THE UNCONQUERABLE LIGHT - Christmastime with Lindsey Stirling
My Lindsey Stirling Tribute series would not be complete without odes to her Christmas album, Warmer in the Winter. My musical Muse IS a bundle of Christmastime all year long, and it surely is warmer with her around.
Of course, this year it is considerably warmer, as it is current 71 degrees F outside on Christmas Eve. Rather odd for these parts. Although the freeze-baby loves it and I plan on a nice walk, the little Minnesota girl in me longs for some snow to bring back my favorite holiday vibes from Christmases long, long ago.
For my family, the early season meant putting up the decorations the day after Thanksgiving, followed by cutting snowflakes and construction paper chains, doing the Christmas baking, receiving the white box of baking from my dad's mother in the mail, and--slowly, ahem--working our way through it over the next month. Then it was preparing for the pageant, making and wrapping presents, and waiting for school to let out.
My birthday coincidentally happened in there. Thankfully, my parents always went out of their way to ensure that this was a separate event, which I have always appreciated.
When the Big Event came, it was Christmas Eve Mass, Christmas Eve celebration with me and my parents, setting out cookies and milk for Santa, and more wiggle-worm waiting for excitement to let out so sleep could take over. In the days when Santa was prominent in my world, we opened what he'd left in the stockings on Christmas morning before we packed up to go to the big family holiday celebration, originally at my grandparents' house, later at my aunt and uncle's on the lake.
Upon learning the Santa Mystery, apparently I wasn't super upset, but I did ask if we "could still play the game." Which we did, and I loved playing Santa's Elf--delivering the gifts to each recipient and watching their faces light up--as much as I loved opening my own presents. One of my favorite presents every year was The New Ornament, which immediately went on the tree. I still have those ornaments--all wrapped up in one of the old white boxes from Grandma's baking spree.
As the years passed, nobody wanted to get up extra early like wiggle worm did in the youngest days, so we opened all our presents and stockings after we came home from church for our low-key celebration on Christmas Eve.
One of the greatest blessings of my life is that I don't have a history of the classic holiday family drama. Instead, Christmas is always wrapped up with Winter Solstice, which is my RebirthDay from having my life blown to smithereens by a drunk driver. The return of the unconquerable light of the sun is a key motif for me, and there are years that I have to work really hard to keep that shining brightly. Last year, the 20th Anniversary, was one. Other than that, I have so few holiday triggers and have worked my butt off to keep it that way.
The triggers I do have mostly revolve around overstimulation and church. Which, in many ways, are the same trigger.
Y'all know that I am not remotely religious--never have been--but I am deeply spiritual. This propensity has made it possible for me to now go to Mass with my family and have a profound connection with the Divine in a little Catholic church or an awe-inspiring cathedral. I can weed through the language with all its childhood trip-ups and translate it into wonder.
I can do this in just about anybody's religious or spiritual ceremony or their sacred space. Provided they're not spouting hate, oppression, or exclusion up there, or the delusion that "if only you'd stop sinning you'd get to have a perfect life," I can sift through any dogmas or political policies in search of the initial inspiration and great life lessons. For the most part, I've found they're based on the same kernels anyway: trying to make sense of life and death, and of the other things in the universe that we don't yet understand or that we find hard to deal with.
Each one has their own unique origin, their vantage point and lenses, and the destinations or purposes determined by the course of action that the founders and inheritors decided upon. For me, that's actually the interesting part--hearing different ideas from ones I've heard before, and hunting for the ways in which it's saying the same thing in a different way.
I may have mentioned that I am far more interested in the big questions than I am in feeling concretely certain about any big answers.
So I get out of it what I bring into it, and what I decide to get out of it by listening with an open mind to an unfamiliar mode of thinking and feeling. Or by opening my mind to an old mode of thinking, now with the application of deep listening to what I had once mindlessly mouthed every weekend and on religious holidays because I had to.
As an HSP, Christmas Eve Mass was always a stressful ordeal. It started with potentially awful winter weather that we "had to" drive through except if the Hand of God had delivered a full-on blizzard that made it impassable and the church closed. Once arrived, there were always too many people in the parking lot, which also stressed my dad out. If we arrived early enough to mitigate his stress, that meant we had an houuuurrrrrrr to sit there in our holiday best--for me that meant a dress and tights and slippery shoes in the middle of Minnesota winter in a place that started out freezing in order to deal with the impending influx of too many bodies. Jooooy to the world...
Alas, in order for me to stop shivering, said bodies had to fill in every seat and the standing-room alongside the outside aisles and the back of the room. That alone was enough to make me claustrophobic. Too many people pressing close, no easy escape route, too many voices and conversations, and crying babies.
