Christmas Now and Zen Print
News - Final Word
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 08:23
Untitled Document

This is for everyone who dreads the December holidays. Maybe you lost your soul mate this year and you’re scared of your first Christmas alone. Maybe you have no family to share the festivities with you; maybe you do and it’s spending time with them that scares the merriness of Christmas right out of you.

Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of a lonely little girl on a freezing New Year’s Eve in ‘The little match girl’. She’s scared of going home to her father because she hasn’t sold any matches. Eventually she takes shelter in an alcove and lights a match to warm herself.

In the match’s glow she sees a Christmas tree and a holiday feast. The little match girl looks up at the sky and sees a shooting star. She remembers that her late grandmother always said a shooting star means someone died and is going to heaven. As she lights another match, she sees her grandmother’s face; the only person who has treated her with kindness and love. She starts lighting match after match to keep her grandmother near her. The next morning people walking past the alcove found the dead child.

The visions of a Christmas tree, a happy holiday feast and a kind person who truly loves us will, like every other December, haunt most of us – not only those who have to go without.

Could it be that the visions of ideal circumstances make us unhappy when confronted by reality? Or it might be that trying to live up to someone else’s ideal vision of the jolly season makes us truly miserable.

Look, there’s no way we can embody the festive family photographs we’ve seen in old family albums. It’s akin to inviting the ghost of Christmas past to sit down at the table with us.

Just a little footnote here on photographs: Take them this Christmas; lots of them. Even if you hate the way you look because “. . . trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.”

These words are from the 1999 Baz Luhrmann song Everybody’s Free (To wear sunscreen), based on an essay, popularly known as ‘Wear sunscreen’, written by Mary Schmich.

Okay, back to the Christmas table and the ghost of Christmas past. In Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ Scrooge extinguishes this ghost with his cap. By the way, the name ‘Scrooge’ became a synonym for miserliness after ‘A Christmas Carol’ was published in 1843.

The next ghost to appear to Scrooge is the ghost of Christmas present, who only exists on earth for a single Christmas holiday. He disappears at the stroke of midnight on the twelfth night of Christmas and leaves Scrooge to face the ghost of Christmas yet to come as it approaches “like a mist along the ground”.

In his black hooded robe, the ghost of Christmas future is the most fearsome of the three spirits. He never speaks, but Scrooge understands him only too well, especially when the ghost shows Scrooge the writing on his own gravestone.

“Why show me this, if I am past all hope . . . Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
This Christmas you have the chance to sponge away the writing on the stone. You can always keep changing things until the day a final conclusion is chiseled in the granite that marks your final resting place.

If Scrooge can do it, so can all of us – hopefully without encountering the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. If Scrooge could be kind . . . Repeat this to yourself like a Zen koan.

Whoever or whatever you’re going to have to face around your own Christmas table, try to bear with them this year. Even if they don’t particularly exude the sort of festive cheer you find easy to digest.

May you have the strength of spirit and the peace of mind to deal with, to deal really well with everyone who shares your Christmas dinner. This is my wish for you and me and all of us. As for me, I hope it comes true while I still have my own teeth.