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I have a confession to make, dear friends.  I still believe in Santa.

My mom worked very hard to make sure I believed in Santa as long as possible, and I did far after my friends and other kids had grown jaded and cynical.  One year she even made dirty boot prints on our carpet, a mortal sin in our house and punishable by slow, torturous death, only to complain about having to clean it up.  That Santa, she said, he can come down a chimney, but he can’t deliver presents without making a mess?  There were years of half eaten cookies of which I took pictures with dreams of running dental records, glasses of half drunk milk, and dozens of letters and pictures left for Santa.  Yes, my friends, my mother suffered terribly in her role as Santa.  I often wondered in later years why she went through so much work.  All kids eventually stop believing in Santa or dragging their irrefutable proof of his existence to school for skeptical friends on the first day back to school.

The simple answer is the sheer excitement, mystery, and wonder that comes from waiting for Santa.  For years my cousins and I would swear we heard sleigh bells and feet on the roof.  Hubby’s mom even snuck him to the top of the stairs one year to witness Santa, proxied by Pop-pop, to suspend his belief for a few more years.  Especially for kids like Hubby and I were, kids who knew too much and always looked for more answers, it was hard to keep that belief and excitement alive.

I have not yet had the opportunity to have  Christmas morning with Lil Guy, but his excitement around opening presents and Santa this year was contagious.  I hope someday we can come to some kind of agreement with his mother, but I hope more that she does what she can to keep that spirit alive in him as long as possible.  Too often we stress to children their need to mature and grow, and we let those things that keep them young and vibrant well into their adult years fall by the wayside.  Children need a good portion of fantasy and mystery in their lives in order to not become adults with no sense of imagination or silliness.  Bah humbug to that!

In any case, it appears this year, his five-year old’s excitement was contagious, and could not have needed it more than I did this year.  With Hubby and I apart for the holidays for the first time in four years,  it had been a stretch for me to find the spirit.  I was going through all the motions and waiting for January until one night I had a thought.  I hadn’t had Christmas with my family in at least six years, and I missed it.  I’ve always had jobs that kept me home at Christmas, but this year I had enough seniority to get the day off.  If I could find people willing to pick up the rest I would fly to California for Christmas.

The logistics here were rough.  I decided to make it a surprise to everyone but my dad, who would have to pick me up.  I wanted that excitement!  The last few times I’d seen my maternal grandmother she’d seemed down and a little depressed, and I hoped this would brighten her day a little.  I also didn’t know if I could get there.  Because my day job is at an airline,  I fly for free, but I fly standby.  To fly standby at Christmas is a gamble all around.  I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up and not make it after all.

So, I schemed.  My dad helped.  Co-workers were kind, and flights were miraculously free of a seat or two.  Lo and behold, Santa arrived in Oakland two days early on a Boeing 737, carrying me!  I was as excited as a kid on…well, Christmas.

What I didn’t know is that both grandmothers had been having a bit of a rough year, and both of them needed a little extra Christmas spirit.  When I showed up at the first one’s house she almost fell over.  Then she cried.  The other was so excited after I called that she rearranged her plans the next day and couldn’t sleep that night.  They needed to reconnect as much as I did.

And so it began!  My dad and I drove the neighbourhood looking for elaborate displays of Christmas lights.  My grandmother and I made the cemetery rounds, and I was able to reconnect with the family I’ve lost.  Afterwards we had lunch and were finally able to talk like we haven’t been able to do in a long time.  It’s been an amazing experience.  While Hubby and I may have needed the overtime pay, but he recognized this need as well and encouraged me to do what was best for me and my spirit.  We can make up the money.  I would never have been able to make up this time with my family.

While I only celebrate Christmas secularly, this is what it’s about to me.  It’s about family, togetherness, and excitement.  It’s about sharing, connecting, and laughing together no matter how rough the year has been.  It’s about hope for the coming year and casting off the grudges and petty arguments of the past year.  It’s about excitement, mystery, and surprise.  It’s about magic.  It may be only a part of the Spirit of Christmas, as I do respect that it is a holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, but it is the power behind the Spirit of Santa and the reason I will always believe.

Aloha.

