For me, Christmas has become mostly a holiday I celebrate with family because they do and then I go off and mark the Solstice with my women friends in an evening of stories, songs, dances and pondering the Return of the Light. However, maybe I was wrong to push Christmas away so quickly. Maybe I just haven’t been looking at it the right way.
I recently heard a Christmas song titled “Mary Did You Know.” I only heard this song for the first time a few years ago, so you may not be familiar with it either. Its lyrics ask Mary if she knows her little baby is divine in many poetic and insightful ways. What is more meaningful is what it leaves unsaid. What you know when you hear the questions is that this is a human woman who loves her baby just as any woman would, absolutely and completely, and she does not love her baby any more or less because of his divinity. Also, we know that his divinity will be the cause of the greatest sorrow anyone can bear, the death of a child.
I think I needed to be a parent for many years to really understand this song (and I think the love it expresses is of any parent – mother or father). I needed to sit with friends at the funerals of their children and hear them express the depth of their grief and then witness them, through faith, regain the ability to live, even in a world that has stolen what is most precious to them. I had to experience the slow and sometimes painful loosening of the bonds between parent and child as that child grows up and moves into an independent life. I had to know the amazement of seeing a child you have raised become his own person, with his own destiny, even if at times you wish he had chosen a life that is less noble, but safer.
After hearing this song, I have begun to think of Christmas as a time to celebrate the faith and inner strength of ordinary people and how that, in a way, creates divinity. Almost all my learnings about the feminine divine have been about goddesses, beings who were not human, of whom I had elements, but who I could never be in their form. I, like all women, may be sacred, but I am not a goddess, I am human. Mary at the manger is a human woman who has just given birth and whose life will be forever changed by it, as the lives of all parents are forever changed when their baby is born.
I know of no other holiday that celebrates the sacred power of the love and faith of humans, that reflects the depths of human joy and sorrow in this way. This Christmas I am going to pay more attention. I am going to stop saying to myself “this is not my holiday.” I am going to try to see the celebration of Christmas as it is in the very first moment of the story of the mother, father, and baby in in the manger, a story that belongs to all of us and not just one religion. And then I will try to bring that reverence to every day the rest of the year.