Christmas: We’re All A Little Mad Here

Yesterday, while making my way in six lanes of holiday traffic through what locals affectionately call The Pretzel, I was blessed to catch a snippet of David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries.”

Santaland is beautiful. It really is. It’s a wonderland with 10,000 twinkling lights and diversions. People enter and walk through a maze, which affords views of mechanical dancing penguins, train sets, spinning bears, and really big candy canes. They walk through a quarter mile of maize and wind up at the magic tree, at which point they brace themselves for Santa.

Above the din of holiday horns-a-beeping, I was delighted to hear this classic Sedaris piece that tells the story of his time working as an elf at Macy’s during Christmas.

Partnered with Sedaris’ take on the holidays was David Rakoff’s essay “Christmas Freud,” about the time he portrayed Sigmund Freud in a department store Christmas window.

In the window, I fantasize about starting an entire Christmas Freud movement. Christmas Freuds everywhere, providing grown-ups and children alike with the greatest gift of all, insight. In department stores across America, people leave display window couches snifflingly and meaningfully whispering, thank you, Christmas Freud, shaking his hand fervently, their holiday angst, if not dispelled, at least brought into starker relief.

So, yes, yes, that was me – driving next to you laughing so much and so hard you probably thought I’d gone mad. But we’re all mad here, aren’t we? Especially this time of year!

Both of these gems were first broadcast in 1996 on NPR’s This American Life. The episode “Christmas and Commerce” featured four acts: “Toys R Us” by Ira Glass, “Santaland Diaries” by David Sedaris, “Christmas Freud” by David Rakoff, and “Act Four” by John Connors.

Do yourself a BIG favor and…

Click here to listen to the complete broadcast or
Click here to listen to individual chapters

You’re welcome.  xoxo

Holiday Yoga 101

christmastreeelf2

HOLIDAY YOGA POSE #1: Holding tongue, restraining ego, walking on eggshells. Breathe.

HOLIDAY YOGA POSE #2: Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Rinse. Repeat.

HOLIDAY YOGA POSE #3: Feet firmly planted on the ground, eyes closed, shoulders surrendered. Mantra: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

HOLIDAY YOGA POSE #4: Allow shoulders to drop weight of the world. Unfurrow and relax third-eye chakra. Convince hips to let gravity keep you grounded. Remind lungs that the body needs oxygen, most especially this time of year. Breathe.

HOLIDAY YOGA POSE #5: Find a comfortable seated position, close your eyes. Feel yourself firm against the ground and be grateful for gravity, the earth, the floor, the place you call home. Breathe deeply and be grateful for oxygen, your lungs, the ability to breath. Clear you mind of its week-before-Christmas busyness and fill it instead with all of the things for which you can be grateful this moment, this day, this week, this month, this season.

HOLIDAY YOGA POSE #6: Lie on the floor with your eyes closed, arms and legs relaxed. Get comfortable – maybe a pillow for your head, or a blanket to cover up. Let the ground hold you up, and breathe long, slow, deep breaths. Let your thoughts drift away, and enjoy this traditional Shavasana (Sanskrit) / Nap (common) pose to rejuvenate body, mind and Christmas spirit.

Namaste.

Merry Christmas!

christmas2013

Now is the moment of magic, when the whole, round earth turns again toward the sun, and here’s a blessing: the days will be longer and brighter now, even before the winter settles in to chill us….Now is the moment of magic, and here’s a blessing: we already possess all the gifts we need; we’ve already received our presents: ears to hear music, eyes to behold lights, hands to build true peace on earth and to hold each other tight in love. — Victoria Safford

Happy Holidays with Love

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• • •

Christmas Angels by Raphael Kirchner.

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Holiday’s Mirth

May your mind be free of worry
so you are open to new possibilities.

May your body be unburdened
so you can dance with great joy.

May your spirit be light
so you can embrace life’s magic.

Wishing you peace, love and mirth this
holiday season and in the new year ahead.

