The silly season (long post ahead)

*Just a warning. This is an assertion of a personal viewpoint following by a period of introspection. No offence is intended at any part, and please, feel free to avoid the blather is you so wish*

I hate Christmas. There I’ve said it. It comes from years of summer jobs in retail with Christmas carols on repeat, rude customers, ruder managers and the Boxing Day sales. It also comes from the fact that Christmas – like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day – is now just commercially driven events. Forget the true meaning of Christmas.

Also, if the original chronology of events were to be observed, Christmas would be in April and Easter in July. But no, the Christians has to place religious observances on sacred pagan days in order to convert the heathens. So Christmas replaced Yule, and Easter, the celebrations for the fertility goddess, Eostre. Hence Yule logs, bunnies, eggs and chicks. And, of course, Blackadder’s hilarious Christmas wish about yule logs burning down houses.

My grandfather was an Anglican priest, I’ve spent years working as an acolyte in Anglican churches: swinging incense, serving communion wine and carrying crucifixes at ordinations, etc. I’ve studied the theology of most of the major world religions as well as the “occult”. And, I will admit, the more questions I’ve asked, the less I find I like the answers. I love the ritual of traditional religious rites in all the major faiths – the awe, and what would have seen to be ‘magic’ to the people. Superstition and old wives tales were heeded, and still do have an element of truth in them, but nobody listens anymore. After much consideration, I would have to call myself a deist – although even the confines of that definition seem to be too restricting. Religion is a man-made construct and has caused too much pain and suffering in this world for all the faith it claims to shape. But, if it makes you happy, content and fulfilled, then what you believe is right for you. Nobody should have religion forced on them. Your faith is a private relationship between you and whatever you believe in. Let nobody tell you any different. I respect everybody in their spiritual beliefs. I am happy in mine, and contentedness is all.

Mom is of the same mind. While Dad may still possess some of that inherited Christian guilt, he’s starting to be slightly zen in his observations, but only slightly; and my brother is all about karma, he’s seen it and lived it. So this year, we’re not having the Christmas tree, the lights, the carols (hooray), and all that. We are having the pies, the cake (which I just finished… oops), and the simple pleasure of family without the stresses the silly season usually brings. We haven’t had one fight while I’ve been home yet (touch wood), which is a clear sign that something must be working. Instead, we’ll do our traditional Christmas Eve dinner (cheese fondue this year) and presents (Happy Hanukkah everybody – we’re lighting candles too), maybe a game of poker or cards or a board game. And on Christmas morning, we’ll light up the BBQ, have a champagne brunch and play some backyard cricket.

Just stripping back the layers of Christmas to what it used to be and taking the stress related to the season out of the equation has been amazing. In fact, come to think of it, the Americans celebrate Christmas in November – at Thanksgiving. Yule used to be the Mid-winter Solstice – keeping the yule log burning in order to feed heat and light to the weak winter sun, so that it could grow in strength and grant a bountiful harvest in the warmer months. But due to the cold (in the northern hemisphere, where all our myths come from), it was also a time for family. It was also time for reflection.

The resolutions for next year will come soon enough, as will the outline of my “slimming down the stash” yarn diet for 2009 (although lets be realistic – it will be broken, so this is more like a use what you can until June, and then buy only what you need for specific projects – more details during the weekend). But my recap of 2008 is of quite a topsy turvy year.

I got a lot of knitting done. I made a number of knitting friends around the world – people with the most amazing dedication to their beliefs and principles, and everyday life. I’ve laughed and cried at their blogposts. I’ve sent out care packages – something I want to do a lot more of in 2009. Knowing that you’ve made somebody else’s day can be a great pick-me-up for you. I’ve knitted socks and lace. Two things I’ve always felt too unprepared for – too terrified to do.

I’ve met some of the strongest and most incredible women in my own town as I’ve tried to settle in and not feel so incredibly isolated (it’s helped some, but I have a long way to go with confidence issues). But back to these women. You know who you are. I stand in awe of each one of you: your strength, determination, resilience, humour, patience, encouragement… You are all an inspiration to me, and will no doubt get an acknowledgement in my thesis. Thank you the lot of you, you have made more of a difference to me this year than you could possibly know.

And its been a really tough year on the PhD and related attachments front. It has been a year driven close to the depths of despair by my topic, with little available help from my department – and they helped incredibly when they could, but the situation was not lending itself to a quick resolution. London was quite the crucible for all the emotions and frustrations – but it just what was needed – causing a mini-meltdown, but also an epiphany of sorts.

The resolution came in a clean break from one text and a change in author and refocus of the question to one I know very well, and am confident in just about every aspect of (the irony of them not letting me begin with this topic is still not lost on me). Next year is going to be a tough one. 18 months (24 if I’m really lucky) to start a PhD from scratch. New approach, new panel, new primary supervisor, hard deadlines. Finally, I am happy in this research.

But balance is going to be needed. Like I said, I want to do more and send more care packages – just because. I want to take up something like hatha yoga because I need to learn to breath from my body and to stop me from stressing. I want to walk more – there are so many walking trails where I live, it’s a sin not to. I want to really get my potted herb garden growing again. I want to get back into the kitchen and bake – I may have to get a copy of Nigella and start at page one – or maybe I’ll take Jamie or Gordan or even Marco Pierre into the kitchen with me and see what I can do. I want to read more of what I want to read, but come on, that’s not going to happen until the revisions and corrections are done.

I want to knit mom a shawl, my two stalwart panel members something (for once I’ve submitted), me some cardi’s and a coat, the Magpie a smart jersey, and a million and one things for numerous people. Oh, and maybe knit for a green jersey in the TdFKAL’09. But I have to be realistic and know that not everything is going to happen. So the resolutions will be a work in progress between now and NYE.

But most importantly, I think I need to start practising, more actively, the art of being mindful. Of being quiet, and of listening to the silence between the sounds. We don’t take the time to listen anymore, and rarely do we find silence nowadays – we don’t like it, so we have to fill it with something – anything – to stop us from listening to nothing. It is a pity.

Whew, what a deep post. I’m sorry to all those who actually sat through it. I’m in a mulling, stream-of-consciousness mood at the moment, or so it seems. The universe seems to be bombarding me with introspective episodes and I need to put my answers back out to it. It must be the lack of knitting. I will try and rectify this situation as soon as possible. I will never pack only one lace project for the road again. Ever.

But after all is said and done, in the stress of family sagas and broken plans, just take the time to be with those you love and cherish. Your rocks of love and faith. Your partners, your children, your families. The people you turn to when your whole world is falling down. Just take a moment or two to be together, to share a smile or some escape from the madness, and remember that – whatever this season now stands for – in all races and all beliefs – it started with love.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Bright Blessings and Seasons Greetings to all of you. May this next week and a half – and more – be one of overriding happiness and companionship, even when you want to throttle your in-laws. (No comment).