This year has been rough, for many of us.  I don’t mean ” I stubbed my toe and had to get a pretty serious ingrown toenail removed” rough; I mean “my soul got ripped from my very core and turned into mashed potatoes and taken to some sinister potluck in Hell, and  had to go find it and figure out how to make it a soul again” rough.  You may have noticed a lot of radio silence this year, as I’ve spent a lot of time inside myself trying to sort out what I wanted it to look like.  What better time to remodel than after a pack of demons has rampaged through your inner temple and torn it to shreds from the inside out.  Ok, maybe that’s a bit histrionic, but that’s what it felt like most of the time.

At Yule we are prompted to give up what no longer serves us, what harms us, and what stands in our way.  We keen, we burn, we eschew what we can no longer afford to hold in our lives.  People, things, sentiments, everything must go!  As we say goodbye to this darkness within we invite the new light that grows with the seasons.  We accept the sunlight into us to shine bright with hope and renewal, and we celebrate that we have survived the longest nights.

This year I have enough friends who have opted out of the holidays to feel it in my heart.  Some have lost loved ones.  Others are having health or financial hardships.  Still others have just become jaded for their own personal reasons.  This is not a new phenomenon, but it has been a bit more pervasive this year, but it always reminds me of my own holiday spirit and the lessons that come to be from the holidays.  I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, so excuse me while I wax a little Hallmark Special on you all.

My mom loved Christmas.  Every year, without fail, we had the tree that almost grazed our high ceilings covered in lights and ornaments.  We had garland, worn from years of use, strung around the beams and banisters and enough light up animatronic scenes and characters to confuse the cats enough not to touch any of them.  Some years the nativity scene would be almost buried in presents, but some years it would not, but I hardly noticed.

The warmth and joy that filled our house was tangible, and it instilled in me a Christmas Spirit that goes far beyond commercial messages or expectations we place on ourselves, beyond the stress and the worry, and beyond all the jaded skepticism and religious bickering I see every day on the internet or the news.  No, this Spirit is about love and togetherness.  The memories we made decorating the tree have outlasted any gift I’ve ever been given.  The snuggling on the couch watching Prancer and Miracle on 34th St is something I can still feel when I miss my mom around this time.  The love I felt at Christmas just from the time we spent as a family is something I’ve carried with me and tried to emulate in my own family during the holidays no matter what our situation might be.

Here’s a story I have not yet told:

The second Christmas Hubby and I spent together was a bit bleak.  We were i our first apartment together.  I had just started having fibro issues and hadn’t worked much.  All I wanted was a tree.  The fake one my father in law had given us was in storage, and it was locked up until the 1st of the year because we were behind on our rent.  Hubby’s grandparents had just replaced their tree, so they had an extra, which they offered to us.  It was bigger than the space we had for it, and it shed like a nervous chinchilla.  After an hour of measuring and furniture scooting I gave up.  I was sad, but we had tried.  Hubby, on the other hand, was not going to let me concede to a fake pine tree so easily.

I watched the wheels turn as he surveyed our kitchen and dining area, then we put the resulting plan to work.  What we ended up with was a quarter of a tree.  We had stood the base of the tree against the wall behind our kitchen table and only used the branches for the top three sides we could see.  It was a bit of a stretch, but we decorated the hell out of that little patch of tree, and we laughed and sang the entire time. I knew then that there would never be a dark Christmas at our house even in the worst times.  There have been years that have tested us, but we have managed to find ways to make every one special.

The point?  I’m getting to it.

The point is that Yule isn’t about eradicating the darkness, it’s about finding hope and joy in the light. It’s the stars and moon at night, just as we must also embrace the shows and shade in the daytime.  It’s about approach and soul building.  When I eventually found my soul, it wasn’t really any different than it had been before.  I merely had to scrape off a layer of negativity, pick out some things that made it seem spoiled, and put it back where it belongs.  The darkness didn’t ruin it, and the light didn’t do anything but show me what was already there.

This year has been rough, and we weren’t sure we’d be able to even afford gifts for the kids.   When I left work with a flight bag full of small handmade gifts I never imagined I wouldn’t make it all the way home, but a few days later I returned to California feeling deflated.  I hadn’t even send cards.  We just hadn’t had the money.

I put everything in a box and sent it to Hubby and his girlfriend hoping it would at least make him smile for Christmas.  The rest I carried with me on trips I picked up for the time I was supposed to be home.  The cards, I sent.  I figured that was the end of it.  Then I saw the smiles on the faces of people I saw on my trips and the happy Facebook messages from people who were surprised by my cards.  I heard Hubby and Mouse’s voices when they called me after opening their gifts on Yule, and they were so full of joy that, while I was still homesick, my spirit was renewed.

Yesterday as I placed a blue and while Yule/Christmas bouquet at my mom’s headstone, full of her favorite flowers, I caught the scent of pine that rose from it and was immediately reminded that I get to spend the holidays with family I haven’t seen on Christmas in many years, that I have been able to spend the better part of this year with people who are no longer with us and that I have been able to be a part of the lives of the children in our family again.

This was my first home, and it remains a very special part of me and my Christmas heritage. When I got back to y room I set up an impromptu alter, some festive things my grandma had left as a surprise for me, and the cards Hubby had brought me on a surprise overnight visit, and my heart was immediately lighter.

Light.  There it is.

Light of hope.  This doesn’t mean suddenly everything is better.  This doesn’t mean all the injuries we’ve sustained this year are gone.  This means there is hope.  This means a light has been shed on our strength and our resilience.  This means a light has been shed on those around us who love us, so we know we’re not in this alone.  That light means guidance and a promise that if we are growing we are alive.

Light.  Light reminds us that there is more than darkness.  The fact that we recognize darkness is, in part, due to the very light we hail, as we are reminded when we speak to balance.

Aloha, Light.  Aloha, Darkness. Aloha Christmas.

Go now, be joyous.

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