No. Those I could deal with, especially if their parents were conscientious enough to bring them into the generously provided Cry Room, because those kids undoubtedly felt pretty much like I did in that place and hadn't been societally squashed yet into shutting up about it. Children in distress pluck at my heartstrings as much as Lindsey Stirling's violin, so I don't have a problem with that, in spite of the headache it gives me, along with my every hypersensitive neuron begging me to flee the scene. Or, you know, be allowed to have a Cry Room of my very own.
I would have been content to spend the service alone in there, hearing the sermon over the loudspeaker while curled up on the floor.
So it's not the crying. It's the screeching I can't handle. The unchecked squealing and shrieking. The brats-in-the-making because their parents aren't doing anything about it, much less taking them to the Cry Room or the back of the church if it was full. Nope, one row and three seats away, there was somebody's toddler bored and not getting enough attention, making everyone's life miserable as the parents ignored them or laughed it off.
Now post-Dain Bramage, that shit will put me under the table in two seconds flat. I almost had one of my Episodes while grocery shopping last week because of this. Looking around, I was not alone.
Beyond the overstimulation of being trapped in a crowd, I was also trapped in my seat. You know how it is. Forced to sit still, sit up straight, cross my feet at the ankles with my hands folded pristinely in my lap, my eyes focused on the altar, and my mouth moving in all the appropriate ways at the designated times.
For an hourrrrrrr-and-a-half to two hourrrrrrrrrs beyond the 45 minutes or more that we'd sat there doing nothing as we waited for the service to start.
Then would come my favorite activity of all: mingling, mingling, oh, Christmas jingling! That was a thousand times worse because everybody was up and jaw-jacking over each other's conversations about things I couldn't give two figgy-puddings about, and for sure nobody wanted to hear a word about all the fascinating, wondrous, and curious things rolling around in my weirdo mind. You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen...
So I got to stand there, glued to my parents' sides with no one to talk to (only child, ya know), now sweating in my velvet dress and tights on my pinched feet and not allowed to relieve the pressure by dancing, prancing or otherwise dashing.
Ohhhhh, no. This was church. NOT the appropriate place to fidget, fuck around, and especially not to dance.
Yeah, but David danced. It said so right there in the--
You are not David!
So that was how Christmas began every year. With an ordeal. The only things that made up for it were the special Christmas hymns that dominated the service--Hallelujah, the candlelight passing and extra warm handshakes, the special sweet treats baked by the ladies in the congregation, and...drumroll...the decorations.
Y'all know how I am about decorations, especially the lights.
That's what got me through Christmas Mass and any other long service like a funeral or wedding, or the times we went to church with my grandparents at the cathedral in the Big City. Ogling gorgeous sights, singing glorious songs, and thrusting my overloaded/understimulated mind up into the vaulted architecture of the rafters or the stained glass.
As an adult, now I carry with me a very different energy into anybody's sacred space. But back when I was forced to go, the Catholic faith just didn't work for me. It never had, all the way back to when my religious instructors and priests could not answer my seven-year-old questions in any sort of satisfactory way. Say nothing about a way that would inspire devotion and worship from this extraordinarily devotional soul. Man, I was built to worship.
And I do.
Outside in the mountains. Strolling beneath the sky through a field or on a beach. Watching a sunrise or sunset or ogling the stars or the moon. Gazing into the eyes of animals or people who truly gaze back. Pressed up against a tree or laid out on a rock or sitting still above rushing water. The touch of skin-to-skin or skin-to-fur, and the warmth emanating from another body. Immersing myself in art whether it's moving across a floor, whirling through the air, or standing still for me to examine it from every angle and distance. Marveling at the wonders discovered on and beyond our planet.
That might be the single most saddening thing to my little girl's devotional heart. So many people seemed to not GET IT. Or just not care about how miraculous everything truly is. We all muttered these words on cue but so few seemed to be really speaking them. Then the hypocrisy of watching people who were so judgmental and condemning with their "you're a sinner" fingers waggling, yet knowing what they got up to behind closed doors?
I could never tolerate that. It seemed to be the exact opposite of what Jesus was saying, and I loved Jesus a whole lot. Neither could I tolerate the holiday crowds of people who were there "because they should be." Because they "had to." Because it was "what you do."
It made as much sense to me as putting one's self into debt and rioting over presents. Where was the deep, significant meaning in that? So much of it seemed to be about trends and getting their kids or their households the next cool thing. Just another version of "should." That kind of giving missed the true spirit of what all the commercials and societal blathering told me the season was supposed to be about.
Then there was the argument comparing the traditions of Santa and gift-giving against "the true meaning" as offered by the religious significance of a savior's birth (that doubtfully took place on December 25). Yet it was in church that I felt the depth of Christmas spirit the least.
