Holiday Traditions

Pic taken Christmas Day 2016, on the trail to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs

Every year on Christmas Day, my husband and I venture to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs, for a 1-mile hike (one way) & soak in the woods. Neither of us connect with the celebration of Christmas. To us, it’s just another day on the calendar, which affords us a day off from our regular routine and to-do lists. We’ve been springing it on Christmas Day for quite a number of years now – it’s one of our very few annual traditions. And, I’ll add, is simply glorious.

Back when we first got married, in 2000, we tried our hand at celebrating the winter solstice and came up with a few possible traditions to carry forward each December, but it proved to be too forced for us and we soon gave up any sort of formal way of commemorating the seasonal changing of the guard. We both grew up celebrating Christmas – not on religious grounds but on consumeristic ones. And I have incredibly fond memories of it as a child. But neither of us were interested in fueling the drive of the holidays when we started co-creating our lives as adults together.

Many years ago, after receiving a plethora of well-intentioned but ultimately un-neccesary gifts from relatives in the mail each December, we decided to craft a letter to send to our dear family members. As the writer in our household, it was important to me that the letter both express our gratitude for their generosity and our firm desire to discontinue the further receiving of gifts, in as warm-hearted a way as possible. I wanted to do my best to create as little offense as I could, making sure to focus on our appreciation for their kindness and our love for them. And, rather to my surprise, it worked! While not everyone understood our position, they all respected our heartfelt request.

The month of December is the only time I’m grateful for living so far away from my family, as I really don’t know how I would negotiate this festive time of year if I had family around who were celebrating Christmas in the traditional ways that I grew up with and were requesting my attendance to join them. Fortunately, though, that’s not a thing I need to put much thought into.

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to connect with all the ways that people find this time of year joyful, as I can grow callous in regards to the amount of waste, stress, hardship, and debt that accumulate around Christmas – and the furthering of such rampant, detrimental notions and ways of relating to each other and the world at large. But non-duality continues to ring true! In this case, the teachings of non-duality play out in the simple truth that both things are happening at the same time: there are elements of Christmas that are full of delight and joy and there are elements of great disharmony and destruction.

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On Santa

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OK. So, you may be wondering where I plan on going with this post (me too, by the way). How will the topic of Santa get woven into the thread of mindfulness?  Well, honestly, I’m not really sure yet.  But I thought I’d just start typing and see what happens.

The other day I was reading our local news online and came across a story about the Parade of Lights, which happened here in town a couple of weeks ago and involved family friendly activities throughout the day, pictures with Santa, and a parade and tree lighting downtown in the evening.  The article mentioned how one of the daytime activities was for kids to write letters to Santa, hosted by a local downtown business.  It stated how last year the business collected around 300 letters before Christmas and then wrote back to each kid in response using a set template with certain areas left blank so they could be filled in with a personal touch and be individualized.

There was part of me that was proud of the local business for spending so much of their time and energy devoted to our community’s kiddos.  However, there was also part of me that was sitting there reading the article shaking my head back and forth in disgust at the deeply penetrating and pervasive lie that sweeps our nation this time every year about the existence of Santa.  In being a weekly blogger I’m often thinking of what to make my next blog post about and tuning into things with the mindset of how to tie it into the art of mindful living and write about it later on.  As soon as I read the article mentioning the letters to Santa I thought, “How can I turn my frustration about this whole societal Santa ordeal into a blog post?”  While I’ve mostly grown out of my ranting states of self-righteous infused monologues that prevailed when I was in my twenties I’m still holding onto this one rather tightly.  When I think about or read about the certain Christmas related fantastical myths of Santa Claus or flying reindeer or elves at the North Pole I feel this sense of anger well up within me.  But rather than going off on some long diatribe about the perpetuation of these myths and how I think it’s wrong to lie to our children about Santa I think instead I’ll keep with the nature of this blog and delve more deeply into my reaction.

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Jerry Johnson Hot Springs

Suspension bridge over the Lochsa River, Idaho

Suspension bridge over the Lochsa River, Idaho

My husband and I have an annual tradition of spending Christmas Day at one of our favorite places, Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in Idaho.  It’s about an hour and a half drive west from Missoula, Montana.  Traveling from town you know you’ve reached the trailhead when you see the beautiful suspension bridge stretching over the Lochsa River (shown above).  There’s a nice large parking area across highway 12 from the bridge.

Warm Springs Creek, next to the trail leading to the springs

Warm Springs Creek, next to the trail leading to the springs

The skies above were clear blue and filled with winter sun streaming down through the evergreen forest.  Due to its popularity the 1 1/2 mile trail to the springs is always well worn no matter the time of year.  The springs are natural and the hike is on a pretty easy trail.  Sometimes it can be quite icy so during the winter months having yak tracks for your shoes is totally money well spent.  We visit the springs often throughout the year – for me it’s always a good day when I trek to the pools.  There is great medicine in getting out in the woods.

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