“She showed me on the sand small broken bits of marine matter, driftwood, seaweed, stones, sea birds’ feathers & like black crosses, cormorants clinging to the rocks…along the coast all afternoon, sun & fog waged war. …I took off my shoes beside the fire, sand spilled from them & soon I was falling fast asleep.” — Pablo Neruda
Sitting & sketching Christmas season designs opens my heart to the wonder of the Christmas season. I find myself chuckling at the irony is that I really don’t have traditional Christmas in my life anymore. I don’t have a decorated tree with piled up gifts to open on Christmas morning while being surrounded by family. There are no office holiday parties to attend and no cookie exchanges. I think about how the one-day sacred holiday of Christmas seems to have become a mad holiday that requires rushing around spending money on tit for tat gifts that people buy out of obligation. Homes are decorated with a feeling of competition of who has the biggest Christmas tree and the most holiday lights. Christmas morning is ripping open gifts while taking a mental inventory of did the gift cost enough, does the gift show us we are loved? Even Christmas dinner is a table groaning with too much food & too much alcohol to get through the day. Often the TV is on with sports. What happened to the sacredness of the holiday? I think of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Charlie Brown’s Christmas trying to remind us that Christmas is not about the gifts, is not about the tree, is not about the food. That Christmas instead is about a holy time on this earth to remember & celebrate in our hearts.
I wonder how I could be sitting here sketching & painting Christmas designs when I have become so bitter about the holiday? Have I become the Grinch with a heart several sizes too small? Still, I find great delight in these designs for Christmas cards of mine. I peruse Christmas recipes, decorated trees, gingerbread cookies. I remember a simpler Christmas from when I was a child. A Christmas I always looked forward to with the hope that it would bring me joy. I spent my life putting up a tree, sending out cards & longing just once for the fantasy Christmas in my heart, which the light-of-day Christmas could never live up to. It made me feel depressed and sad when Christmas day was over. Where was the Christmas I carried in my heart? Why did it never appear? Did it end the day that I realized Santa wasn’t real? Was the death knell of Christmas when I realized that I would never have the money required to make a “magical” Christmas? Did my Christmas spirit die from failed relationships, lost jobs and all the heartbreaks of just living? Somehow I just had to walk away from Christmas. I found that I simply could no longer subject myself to the sadness that traditional Christmas seemed to cause me. I did. I walked away.
Now I realize that Americanized Christmas is not and never was the Christmas I carried in my heart. Letting go all the Christmas traditions has allowed my heart to open to the joy of the holiday. The cards I received this year with a handwritten line about our friendship was a golden gift that made my heart soar with gratefulness & love. I was loved. What a gift. My Christmas spirit is the little things. The holiday parade of sailboats decorated with lights sailing the bay filling the night sky with twinkling lights that seem to match the stars. This year will bring a full moon on Christmas night. How magical will that be? I think I will go up to a viewing point high up so I can see the rising Christmas moon. Two sea gulls laughing on the beach & touching beaks to each other bring me a Christmas carol line of “laughing all the way”. Suddenly in my mind I am hearing traditional Christmas carols and hear the clarion voices of a choir I sang in as a young girl with the soaring notes of “Oh, Holy Night” and the joyous chorus of “Halleluiah” that even as a young girl brought tears to my eyes. I remember entering the church with a feeling of reverence & sacredness while wearing a white gown & a crown of holly with lit candles. Singing, singing. A joyful rising of my heart to the spiritualness of Christmas. I think about going to a Christmas tree farm where the trees were grown & pruned with care & love. After cutting the tree the family would help us tie our tree to the top of the car & the shouts of “Merry Christmas” were heartfelt & real. The tree would fill my home with the scent of pine. I walk along now & see red Pepper tree berries & Poinsettia flowers blooming in a neighbor’s yard. The garden nursery has small Rosemary trees. The local farmer’s market is making wreaths of pine, boxwood, eucalyptus, lavender status flowers & red chili peppers. Tangerines are in season and the sharp, sweet scent fills my nose as I peel one to eat it. Star pines in the neighborhood reach for the sky. Palm trees are lit up at night with white fairy lights. A favorite tree of mine is hung with balls of fairy lights that takes my breath away every time I drive by after sunset. The local pier is decorated with wreaths & a large pine tree at the end. At night the length of the pier twinkles with swags of lights and after sunset the tree is lit up, too. I hear Christmas music in my mind. My heart is singing. The Christmas spirit is still alive in my heart. I just had to find my way back to Christmas in my own way. Let Heaven & Nature Sing.
Walking on the beach & searching for seashells is looking at the distant view & searching for the small irregularity. It is a process of teaching your eyes how to see beyond the big & to absorb tiny details. It is soothing & blissful to take time to be in the moment & to relax. No worries here. Just looking for seashells at the edge of the sea. Perhaps searching for seashells can even be a way of viewing the life of this world. The big picture of our lives can overwhelm us. Sometimes life throws problems at us that seem vast & unsolvable. Maybe that is the very moment we need to take to focus on the small things in our lives. Often the small things in our lives are the things that bring us to a state of gratefulness. Breathe in & open your heart to the small blessings of your life, which are not so very small after all.