Don't get me wrong. There was that overwhelming gush of smiles and "peace be with you" that only happened once a year. It happened to a lesser degree once a week on Sundays, but nothing like the energy of Christmas. There was the magic of lighting our candles from those of our neighbors and then passing it on to those whose candles were dark. There was the inspirational power of extending love and kinship to strangers and receiving it in return, which made my heart sing. The energy in that room made me want to raise my voice to the heavens and twirl around, then sink to the floor in relief that people were finally playing nice. They were treating each other the way our religion had said was the hallmark of our faith.
But as I grew a little older, it simultaneously would gut me, because I had learned it was a fleeting thing. Holidays would end, school would start, people would go back to work--and go back to sleep to these things that had seemed to touch them so profoundly. I couldn't understand how, once they felt it, they didn't want to keep extending that, keep actively and purposely sharing it all year.
It broke my heart every time.
On Christmas and Easter, I didn't know who most of those people were. That church would be packed with families who only came for the two biggest holidays. It reminded me of people who didn't treat each other well all year and then suddenly showered this outpouring of "love" because the date read February 14.
Church so often felt the same. No, not from everybody, and the ones who carried the spirit wherever they went were godsends to me. But they were rare. Church had been advertised as this super important place where people came to pay homage to the Divine.
But so few people seemed to be doing that. Heck, so few people seemed to even be paying attention, and I just didn't get it. Whyyyy? Why waste time like that? After awhile I developed a hypothesis. For a lot of people it felt like the old school equivalent of social media.
But during the service itself--you know, the thing that was supposed to be the most important part--a great number of them sat with glazed eyes and monotone voices until the music perked them up. Often, even the up-down-up-down-kneel-stand-sit-down of the service became rote motions. I would watch chin after chin nodding through the sermon, and the other kids? Most of them could not care less what the "old geezer in the dress up front" was saying.
Once I started getting popped on the nose for asking my burning questions and trying to engage with the answers via passion, rationale, and my hole-poker's finger pointing out every contradiction that made no sense to me, I didn't have much patience for what was being talked about up there either. So I shut my gob. Then I, too, started nodding off--or swooshing off into the fabulous and wonder-filled corners of my mind for that hour every Sunday. Dashing through the snow...in a faerie's shiny sleigh...
Sometimes the sermons at our little church were great, if we had a priest who knew how to talk about really important stuff in inspiring and practical ways. I liked that a lot, and wished that the mean kids in the crowd would pay more attention. Otherwise, so much of it seemed like a bunch of outdated stuff, and even more "should" and "should not" that a lot of people ignored--or obeyed out of fear and guilt if they should get caught.
I'd heard a rumor that God and Santa both knew if we were naughty or nice, but alas, I'd never seen any of those bullies receive coal in their stocking, much less a nice lightning bolt to keep them in line when they chased me home in a pack. I wished that the mean parents would listen to the inspiring sermons, too, and pass that on to their kids. Instead, they seemed to gravitate to the judgey, stone-throwing, Hell-roasting, finger-pointing, name-calling, street-whipping, terrorizing and threatening parts wherever anybody "different" was concerned.
That didn't seem very "Christian" to me in the sense of being a follower of what Jesus Christ taught. Sometimes even kindness and "doing good deeds" seemed to be more about "looking good" rather than doing it as an act of love. So I developed my own personal relationship with the Divine and waited for church to be done as impatiently as I waited to get away from the Pack.
I hate wasting my time.
Haaaaate it with a passion.
Which is why, the moment we would drive home, Christmas and everything that everybody kept saying that it was supposed to be about finally got to begin in earnest.
Joy. Love. Connection. Compassion. Generosity. Gratitude. And a celebratory worship of the Light out of Darkness.
It started with the snow glistening from the streetlamps or, if we were very lucky, actual moonlight. (Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior gets a lot of gray.) Here and there, dotting the rolling countryside between our hometown and our rival town that had the nearest Catholic church (I grew up in Lutheran and Presbyterian Land), some of the neighbors did semi-extravagant decorations. Nothing like what we would get to see in the Big City on the way home from the family celebration, but a few of the bigger country houses and our neighbor across the street went all out.
Although we would have left for church in the waning hours of the afternoon, by the time we got home, the neighborhood would be lit up, and that meant it was truly time to celebrate.
With just the three of us. Ohhhhhh, Silent Night. Ahhhh, Holy Night.
Our first tree had blue and red balls and blue, bell-shaped twinkle lights that I inherited for my bedroom when we switched to all white in junior high. I took those lights with me to college and had them for many years until they finally died. Alas, they don't make 'em like they used to, so I burn through a lot of light strands.
