December 2011: Season of Symbols
Christmas is weird. What other time of year do you sit in front of a dead tree and eat candy out of socks?
~ Crabby Road
Christmas is a time of mixed emotions for many people. The season can be associated with pain and suffering as well as joy and good cheer. Some years can be filled with more of one than another. Our hopes and expectations can be dashed with a single phone call or a misspoken word—or can be exceeded beyond measure by a gesture—grand or small.
Christmas can also be a time when feuds are set aside for at least a day to celebrate whatever it is this time of year means for people: family, good food, gift exchanges, caroling, Saint Nick to Santa Claus, the Nativity Story. The list is endless of what Christmas signifies to people as well as the symbols that surround that meaning.
Symbols both generate their own significance as well as contribute to a grander meaning. Symbols also change over time. What once held positive memories can later have negative associations. Traditions (those rituals we hold so dear because they hold special meaning) can also lose their import and be replaced by more current ones. When we get stuck in symbols or traditions that lose their meaning, the holidays can take on a drudgery that conflicts with the overall message of goodwill.
Symbols can also mean different things to different people that can be far different than the original. Take the Christmas tree for example. While its origins are difficult to pin down, the general idea is that it represents the tree of life and is associated with the Christ child. Most of us probably think of other things when we look at our beautifully decorated trees—such as fond memories of our childhoods, anticipating looks of delight as gifts are exchanged, remembering moments prompted by a glance upon a special ornament. It might be worth a moment of meditation to reflect upon the tree as a symbol of eternal life—hope for the hereafter—or even the continuity of life represented in the greenery as well as the family traditions passed down through the years.
Christmas can be a time of connection unparalleled by any other time of the year. There is something about the lights, the sparkle, the reminders of a break from the usual. For that really is the root of Christmas—a celebration of the winter solstice—the shortest/darkest day of the year is behind us and the days can only get longer and brighter. Christmas began as a religious alternative to the popular festivities to mark this significant time of year. Sometimes it seems we have come full circle. Christmas is once again a popular diversion for the masses. Any spiritual significance to the holiday must be consciously noted—even with all the nativity plays, services, and caroling. It just becomes empty tradition after a while. Not that there isn’t joy to be found there; but if these long held traditions and symbols are to have any personal meaning, it is worth a moment or two to actually think about what this time of year represents for you.
I have found it is also worth considering those empty traditions and symbols—or the ones that now have negative associations—to replace them with fresh ones. That action itself can signify the renewal inherent in the season. For spring is coming when once again light will flood the land. This may be a season of darkness—in more ways than one for some—but the Light is coming. The darkness will not last forever.
May your Christmas season be filled with hope and renewal as we transition from darkness into light.