With love and best wishes,

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• • •

©2012, Jen Payne

Holiday’s Mirth, digital collage ©2012, Jen Payne.
Photo Courtesy of RomanceWriter, Etsy.

The Geese Aren’t Decorating Trees

When I walk in the woods, I understand things. There is a natural rhythm to everything around me — birth, life, death, seasons.

Being in nature resonates with me — it connects me to this world and this life in a way nothing else does, save for my writing.

And so, when I get stuck, when I don’t understand, when I can’t glide easily through a situation or a moment — I look to the woods.

I walk. I breathe. I think. I stop thinking. I talk out loud. I laugh.

I move.

And eventually, I find my way out.

Perhaps it is age. Or the velocity of the times we live in. But something has shifted for me.

I am connecting on a different level with this world, and at the same time, I am disconnecting.

The new connection is…amazing. But the disconnect is a little unnerving. It is especially so at this time of year, when the world seems to march like toy soldiers to the beat of the little drummer boy and I…well, I hear “a different drummer.”

And so I go walking. Every day.

I see how the trees have shed their finery in exchange for more simple wear. I note the repose of creatures who take this time of year to slow down. I feel the chill in the air — and in my bones — and know it is telling me to slow my own pace as well.

So, I’m taking my cue from the woods this year: simple, quiet, slow.

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You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

― Mary Oliver

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Photo ©2011, Jen Payne

Christmas by the Seat of My Pants [redux]

by the seat of my pants

[Reprinted from December 2010, because I know I needed the reminder. Maybe you did to.]

There was never any question.

On Easter we drove to Pennsylvania, discovered giant baskets of chocolate, hunted for colored eggs in the yard, and ate ham, brussels sprouts and creamed cucumbers for dinner. There was always a cake shaped like a lamb with coconut frosting and jelly beans for eyes.

On Thanksgiving, we spent hours in traffic on our way to Pennsylvania, watched the Macy’s parade in our pajamas, and ate a giant turkey dinner with all the trimmings. When we were almost hungry again, we’d fit pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip into our bellies.

We spent Christmas in Connecticut. My sister and I would get up before dawn to discover stockings filled with goodies that always included a deck of cards and a Whitman’s Sampler. We made coffee for the grown-ups, and Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls (with the orange icing), then raced upstairs to wake them all up so we could open the presents under the tree.

There was never any question.

Traditions are like that. They are as familiar as a pair of old jeans—pull them on and there you have it! Easter. Thanksgiving. Christmas.

But what happens when the jeans don’t fit anymore? For whatever reason, what happens when you find yourself staring down the biggest holiday of them all, and you have no idea what to do next?

I’ll be honest with you…I have no idea.

This is nothing new. I’ve been wandering pantless through the holidays for a while now. Each one, for the past dozen years or so, a patchwork of what they were and what they “should” be; what I remembered them being and what I thought would make other people happy.

What is new is that I just remembered I have the power to redfine them for myself.

[Click those heels together, Dorothy, it’s been with you all along!]

So I started by writing down some words, setting my intentions for the month ahead: happy, good food, calm, friends, enjoyable, nourishing.

I remember baking cookies one Christmas and singing along with Bing Crosby.

I add that to the list.

There was the Christmas I trekked out at sunrise and watched the gulls dance along the waves in the harbor.

That goes on the list, too.

White Christmas
roast chicken
red wine
morning writing
Ring Out Solstice Bells
afternoon nap
thumbprint cookies
walk in the woods
sparkly lights

And that’s me right now. Just making a list and checking it twice—and wondering what kind of new traditions we might find under the tree this year.

All I want for christmas...

Trying on a New Tradition

Solstice Celebration

This time of year is steeped in tradition—those of our family, our religion, our community. As if by rote, we bring out the decorations, put up the tree, hang the lights, sings the songs, and eat the foods that are our customs.

But, do they still resonate with us? Do they fill our hearts in the same way each year? Or do we simply drag the traditions out of storage like we do our winter sweaters, with no thought if they fit well anymore?

This year’s Winter Solstice was welcomed in by a grand lunar display of fullness and eclipse. Bright silver light heralded the arrival of winter, then dimmed briefly in genuflection to the planetary procession.

