Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s old sidekick and drinking buddy, used to quip that there was only one day a year that he didn’t drink, New Year’s Eve.
“It’s too full of dammed amateurs,” he explained.
I do spirituality every day of the year, but there is one day a year when it feels very bad, and that is Christmas.
It’s just too full of dammed amateurs.
People who think they can live their life without consideration and practice of honouring the spirit within, only to make up for it with a big, one-day binge, well they bring out the worst in me.
I felt them all around me, rushing and pushing with their ego to get what they needed to have a “perfect Christmas,” unaware and unkind bullies who want to have the facade of the holy day without all the painful, messiness of doing the hard work to be open, present and loving in the wider world.
For me, the moments of respect & piety are in the small interactions. I like to shop for groceries on the eve, being kind to men who don’t usually do this work. They are running errands for the woman making the holiday, or they are on their own, trying to humbly make their own holiday. They are ready to take a moment of consideration, shared wit and kindness.
Standing in snow while waiting in the line for fresh, hearth baked bread, one woman grumbled about how they should plan for the rush, while men knew that this ritual of a bit of enforced and shared suffering just reminded them how lucky they were every other day of the year. Camaraderie and community were revealed, amen.
I did the small human interactions, and they felt good, revealing connections with others that would have just been brushed past at any other time of the year.
Inside, though, rage isn’t far below my surface. For so many at this time, it is separations that are illuminated, not connections. We don’t identify with the humility of staying in a manger, of relying on the wider circles to help each other out.
Instead, so many create an enclave where personal success is celebrated and their choices are proclaimed as spiritual, kind and open. Instead of hearts being opened, beliefs are rationalized, put in a spiritual spin, laced with gluttony, booze and the replay of vindicating psycho dramas.
The divine context of Christmas comes out in a reversion to ritual, playing out the old-time religion from the simpler, better times. Instead of an embrace of the complex and nuanced beauty of creation, laced with the challenge to open up our soul, many hold tight to a rejection of the connections and problems revealed by the way we live today, wanting spiritual beliefs to reduce the world, not expand it.
One day Christians don’t see the festival as full of mystery & transcendence, rather they see spirituality as something canned, ready to pop open for a fast baste in the sanctity of how things should be if on those damn people hadn’t got their greasy hands on it.
You have to meet people where they are, take advantage of any opening, let them heal in their own time and their own way. I do that everyday, of course, holding my heart open to create space for transformation, vulnerability and blossoming.
On Christmas, though, the amateurs really get under my skin as they just plunge on without any respect for the traditions that hold what is really important.
The traditions of Christmas aren’t there are a fundamental absolute, just sensations to be enjoyed. Rather, they exist to hold the spiritual values which those we loved wanted to pass onto us. As we go through the milestones of years, taking new parts in the pageant, it is those encapsulated values that we need to guide us in a world that can easily become dark and cold.
We change, the world changes, but the essential stories of goodness that humans have created out of sweat, blood and long, difficult experience strive to hold eternal truths about the way to live a good and righteous life in reverence to the creation that connects all.
For people who want a quick, canned holiday, this is not only irrelevant, it is beyond understanding. They don’t have the time, focus, discipline or will to touch the spiritual everyday, to engage their own healing and obligations.
Ed McMahon loved the convivial culture of the imbibers, the craic and the connection and he just didn’t want to see damned amateurs disrespect it and screw it up with a cheap and messy binge.
I love the revelatory culture of the spiritual seekers, the theology and the connection, so seeing damned amateurs disrespect it and screw it up with a cheap and messy binge hurts.
Sleepers, awake! I want to cry out, opening them to the profound depth that spirit demands in a life.
They, however, are partying, trying to recreate an experience for which there is no original, so my call is written off as just another holiday rant to be forgotten tomorrow in the cold, sober light of a returned “real life.”
May your festival be meaningful and transformative, letting you understand the ancient stories in a new way.
Or, failing that, may you just have a helluva party. Just don’t bother to wake me when it is over.