Bitter-sweet Christmas

Image by Vicky Brok

Image by Vicky Brok

The silver grey sky was streaked with white, and darker shades of grey: slate, charcoal, gunmetal. It was the second day of winter, after a mild autumn. Most of the trees still had a few leaves clinging to them. It felt cold, but the ground was wet, not hard with frost.

I walked into the centre of town. It was late afternoon, and as the sky darkened, drifting through indigo to near black, the Christmas lights became a brighter presence. A few tubes of LEDs, shaped into stars, hung from shops where the flags hung in the summer. There were Christmas trees in the windows of all the shops; some dressed with multi-coloured lights and gaudy decorations, some with white lights and silver baubles.

I walked past the pub. A bartender dressed as an elf was having a sneaky cigarette, just outside the door. A couple of men unloaded scuffed, steel barrels from the back truck.

I walked into the park. Light from the cruise-ship look-a-like theatre streamed out of glass doors, and warmed up the dark park. It lit up trees, the bandstand, the benches and shrubs with a soft yellow glow.

A small girl in a summer dress ran past me. Her parents followed a few steps behind, carrying her winter coat.

Christmas has a bitter-sweet flavour, sometimes. It throws our greed, and the disappointment that inevitably follows, into sharp relief. We are greedy to receive the perfect gift, or to create the perfect experience for someone else. Or we wish that the year behind us had been different. The soft-focus, happy ending, made for T.V. Christmas films act as a mirror for our ordinary lives, showing where we fall short of some imagined ideal.

This is propelled by our materialistic culture, but greed as human instinct surely goes further back. We are programmed for survival, we are programmed to fear being cast out of the group, we are programmed to climb to the top of the pile and hand our genes down to our ancestors.

And yet – in the midst of all of this self-centredness – there are moments of genuine love, of real connection, of tenderness arising towards the human condition, of selflessness.

All of life is like this, of course. The mind props itself up, and desire conditions our words, and actions, and yet, it is possible to love and be loved.

This time of year is an opportunity, an opportunity to give way to greed, and an opportunity to give way to love. It is inevitable that both will happen. Perhaps the best way forward is to simply pay attention: to notice greed arising, and to notice love arising, and appreciate it when it does.

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