Our (Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship) beloved leader, Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson greets us this morning with the reminder that it’s the last day of Christmastide once again.
We didn’t have much of a Christmastide, because bad weather kept both of us apart from most of our families. But it was snug for us, and being stuck at home put great joy into domestic trinkets and rituals that sometimes seem superfluous. Over the years, like my mother before me, I’ve acquired special dishes (Spode), bath towels (Lenox), table cloths, even socks, and shirts. Our little artificial Season Tree announces the full sequence of changes from All Hallows’ Eve (orange lights), through Advent (blue lights) to Christmas tide (multicolored lights) to Epiphany and Ordinary One (green lights) — all ending with Vernal Equinox.
I mention this as a reflection on what is often decried as materialism during Christmas. Yes, in the years I was accumulating these things, it felt sinfully secular. I worked retail in Macy’s Home Store, specifically so I could linger over each possibility, get customer feedback as returns came in (“this towel lost its shape the first time I put it through the dryer” “I bought one of those dishes last year and it chipped right away”), and, most of all, see which ones stayed attractive as I handled them, cared for them, looked at them day after day. Plus, I got an employee discount, which really helps when you’re mostly an underemployed religious professional and completely unpaid blogger and writer.
The first validation of all this came one year when I visited my parents in October, and my mother, already somewhat struggling with such activities, dug out a collection of salt-shakers, mugs, placemats announcing the imminent arrival of Halloween. Her grandchildren had long since grown up, her nursery school teaching career had long since vanished out of the rear-view mirror, and my father took no notice of such things. She did it for herself, and it gave her joy. Friends dropping in would get a smile. And outside cultural trivia — music, food features in the newspaper, advertising circulars — would harmonize with the decor. She didn’t exactly explain all this, just smiled and testified to the joy it gave her.
Seeing her persist in seasonal decor for its own sake let me know that my own joys in such things– and I do mean *things* — had genetic foundations and cultivated strengths. Over the years, I’ve learned that I probably will not employ all these things in every single season, but it’s hard to predict in advance which ones will shine in which year. This year, it was definitely the clothing that got no notice. As more and more outside activities got canceled due to dangerous cold, even Lynne’s Christmas shirts spent weeks on the blanket frame, waiting for ice to melt and winds to retreat to their caves. (Today will probably be that one lonely day). I had bought enough Christmas socks over the years to wear them nonstop the entire time from Advent One to Epiphany, but this year, once they settled into the sock drawer, they never left: it’s been rag wool socks with silk liners all the way.
But years when the clothes get a workout, the dishes sometimes “seem like too much trouble.” This year has been all about new recipes and old dishes. Lynne has a red tablecloth, to which her cousin Mark has now had delivered a poinsettia decorated with a cardinal nesting on a big red bow. The plant isn’t doing that well, but we love that Mark sent it, and the bird (which I confess I didn’t discover at first, because I had that side turned toward the window light) will have lasting value. There are white snow-celebrating dishes to bring out when the Spode goes back into its boxes, welcoming back the sun’s returning light.
I belong to a religion which annually casts opprobrium on any effort whatsoever to enjoy the material manifestations of Christmas — and anything else we shop to enjoy. Apparently now that it has been corrupted by corporate excess, there was never any good in material self-expression. So annually, as I pull out these long-ago purchases and revel in the memories they bring to hand, mind, and heart, my religious identity weakens for awhile. Never is our Puritan heritage so fully on disgusting display as in the children’s homilies that teach them to turn away from trinkets and seek the riches in someone else’s heart. preferably a stranger, someone they would ordinarily not see and hear.
Well, I’m all for community and all that, but God did make the hands, the senses, the imaginations by which we have, over the centuries, come to feather our little holiday nests with goodies like these. I no longer wonder whether Christmas shopping leaves out us childless families. It changes, but it takes us in. And as for lasting treasures, well — I don’t doubt that someday my nieces will look at this collection of holiday socks with delight.