off guns they arrived either in concern that there was some kind of conflict (the tribe having recently made an alliance with the settlers) or perhaps just to stare at these Europeans and their recklessly wasteful actions (You know, people only too aware of their limited resources, shooting guns into the air. Does it get more American than that?) and then stayed on to enjoy the party. In any case, not really the warm and fuzzy story taught to me as a child.
We have in this country an enduring paradox between what we enjoy hearing and reality that really strives to paint every aspect of life. Part of the reason behind this is the simple silencing of those we’d rather not hear. We cringe at the way that colonists later celebrated the deaths of almost a thousand indigenous people through additional thanksgiving feasts, wince to hear from the mouths of African Americans how their families were stolen from their homes and dragged to this country in chains, writhe to see the way many humans in our country are still striving to obtain rights and obtain the ability to just be heard. (Or even some of us just so against the fact of a pandemic in this country, that we’re willing to risk other’s lives and make the issue of wearing masks a literal hill to die on.)
The basest and most simplified versions of history are the ones that are easiest to cling to since they’re the ones that paint our ancestors best. That paint us best. But just because something feels good, makes us feel less guilt, less pain, less worry, doesn’t make it right.
So when you sit down to Thanksgiving this year (please, for the love of everyone in your life, for your grandmother, for your nieces and nephews, for the poor little old lady down the street, within your own household and without a single guest more, unless they are attending through the miracle that is technology), reflection is necessary.
I don’t know what the answer is. I am not even sure what it is we ought to be reflecting on. But maybe if we just think about something more than the gravy and turkey on the table in front of us, we’ll do something good for our world.