And the turkey’s getting fat. Or so the song goes. It’s a song that my Mom has sung every December as long as I can remember. It goes on to encourage folks to give what they can to those who are less fortunate. Funny thing is I don’t even like turkey, but as soon as I turn the calendar page over to the yuletide month, the song invariably pops into my head and I smile despite the turkey reference. I have a similar nostalgic reverence for the ‘Bye Baby Bunting’ ditty, even though at the end it would find me wrapped in a freshly killed bunny skin . . . but I digress.
So it seems, just like it did last year and the year before that, Christmas is indeed coming in all its awful wonderfulness. This time of year is a glorious feast for the senses. There’s an abundance of pretty shiny sparkly bits about, the air is crisp and fresh, there’s cheese and chocolate everywhere you go, you’re allowed (nay, encouraged) to drink alcohol in your morning coffee, and there’s sporadic blankets of snow that cover up all the drab infrastructure of daily life and make nature look its most breathtakingly beautiful. But then there’s the inconvenient reality of the same sporadic blankets of snow (that makes it stressful to get to work and – worse yet in my case – keeps the merry shoppers at home). There’s also the inevitable weight gain from all those cheese plates, chocolates and liqueur for breakfast indulgences, and of course there’s the crazed holiday pace of packing a year’s worth of present buying, partying and family time into three weeks (and that’s if you’re organized).
Having just gotten back from a trip to a country where the people are lucky to be able to feed their family protein once a week, let alone eat their weight in chocolate in one month, I’m finding myself facing a big ol’ case of what I call North American guilt – basically the guilt of having and consuming so much when so many others in the world have so little. Whenever I get too mired in it, I remind myself that though I can choose how I live my life and therefore in some small measure help shape my culture and country, I didn’t choose to be born into it. And furthermore, as I often suspect and am occasionally reminded, perhaps a lot of people in less ‘affluent’ parts of the world (if their basic needs are being met that is) are actually happier than we are. As a Nepalese Sherpa once said to Sir Edmond Hillary, “We don’t envy you your restless spirits.”
Mercifully, there’s something about the season that encourages many of the restless spirit types to go all Dalai Lama on the world. Somehow amongst all the glitter and bows, Christmas makes most of us get, at least for a few moments, that happiness is achieved through compassion and kindness and not stuff. When I witness these moments, it brings me back to that feeling of overwhelming jittery excitement that I experienced in the wee hours of Christmas mornings as a little girl. It was the kind of joyful anticipation that compelled me to sit up and wrap my arms around my knees, for fear my dancing legs would jump out of bed on their own and run down stairs to the tree before it was time. I somehow inherently knew that the specialness of the day would only be properly launched with a measure of patience. I partially attribute this reverence to the rituals my Mom cleverly instilled to assure she got eight hours of sleep and a mug of tea in her hand in order to more fully enjoy the day herself. But I also believe that as children we are more open to seeing the good and beautiful in the world in general, and at Christmastime in particular. Indeed it’s the feelings of magical wonderment that I remember most from childhood Christmases, and not the presents I received.
So, thanks Mom (and by the way, it’s the ‘goose’ is getting fat – I googled it). And thanks to the Dalai Lama for, well, being the Dalai Lama. In his words, “Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life.” And, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Fine words indeed, for this third day of Advent.