This year’s Winter Solstice arrived loudly—for me anyhow. It said: TRY THIS ON. SEE HOW THIS FITS.

Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter. It announces the season that includes not only the traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah, but ancient customs that celebrate the earth, the sun, the Universe—the natural and organic comings and goings of life.

– – – – –

“The Solstice is a time of quietude, of firelight, and dreaming, when seeds germinate in the cold earth, and the cold notes of church bells mingle with the chimes of icicles. Rivers are stilled and the land lies waiting beneath a coverlet of snow. We watch the cold sunlight and the bright stars, maybe go for walks in the quiet land.… All around us the season seems to reach a standstill — a point of repose. Then, as the Solstice sun moves across the heavens, the new year wakes, the darkness is dispelled, the days grow longer, and we prepare for new beginnings.”

The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas, by John Matthews, Caitlin Matthews

– – – – –

In the spirit of the new season, and new beginnings, my friend Tara and I gathered on Tuesday night for a Winter Solstice Celebration. We shared a meal and quiet conversation. We drank champagne by light of the now-waning moon and rang bells to celebrate the arrival of winter. We lit sparklers, and laughed, and read poems of praise for the sun, the harvest, good friends, and the year ahead.

It was fun and foreign and new.
It connected to a deep and wonderful place in my heart.
And it fit.

– – – – –

A Sunset Prayer for Yule
The longest night has come once more,
the sun has set, and darkness fallen.
The trees are bare, the earth asleep,
and the skies are cold and black.
Yet tonight we rejoice, in this longest night,
embracing the darkness that enfolds us.
We welcome the night and all that it holds,
as the light of the stars shines down.

Solstice Moon and Lunar Eclipse

• • •

Photo of lunar eclipse reprinted here with profuse gratitude to the charming Greg Sammons.

Christmas by the Seat of My Pants

by the seat of my pants

There was never any question.

On Easter we drove to Pennsylvania, discovered giant baskets of chocolate, hunted for colored eggs in the yard, and ate ham, brussels sprouts and creamed cucumbers for dinner. There was always a cake shaped like a lamb with coconut frosting and jelly beans for eyes.

On Thanksgiving, we spent hours in traffic on our way to Pennsylvania, watched the Macy’s parade in our pajamas, and ate a giant turkey dinner with all the trimmings. When we were almost hungry again, we’d fit pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip into our bellies.

We spent Christmas in Connecticut. My sister and I would get up before dawn to discover stockings filled with goodies that always included a deck of cards and a Whitman’s Sampler. We made coffee for the grown-ups, and Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls (with the orange icing), then raced upstairs to wake them all up so we could open the presents under the tree.

There was never any question.

Traditions are like that. They are as familiar as a pair of old jeans—pull them on and there you have it! Easter. Thanksgiving. Christmas.

But what happens when the jeans don’t fit anymore? For whatever reason, what happens when you find yourself staring down the biggest holiday of them all, and you have no idea what to do next?

I’ll be honest with you…I have no idea.

This is nothing new. I’ve been wandering pantless through the holidays for a while now. Each one, for the past dozen years or so, a patchwork of what they were and what they “should” be; what I remembered them being and what I thought would make other people happy.

What is new is that I just remembered I have the power to redfine them for myself.

[Click those heels together, Dorothy, it’s been with you all along!]

So I started by writing down some words, setting my intentions for the month ahead: happy, good food, calm, friends, enjoyable, nourishing.

I remember baking cookies one Christmas and singing along with Bing Crosby.

I add that to the list.

There was the Christmas I trekked out at sunrise and watched the gulls dance along the waves in the harbor.

That goes on the list, too.

White Christmas
roast chicken
red wine
morning writing
Ring Out Solstice Bells
afternoon nap
thumbprint cookies
walk in the woods
sparkly lights

And that’s me right now. Just making a list and checking it twice—and wondering what kind of new traditions we might find under the tree this year.

All I want for christmas...