See, for me, Christmas lights are not a seasonal thing. Seeing as how I have a hefty case of Seasonal Affect, I survive on white faerie lights through those darkest, coldest months. The full cadre of Christmas decorations with all the special multi-hued lights often stay up well past the holidays simply because I am still clinging to the light. They stay on all day, they glow until bedtime, and get plugged back in the second I wake up.
Even nighttime at the height of summer will see the white faerie lights shining over my reading nook canopy, as well as the ones in the kitchen. It's one of my greatest self-soothers, and my mood plummets the moment a primary strand kicks the bucket if I don't have a backup to swiftly put in its place.
At this time of year, with a gazillion lights twinkling between the stark, denuded branches of a forest without snow, I hunt them for the sheer joy they ignite in my heart. My tree and its decades of gifted ornaments, all the other Christmas decorations, the tenor of the celebration my family does--we've kept these things even though we no longer go to Christ's Mass. I also still have my teensy nativity scene that I move ever closer together throughout the weeks prior to Christmas--all except the Baby Jesus, who won't appear until Christmas Day. It's also my job to move my parents' Baby Jesus onto the piano nativity, which delights me every year.
Why do I do these things if I'm not a practicing Christian?
Because the symbolism and the rituals are ancient and I am deeply tied to the rhythms of the Earth and our solar system--which is where so much of it originates.
So many of the things I loved about the Christian teachings, especially in the New Testament, have stuck with me as things I choose to live by, no matter what I'm calling it. That's why I am equally touched when friends wish me Merry Christmas, Joyous Yule, Splendid Solstice, Happy Holidays, or anything else that glows in their hearts as an extra-special moment of reaching out. It's also why I'm not offended by anybody who doesn't wish me anything but instead texts me on a random day in March to say they're thinking about me.
Because the important thing to me is the sentiment behind it.
And...you know...the beauty and wonder of the music, the lights, the decorations, the food, all celebrating Joy to the World, Peace and Goodwill on Earth, Merry and Bright, the Holiness and Silence of Night, honoring all that has died, thanks for the blessings still here, and celebrating what is being born. And of course...
A return of the Unconquerable Light.
In these darkest days of the year, in the darkest moments of my life, I need that. That's why I listen to Christmas music at all times of the year. That's why my Lindsey Stirling playlist is chock full of it, and my Christmas lights stay on year round. They're not reserved for one moment of, "Oh, yeah. I should probably take time out to celebrate that groovy peace and light and love stuff."
Nah. They remind me to do so all day, every night, all year long, for the short time I have left here.
For y'all who play Christmas music and shine your twinkle lights all year long, this one's for you:
For all my non-Christian friends celebrating other holidays besides Christmas, for my Grinches who don't celebrate any holidays at all and wish all this hype-filled nonsense was over more quickly, and for all my Fellow Fae:
For all who carry the peace of Christ in your hearts, and find this faith the most fulfilling and inspirational way of expressing kindness, generosity, sacrifice for the greater good, joy, and love all year, every day:
For any of you who struggle with the big holiday celebrations as much as I do, wishing and yearning that you could be in the middle of the frenzy and feel nothing but joy over having so many people around you:
For any of you who are completely alone this holiday season, aching because the nights are too silent. For any who are surrounded by a host of people and feeling the most alone that you have all year. For anyone going through a catastrophe over the holidays. For everyone working through the holidays, especially those saving lives, tending the sick and the injured, caregiving, feeding the hungry, and keeping places safe:
For y'all who hear Christmas music and see the decorations and all you want to do is dance for joy--DO IT. #DavidDanced:
For my Stirling Muse, who brings so much joy and inspiration into the world through every type of season, but especially at this time of year--thank you.
For my family who teach me, year after year after year, why things like Christmas and the holidays are so important:
'Tis the Season
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: FAERIE LIGHTS IN THE FOREST - How I Spent My Midwinter RebirthDay
--OR: If you're curious about my other Muses, I've written about a bunch of them HERE
GROOVALICIOUS LINKS FOR YOUR INSPIRATIONAL PLEASURE 1) Lindsey Stirling
--Lindsey's book, The Only Pirate in the Room - yarrrrrr!
2) Lindsey's Christmas album, Warmer in the Winter.
3) My Spotify collection of Lindsey Stirling songs that make me dance and swoon. I admit, I'm a bit of a Lindsey purist, but there are a few collaborations that I adore.
4) The start of my whole blog series I did about my Muse this past fall.
5) An inspiring article about self-publishing vs. traditional, about popular vs. "real" art, and of course...Lindsey Stirling.