Monday, December 1, 2014

Our "Acts of Kindness" Tree

I was raised celebrating Christmas. In my family, we celebrated with all the usual trappings... Christmas trees, Santa, lights, decorations and presents. But Christmas also meant spending time with family, sharing special food and seeing relatives we didn't see as often during the year. Overall, those memories of Christmases past are mostly fond ones. As I got older, however... Christmas just didn't speak to me in the same way anymore. Many of the important people who made the holiday special for me passed on. I became disillusioned by the whole "Christmas Culture"... Being bombarded with all the tacky Christmas trappings in the stores from October to January, the pressure to spend money you don't have on garbage that no one needs, and worst of all, people yelling "Keep 'CHRIST' in CHRISTMAS" while they're trampling each other to get a good deal on a TV. Is this what Christmas has become?  Misplaced religious zealotry, commercialism and EXCESS? Instead of feeling cheerful at the holidays, I felt overwhelmed and saddened, to the point that the holiday season really meant nothing to me.

So I had to take a step back... I had to rediscover the things I loved in my childhood traditions, and the things I loved about this time of year in general, and figure out how I would pass on the GOOD of the season to my children, while eliminating the stuff  that didn't speak to me or make me feel Joyful. I love the traditions that come from ancient Solstice/Yule celebrations: Decorated trees, evergreen boughs, candles, etc. My spirituality is very Earth/Nature centered, so the traditions of celebrating Solstice and Yule really speak to me. My body and mind are very much connected to the cycles of the seasons, and I'm profoundly affected by the cycles of the Earth. Celebrating these cycles makes me feel connected to the people who have been celebrating this way since ancient times. These celebrations were so beautiful and important that early Christians wanted to get in on this Yule/Solstice stuff, so many of these traditions were absorbed into the Christian holiday of Christmas. (Particularly interesting, as according to religious historians, Jesus was born in late summer/early fall, no where near when we celebrate His "birth")  I also choose to embrace the traditional Christmas ideas of spreading Joy and Love and Light to our fellow human beings. Wasn't that what Jesus was all about? Helping those who couldn't help themselves? And then there are other little things from my childhood, things like baking special treats, building gingerbread houses and filling stockings.

These are the things that comprise our holiday season now...

  • Charity
  • Simplicity
  • Respect for the Earth and her changing seasons
  • Making our Home warm, comfortable and inviting for those we'll celebrate the season with
  • Making and choosing thoughtful gifts for those we love
  • Sharing traditional foods and activities

In line with the way we now choose to celebrate the season, a couple of years ago we started a new tradition in our family... the Acts of Kindness Tree. This is sort of a non-denomination twist on an Advent calendar. Each year I make little slips of paper with "acts of kindness" written on the them. These are tucked into little envelopes, and tied to a "tree" (actually just some branches from the yard, tucked into a vase) Each day, a child picks an envelope, and we do whatever is written on the paper.
The "Acts of Kindness" all ready to be tucked into envelopes

We really have fun with these. We treat many of them like Top Secret Missions of Kindness, where we try to remain anonymous, and do them without getting "caught." Some can't really be done anonymously, but those are still fun, too. Some require a little bit of money (like leaving change at the laundromat, buying a toy for a child in need, donating poinsettias to a nursing home) but many are totally free... helping a neighbor shovel, writing a letter to someone to thank them for something nice they did, let someone go ahead of you in line) Kindness doesn't have to be expensive.

Coming in the next week or two, I'll be sharing lots more of our Simple holiday traditions, crafts and recipes. May your holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it, be filled with much Love, Peace and Joy.

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