Go now, have a Merry Christmas!

Brighid (Imbolc) this year was unusual for me.  On a day where we celebrated the signs of spring emerging from the harsh winter crust I was in a skirt and sandals in 75 degree weather.  Still, at home the snow and ice were making it very clear that their season had not passed.

I didn’t notice the signs of seasonal depression or the changes within myself until a few years ago.  I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where all my seasons were internal and symbolic, and by the time I encountered the winters of the Northeast I was in such a constant state of depression and emotional flux that the lack of sun never had much of a noticeable effect.  All the trials of life seemed to naturally take hold in the winter.  Again my seasons were internal.

This year I fell into a seasonal depression like a dark well.  It was then piled on top of a wanderlust that became physically painful and the blessing of health well enough to work myself to death.  The darkness enfolded me, and all my introspection turned negative.  The light within me began to flicker and fade.

A few weeks ago I started to feel my spirit again as some of the ice thawed and Imbolc approached.  No, the darkness isn’t over yet, but the light is returning.  I started being inspired and creative again, as new ideas and strategies emerge, and I was able to open both mind and heart to embrace life and energy all around me.  The dark well in which I had fallen became instead refreshing, quenching, and healing, as once again I felt embraced by Brighid.  She had never really left me.  She had just been waiting for me to see past my own flickering flame to reconnect with hers.

As Imbolc passed under the brilliant Florida sun I planned the landscape of the beautiful garden that is the coming season of light.  I set my goals and began directing energy their way.  I cleaned out unnecessary clutter and prepared space for new growth.  In the coming season I will forge new bonds, be inspired, and use my gifts to heal myself and the world around me.

Most importantly I will learn to embrace Brighid’s light.  I will hear her words and drink from her well, and there is no doubt in my mind that the coming year will be beautiful, powerful, and profound.

As i sat enjoying the Florida sun, I was refueled and ready to face the second half of winter.  I found solace int he forest, but I carried its life back to Philadelphia to light my way from the dark.

Go now, find light in your darkness.

Blessed Be.

Before I begin, I would like to send out my condolences to the family of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.  I also admire and applaud his teammates for continuing their Olympic journey.  This man died doing what he loved, that to which he had devoted his life.  Ask anyone with the passion, determination, and dedication it takes to compete on an Olympic level, and many will tell you the risks are worth the glory.  His teammates would be letting him down if they never competed.  Whether or not they win, they are honouring their comrade beautifully.

That being said, I decided to proceed with what I had written in my head this morning on the way to work.  A bus and two trains had been no shows, causing me to be late for work, an offense for which there are hefty penalties, when a man passed me and smiled and said, “it’s a beautiful day and a gift from the Lord!”  All morning I had been unsuccessfully trying to change my attitude and find something pleasant in my day.  He was It.  I do not know what sparked It, but I was able to then retrace my steps and find something beautiful in every facet of my troubled Friday.  It brought this thought.

The day after the snow falls we forget the biting cold and the howling wind.  We forget the lightless, gray skies.  The world is clean, reflecting back all the rays of the sun shining in a clear sky.  There is always a day like this soon after the snow falls.  It reminds us that the warmth will return and the wheel will turn again.  Clusters of snow and ice fall from branches and telephone wires, causing cascades of glittering explosions like frozen fireworks on the asphalt.  The air is fresh and it even seems less cold.

No matter what the tragedy or hardship, there is always a day after the fall.

Go now, my friends, find It and enjoy the world refreshed.

My first memory of snow is not exactly a happy one.  I was young, maybe three years old, and terrified of the cold mush falling from the sky.  I was also certain my grandfather was making it snow more as he threw snowballs into the air in an effort to convince me snow could be fun.  I was not swayed in my hatred, but would have a love-hate relationship with snow for the next two decades.  I should mention here that my next two memories are of losing a shoe in a gopher hole the moment I jumped out of the car and of breaking my foot by stopping an out of control sled with a tree and hopping around on one leg all day. In high school I picked up a love of snowboarding, and snow an I made amends and agreed to a mutual respect.   This is why I will forever remain a California girl.  I love being able to drive “to the snow”, spend a weekend, and drive back never worrying about shoveling or grocery shopping in the mess.

