Finding Christmas

It doesn’t matter how many times I see the words Merry Christmas, or how many cards I receive or send, or how many lights I see on trees or strung across streets or over buildings – Christmas doesn’t exist for me until it happens in my heart.

And because of this, the whole season has assumed a kind of hallucinatory quality; the other day I saw a bus come barrelling down the Skipton Road towards me with the words Happy Christmas lit up in front where the number and destination ought to be. For a moment I thought perhaps it was a Christmas special but just before it passed me the signboard flashed and changed to its normal display – in time for people at the bus stop to know what it was and where it was going. I wondered how I should be feeling, and whether this should make me feel festive, but all I had was a strange sense of dislocation.

This is the same bus company that a few days ago had a staff member dressed up as Santa Claus giving out mince-pies and gifts to passengers boarding at the bus station, and I’m warmed, really I am, by every gesture that spreads a smile and a bit of happiness and goodwill. But somehow it’s as if there are two Christmases – the one that happens outside, and the one that happens on the inside, and that’s the one has to be lit, ignited, felt.

This asks for a search, something individual and subtle, something special and magical. It has to be a journey of the imagination….

Want to give it a try?

It could start anywhere, but let’s say the journey starts in a crowded Christmas market. I don’t have to describe it – just picture it for yourself. All the sounds, the smells, all the lights and the twinkly stuff. And there in the middle of all this, largely unnoticed by everyone, is a sign saying Christmas Journey, and what looks like the entrance to a sideshow or a tent – but with nothing more than two undecorated Christmas trees blocking the way in. There’s no-one to take your money or try to give you a ticket. It looks – well, puzzling. But different. So you push aside the branches and gently work your way through into the darkness inside…..

Now, what happens next is the part that only you can see. I can’t describe it, because everyone’s journey is different, but as soon as you arrive inside you are on a path – all you have to do is to walk it, and walk slowly, seeing and smelling, feeling and listening. I don’t know exactly what you will see or who or what you may meet……

I can say that there may be snow. For me, there often is – I frequently find myself walking in a pine forest with snow covering the trees and the path ahead, and all I can hear for a while is the sound of my footsteps muffled but audible, that soft creaking sound that footsteps make in snow. And the feel of cold air in my nostrils, and the warmth of my breath. I walk for some time through this forest, with a dark sky overhead and light only from the stars.

Then sometimes the forest gives way to a cold desert hillside, rocky and hard, and the sky overhead opens up into an immense dome of stars, and one of these is brighter than all the rest.

I’ve met creatures of all kinds when I make this journey – rabbits, sheep, camels, once a bear, several times reindeer. I’ve seen and watched other travellers. The road is always different but the destination is always the same.

A rough shed, or outbuilding of some sort – a stable.

There’s a carol called The Children’s Song Of The Nativity that starts by asking ‘How far is it to Bethlehem?’ and the answer – ‘Not very far’. Bethlehem is of course several thousands of miles from where I am in Yorkshire, but it’s also only a very short distance away – as near or as far as my imagination makes it. And this is where I arrive:

How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by a star?

Can we see the little Child?
Is He within?
If we lift the wooden latch
May we go in?

May we stroke the creatures there
Ox, ass, or sheep?
May we peep like them and see
Jesus asleep?

If we touch His tiny hand
Will He awake?
Will He know we’ve come so far
Just for His sake?

Peace, and love of the deepest, most extraordinary kind, the kind that comes out of silence and stillness, love that came from the beginning of time and lasts forever.

I sit down in the straw, and know, and feel in the deepest part of my heart, that this is Christmas.

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9 thoughts on “Finding Christmas

  1. Hi, It makes me think of Devarim/Deuteronomy 30

    – For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away.
    – It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell it to us, so that we can fulfill it?
    – Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell it to us, so that we can fulfill it?”
    – Rather, this thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.

    1. Thank you so very much, David, for this! I’m going to copy it out – and look it up to read it again – it’s so exactly what I mean. What lovely words for Christmas morning!

  2. Masterfully done. I like the way you describe the dislocation, and note the difference between a Christmas inside and outside. I am often very slow to get the inside flame kindled – sometimes not til the day itself. It’s not a religious experience for me, rather a kind of nostalgia mixed with a sense of the solstice darkness and turning inward, maybe. Anyway, the warmth did arrive this year, around the 24th, and extended through the 25th or 26th. And that’s enough. No need to be greedy. 🙂 thank you for your thoughtfulness.

    1. Thank you, for all your lovely, thoughtful, insightful comments! I’m so glad you found Christmas this year. Like you, I’m often very slow to get the flame kindled and also like you, for me it’s not what I’d necessarily call a religious experience but rather one that has elements of all sorts of things (though really, the older I get, the more I can’t differentiate between what’s religious and what’s not; I tend to think more in terms of the sacred). Thank you again!

  3. Been on a little internet hiatus over the holidays, so just read this for the first of what will be many times. Thank you for sharing this with us, your lucky readers. It is so beautiful and evocative of all we may be yearning after. Wishing you the happiest of new years.

    1. Oh thank you! It makes my year-end to know that this holds meaning for you. And the very happiest of years ahead for you to – poetic creative happiness!

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