My reaction to Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving — much less before Halloween — has been changing. A lot. This is an attempt to get a handle on what’s going on inside.
First, the facts:
I am a Unitarian Universalist minister not working in ministry, but caring for a fiancee with a serious medical condition. We live far away from my family of origin, and her illness has prevented me from seeing my aging parents and blossoming nephews and nieces — not to mention my siblings — for over a year.
Because it can be confusing to accept that all religious traditions have spiritual meaning, I have pretty much settled my liturgical life around Earth-centered paganism and the Jewish/Christian religions. This directly ties me in with my ancestry, which is Anglo-Saxon (NO Celt or Gaelic). My family has Asian and African-American members, and their traditions inform me deeply as well.
And here’s a shout-out: to Doug Shaheen, who gave me probably the best spiritual advice I ever got. (It could be that people go into ministry because the laity has the lion’s share of spiritual wisdom and we want to gather it for ourselves, eh?) We were talking one October, and he said the next thing was Halloween and then starting the Christmas cards.
“What?” I rebuked.
“Yes, I’ve got a lot of cards to send. So I get them out in October, and start addressing envelopes, writing cards, just two or three a night, while we’re watching tv or something.”
Obviously, that stayed with me. It took root. It has blossomed. And now I know what he was talking about.
All Saints and All Souls are not two days on the highway to Jesus, they are, for a true humanist, the high point of the year. (Thank you, Universalism, for liturgies about this. Boo, Unitarianism, for trying to level it away.)
And like any high point, they need a season coming and going, and this season needs its story and its music.
It turns out the wider wisdom is way ahead of us clergy on this one. When I googled “Music for All Saints,” the playlist was all about friends. Lost friends. Living friends. Friends in the family. Friends we wish we’d treated differently. Friends we know we want to see again.
Having worked retail for many years, I appreciate the strategy of using music to prod latent shopping impulses. But “Christmas” music has gotten harder to find, because it has to be scrubbed of theological content, and family/regional/cultural traditions vary widely.
But, boy, what if November 1 became the day all the stores started playing songs about friends? Because that’s who we shop for most passionately, our family and friends. And that’s something that no culture denies or devalues. There are tons of songs about friends. All generations. All volumes. All rhythms. All poetry styles.
When I first listened to this playlist, due to my isolation, due to my commitment to my partner (who has just walked in asking for breakfast), it hurt too much to complete. And I HATE to fly, so I dread the new unfriendly skies that await.
But that didn’t last. The focus now shines. It wiggles its toes in deep soil and tickles my innards.
So here’s what I want to put together: A calendar of readings — scriptures, poetry, whatever — that will start mid-October and carry through until American Thanksgiving. Needless to say, it will have lots of Hebrew Bible, because that’s where the Bible most fully talks about human relationships. It will have Christian longings about being together again.
And it will have much better music.