My first winter in Philadelphia was extremely mild.  It flurried and stuck to bushes, but nothing enough to inconvenience my life.  It was pretty, albeit slightly cold.  The next year I would stand in the middle of Market Street in wonder, as I had never witnessed main streets being shut down or department stores being closed due to weather.  I earned my snow legs that winter as I carried my groceries from the corner grocery, the bottoms of my bags scraping the surface of mid calf deep snow.  I was, once again, not convinced of the good intentions of snow.

Since that first year I have come to accept snow as a part of my wintery life, but this year has tested the limits of the contract I made with snow as a child.  As we face our third, and possibly heartiest, record-breaking snowfall of the season, I have to wonder what was I thinking? I admit, Hubby and I have had our fun.  We’ve rolled in it, posed in bikinis on a dare, trekked through half-shoveled sidewalks due to a lack of transportation, and built a giant snowman in the dark with the tot.  We’ve laughed at the dog trying unsuccessfully to find a spot on the frozen lawn in snow taller than he, and managed to foster out a cat in addition to the new one we brought in to our home.

Still, there is something warm and cozy about watching the snow fall from the porch, Hubby in one arm a cup of hot tea in the other.  No matter what this last year, the last few weeks specifically, have thrown at us we have hung on and made it through.  From the nice Jewish couple who drove me home from Acme to the friends who have offered their love and support, we have acquired the company of warmth in all forms.  We are growing stronger and continuing to make happy memories in the midst of a literal and metaphorical blizzard.  I guess I can get used to the snow.

I was going to write a post about Yule, but you can Google “yule” and get the idea pretty quickly.  Instead I thought I would relay something that happened to me last weekend.  Maybe Hallmark will make a movie about it.

Last week brought more snow than some places had on record.  By Saturday night we had close to two feet in our backyard, but my story takes place on Friday.  Since Hubby’s accident we have no car, so I have been taking the two-bus trip to the grocery store and back with a wheeled cart and bungee cords.  I knew Friday was supposed to be bad.  Our weekend Yule ritual had been cancelled, and they were talking about roads being closed all the way to the coast, so I decided to take one last trip to the store for “snowed-in” comfort food.  I loaded my reusable shopping bags and my backpack with milk, soda, soup, crackers, and ice cream on special request from our resident invalid. Oh!  And a rather risky venture….eggs.

At the register I told the checkout clerk not to worry about bagging my groceries, as I needed to carefully puzzle them into the few bags I had to make sure I could get them on the buses home.  A demure little Jewish woman behind me in line asked how far I had to go and marvelled at the adventure it was to simply get groceries home, wishing me luck and dryness on my way.  From there I lugged my bags, which had just enough room to not spill over the street, across the parking lot and to the bus stop a block away.  I am never sure when these buses show up or if they even run on a set schedule.  As many times as I have read the schedules I never seem to get a bus at that time.  It was getting colder and colder as the Noreaster approached and darkness fell, but more uncomfortable was the feel of a handful of reusable grocery bags cutting into my chaffed, freezing hands. I was tempted several times to leave half of my loot behind and start walking.

Not ten minutes later a car pulled up to the bus stop.  Lo and behold, it was the nice Jewish woman with her husband in tow!  “Won’t you please let us give you a ride home?” she said as he pushed aside a Teton of books and gifts in the backseat to make a hole for me and my groceries.  This wonderful woman whom I had known for all of three minutes in line at Acme was willing to go out of her way to make sure I got home safely and warmly.

We had a very nice conversation on the short trip to my house.  I told her about Hubby and his hand, she told me about her daughter and her past as an art student in Philadelphia.  I was sad to see them go, and I wish there had been something I could do to tell them just how much it meant to me that they had given me a break and a couple of smiles when I felt i was struggling on my own.  I thanked them profusely and wished them a Happy Hanukkah as he helped me out of the car.  They waited for me to get to the door and waved as they drove away.

We talk a lot about the world changing for the worse and people forgetting to care for each other, but I will never forget the love that nice couple showed me that night.  It was probably one of the best gifts I received this year.  A kind gesture.

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