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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.

yule31

I posted back at Sammhain about keening as a part of a ritual I had been accustomed to doing at Yule, a ritual that emphasized letting go and moving on as we welcome the light of new dawn and the new beginnings that come with it.   While it seemed unseasonable at the time, this season has brought me a very important lesson about healing.  What the Yule keening missed is that starting over is not an overnight process.

After my initial keening ritual I went through a lot of emotional turbulence.  I felt extremely free for a week.  Then I felt detached, as if my emotional responses were getting lost somewhere in the absence of what I had torn away.  For a few weeks it was a relief not to have to navigate feelings before I made decisions or started conversations, but something was missing.  Earlier this week that scar tissue began to heal, and with it came an entirely new experience, mourning.

Today I found myself grieving pain I couldn’t even place anymore.  In order to truly heal we must actually let go not just go through the motions.  This is going to result in some feelings of loss.  We become so comfortable with our demons that losing them can cause some grief, and only once we get over that grief can we be completely healed and whole again.

My focus for this Yule and the ritual we have planned is facing the void left behind and making peace with it, because that’s the second half of this process.   Before I can begin to fill it with the things I choose to have in my life I need to be able to accept it and coexist with it for a while, or it will end up full of whatever happens to fall in.  It’s hard for us sometimes to feel a void and let it be, because we associate it with emptiness and the unknown.  Instead, these voids are open space, full of potential for growth and new life within us, space we can only heal once the initial mourning has ended and we have truly let go and moved on.

Go now, mourn your demons and move on.

Namaste

It’s that time of year again.  The holidays.  This isn’t going to be a cynical post about the Holly Jolly Spirit, because I, for one, love the holidays and find it offensive when people say “tis the season” like it’s time for their annual rectal exam.  I do, however, understand how stressful this time of year can be.  Our expectations run rampant, out time runs short, and our patience runs thin.  Now add in family.  Even if you get along well with your family, putting everyone in one under such conditions is like a peppermint flavoured Molotov cocktail.
I try to write a yearly Survival Guide for poly families.  Unfortunately, last year I broke my arm two days after Thanksgiving and wasn’t doing much of anything before Christmas but left-handed, pain-killer inspired gift shopping on the internet.  It was a unique year for Clan Clifford.
In any case, I am a more traditional person than people seem to expect around the holidays, possibly because my mother was, and this is my way of connecting with her every year.  In the process we have also developed our own family traditions, and as our tribe grows those new traditions become vital to our cohesion and culture.
New forms of Old Traditions
This year we made the decision to include the entire household on our family holiday card.  While we are open about our poly lifestyle, aside from our wedding day we have not been so brazen as to present it to anyone giving us more than a surface glance, in the same way that we are pagan but have yet to send a Yule card with a pentagram printed on it.  This year I expect questions, especially from those who are not as accepting.
When Hubby and I first met I started the tradition of getting us an ornament every year.  I still do, but in addition I get one for the whole family.  I love the unique personality this gives our tree, and it’s a good reminder that while our family has been through some rough patches and changed shape over the years we have made some amazing memories, and we continue to thrive.
Another trend we’ve noticed for the past several years, even though it hasn’t been a decided tradition, is Hubby and I seeing a movie together on Christmas after all the chaos has settled.  It gives us a chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company without thinking too much.  There’s also generally a photo booth around, which is one of my not so secret addictions, so we’ve got a fun little archive of our Christmas movie activity.
New (to us) Traditions
So, this year, Ralph and I decided we wanted an Elf on the Shelf.  While the rest of the family finds it creepy and disturbing, we are having a blast with her, mostly because her actions are the product of our slightly twisted inspiration, but also because I can share her benign activities with my stepson, with whom I hardly get a chance to see and connect, via email.  It’s really given us a way to stay playful and a bit mischievous, reminding us that the holidays are about our inner child’s spirit as much, if not more so, than it’s about the chaos and everything looking like a Better Homes cover.
This is also the first year I’ll be going to a partner’s house on Christmas.  While we have had A at our family events, she’s become a familiar face to our family, and it’s always been as a group, not as a couple.  With the actual holiday falling in the middle of the week, it makes little to no sense for me to take the day off to travel home only to have to be back the following day for work, so the family will meet that morning and I’ll be going with Ralph that night.  It will be a bit an adjustment, as Christmas Eve has always been extremely important to me and Hubby, but one we are willing to try out this year.
My advice to you?  Stop stressing about the details. When it comes down to it, the holidays should be about togetherness and family.  Even if there’s a spiritual aspect to your holiday experience, the exact date is less important than the spirit in which you celebrate, especially if members of your household celebrate different holidays.  My second piece of advice?  Enjoy yourself.  Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks or does, and celebrate our holidays your way.  Make tacos.  Go to the movies.  Have a bonfire.  Drive some go-karts.  Do what you do, and make some memories as a family.
Next week I’m giving you all a special gift, your family’s guide to surviving your poly family during the holidays.  Disseminate it as you wish.

I’ve been doing an awful lot of serious topics lately, so tonight I decided to do something festive and fun!  If you’re like the boyfriend, you wait for the last minute to buy gifts, and if you’re still trying to that perfect gift for your poly friends, here are some functional as well as a few non-functional ideas.

A BJ’s Membership: We go through a lot of…well, everything.  Stores like BJ’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club were made for the poly household.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 T-shirts: One for each partner!

Utensil Sets: I don’t know where our forks and spoons go…maybe the kids have started eating those, too.

Hula Hoops: Three kids.  One hula hoop.  Watch the hilarity ensue…for hours.

His and Hers Towel Sets…in bulk:  His and hers and hers and hers and his and his…..you get the idea.

Storage…of any kind: We like leftovers.  We really like leftovers, because cooking 3 meals a day for that many people takes forever.  We have lunches to pack, and there are never enough places to put the freshly cut veggies or newly shredded cheese I want to use later.  In addition, we have boxes of orphaned crayons and art supplies, books, socks, camping gear, and outdoor equipment that would run the place if we weren’t obsessively organized.  Believe me, it’s happened.  My OCD won’t have it!  We love bins, totes, and those neat canvas drawers.  If you’re not sure, The Container Store sells gift cards.

Picture frames:  Have you met my girlfriend?

The Trojan Variety Pack:  Just sayin’.

Band-Aids…first aid kits in general: Boys will be boys, and girls will continue to beat them up.  Bumps, scrapes, burns, cuts, and all sorts of freak injuries happen in our family.  Maybe we’re more accident prone than most households, or maybe it is some odd side effect of being poly.  Our kids love the fun Band-Aids with everything from Angry Birds to Shrek on them.

P-touch labeler:  Never have to hear anyone fight about whose anything is again!

Pasta boat: Good for singles, good for families. You can prepare tons of pasta quickly in a pasta boat. Pasta boat. http://www.pastaboat.com

Family passes to the zoo (or local waterpark as the boyfriend suggested):  Usually these come with multiple passes, and you don’t actually have to be related to be on a family pass.  Way to go, Dorney Park, for being alternative family friendly!

Toiletry kits: For all the non-live ins!

Netflix: Whether it’s obscure foreign films, 80’s cartoons, or Troll Hunter, there’s something for everyone.  Hopefully they have enough computers or TV’s to stream them on…or you may also need to provide dice, duct tape, and more Band-Aids.

Magnetic Poetry:  You’ll be surprised what your partners…and kids…will make your fridge door say to the world.  Or, maybe you won’t.

Pillow pets:  Because sometimes you just need a puppy pile on the floor.

Giant mixing bowls:  If you cook like Hubby you cook for a small army, and our family happens to eat like a small army.  These bowls are lifesavers…I’m talking stick-your-head-in-em sized bowls.  As it has been pointed out, they also make excellent helmets, drums, and baby doll beds.

Finally, I hate to admit it, but…

Those giant cans full of popcorn: My family can’t keep their hands out of these things!  Just don’t let your 3 year old shake the can.  Then it’s a surprising collage of flavours every time.

There you have it, friends, everything you need to shop for the polys in your life.  Happy Holidays, and happy hunting!  You’ve got 10 days!

Aloha!

Go now, be merry.

It’s that time of year again.  Well, it’s several “that time of year”s again, but I mean one in particular.  As witches, it is our 15 minutes of fame.  Suddenly, we’re everywhere.  We’re in movies, cartoons, the costume aisle at Target (what exactly is a Future Witch anyway?), and all sorts of mass media.  The History Channel starts running documentaries about everything from  the Salem Witch Trials to the rituals of the Knights Templar.  For a couple of weeks no one has any problems with us.  Now, I realize that’s a grave simplification, and there are still people who make their displeasure with the pagan community known, but for a short time every year we are a flamboyant commercial cliché.  In a few months we will see the same thing as Christians everywhere fight their own “Jesus is the reason for the season” battle, even going as far as the ever more popular image of Santa bowing over the baby in the manger.  This image alone is why I write on this particular topic, because it illustrated something poignant about holidays, the innate fact that they are both sacred and secular in nature does not have to be a negative thing.

There seems to be a belief that Jesus Christmas and Santa Christmas cannot coexist.  I believe that they can, and do, as two separate  pieces of a celebration.  In some ways the two have become two unique holidays, as some people celebrate one but not the other.  I don’t believe it is disrespectful, and I don’t ever believe a day that brings people together in a spirit of joy and hope is wrong.  Pagans have been doing it since before it was Christmas, calling it Yule, and we didn’t complain when new holidays with suspicious similarities started cropping up.

All snark aside, there is nothing wrong with secular celebration.  As little witches our kids learn to honor their ancestors on Samhain.  In time, they will learn the Wheel of the Year and what the sabbats mean.  They learn Samhain traditions and correspondences in the same way we know and celebrate them.  They learn to respect and revere the holiday as something sacred.  They also get to dress up in the costumes of their choice, go trick-or-treating, carve pumpkins, and all the other fun stuff that Halloween brings.  In that same vein, Santa will visit our house on Christmas, but we will have had our Yule fire.

It is also important to note that when the kids are older they will also know the history of the traditions for both sacred and secular holidays, as one is just as important as the other.  We must know about our history and how our cultures have evolved over time.  We must know how people of the past have celebrated and why to really appreciate the seasons now.  Yes, we add our modern touches, which are also important, as holidays must grow and evolve with us, but nothing can grow without roots.

There is nothing that says that celebrating a secular holiday takes anything away from the sacred holiday that generally accompanies it.  We are complex and beautiful creatures, and it is that multi-dimensional capacity that makes us unique.  While the sacred days bring us together in the spirit of faith, the secular days bring us together in the spirit of community no matter what our beliefs are.  The more fundamental reason for the season is joining in celebration, no matter what you call it.

So, yes, this weekend I will be partying in costume, handing out candy dressed as the most cliché witch I can muster (don’t judge me, the costumes are all in storage), and honouring my ancestors in both private and group ritual.  I will watch the same rerun documentaries on the history channel, and I will giggle every time they use the same outdated clip of some Samhain ritual from the 70s.  I will meet with friends and family of all beliefs and traditions, and we will find a few moments of joy and laughter in a time when there is so much negativity and uncertainty flowing about us.  This, my friends, is the reason for the season.  Well…this and giant bags of candy.

Go now….smell my feet, give me something good to eat…

Aloha

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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