Tag Archives: Christmas

Be kind to clerks and servers this Christmas and holiday season

My daughter worked on Black Friday at a mall near our home. She came home at the end of the shift shaking her head.

“People didn’t have to be there,” she said. “They chose to go on a day when they knew it would be crowded and there would be line-ups. Why are they snapping at me when things take a little longer?

I could write an entire post about “How is Black Friday even a thing in Canada?” but I’ll save that for another rant someday. For today my topic is “Be kind to clerks and servers.”

They don’t make much money. They don’t get paid more on busy holiday shopping days, even though the stress is far greater. While people are out “enjoying themselves” they work longer hours than usual to accommodate the increased numbers.

For goodness sake—and I mean that literally—be kind. And patient.

That’s what these holidays—Holy Days—are really all about, isn’t it?

 

many-Christmases

Christmas: Exceptions to the rule make the best stories

soul-eyesWe have faith in the unexpected. After every earthquake, for example, we pray for the exceptions—for people to defy the odds and survive under the rubble for days.

We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.

We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.

That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.

No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.

Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.

When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.

A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.

The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?

____________________

1 Corinthians 13:13

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The first Christmas gifts were not reciprocal

many-ChristmasesYou know the scenario: Someone you know and love, but don’t usually exchange gifts with, suddenly appears before you holding out a brightly wrapped Christmas gift. She beams with joy, because she has found the perfect thing for you. She saw it in a store, thought of you and just had to get it.

Do you receive the gift with unqualified gratitude? Or do you think, “Oh, no! I don’t have anything for her”?

My friend, Ellie, reminded me a few weeks ago that the gifts in the Christmas story were not reciprocal. In one of the Christmas parables, wise travellers brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. The Bible doesn’t go into detail about what Mary and Joseph might have said upon receiving such valuable gifts, but I don’t think it went like this:

Joseph: Mary, the wise men are on their way, and they’re all carrying something.

Mary: Carrying something? What could that be?

Joseph: I’m not sure, but one of them has something shiny. It looks like gold.

Mary: Gold! Oh, no. And I didn’t get anything for them. Do we have something in our baggage that we could wrap up quickly?

From what we can glean from the Matthew version of the Christmas parable (there are no wise men in the Luke version), Mary and Joseph received the first Christmas gift with grace and gratitude. To do otherwise would have made the whole situation awkward, and would have deprived the wise visitors of the joy of giving.

This Christmas, when someone beams with joy as he gives you that perfect something that he brought to you out of love, receive it with unqualified gratitude. Don’t deprive him of the joy of giving.

Some Christmas perspective: letters from the 1930s

Sometimes a little perspective helps to clarify our own circumstances.

I recently came across correspondence written by our ancestors. The letters span the years between 1928 and 1936. The mood changes from comfortable and optimistic, to worried, to discouraged, to desperate.

In 1928, times were good. People had no inkling of the challenges to come. They proudly made use of electricity as they gathered around their radio in the evenings.

letter-jan-1928

By October 1930, people had started to feel the pinch, but hope did not elude them. Reading this now, we know the long, lingering hard times that lay ahead of them—the Great Depression and then World War II—but back then, they were certain it was a short-term dip.

letter-oct-1930

In 1933 many people were out of work. Lay off notices were dreaded but common. Without a social safety net, no work meant no food or shelter. This lay off notice came just before Christmas.

letter-dec-1933

At Christmas 1934, this letter was sent:  “. . . we find that it will be impossible to send any gifts this year, and therefore we would rather not receive any gifts this year.”

letter-dec-1934-part1

letter-dec.1934-part2

By comparison, we are wealthy beyond all imagining. Our social safety net is not perfect, but it helps.

Rest easy. Enjoy our luxury. Happy Holidays.

Christmas traditions and why you may, or may not, need a cat

 Are you trapped in your traditions? Do they serve you, or do you serve them?

I pondered this question after reading a Paulo Coelho blog piece about an ancient Japanese story, which I will paraphrase here:

A great Zen Buddhist master had a cat. The cat was his constant companion even during the meditation classes he led. When the old master passed away, another disciple took his place and continued to allow the cat to join in meditation. When the original cat died, the disciples missed its presence, so they found another.

Disciples from other regions heard about the cat who attended meditation classes, and spread the story around to others. These disciples believed that the cat was the reason for the greatness of the Zen Buddhist master. Other temples began to bring cats to class.

Eventually, writings began to appear about the importance of cats during meditation. A university professor studied the issue and wrote a thesis about the effects of cats on concentration and energy. Disciples began to believe that cats were essential to meditation.

Soon, an instructor who was allergic to cats decided to remove the animal from his daily classes. Other disciples were aghast and reacted negatively, believing the cat to be essential to their success. But his students made the same progress even without the cat.

Generations passed and, one by one, monasteries began removing cats from meditation. After all, it was a burden feeding all those cats. In fact, students began to study the benefits of meditating without animals.  More time passed until “cat,” or “no cat” was no longer a matter of consideration. But it took many years for the full cycle, because “during all this time, no one asked why the cat was there.”

Christmas is one of the most tradition-bound times of the year. Christmas trees, shortbread, gifts, overspending on gifts, turkey, family gatherings, family fights, church services, candles, crèches, Santa, pageants, parties with too much rum eggnog, carols . . . These things have been part of our current version of the holidays for so long we have started to believe that Christmas is not Christmas without them. If we were to suggest not including them, people would react with aghast negativity.

Why are those “cats” in the room? Is feeding them becoming a burden?

Christmas means different things to different people. For me, it recalls the birth of a compassionate movement toward “all is one.” It recalls the birth of a man, an activist, who sought social justice and lived the idea that every person contains the divine spark. 

As I meditate my way toward Christmas this year, whether I invite some of those “cats” to join me or not, the movement toward “all is one” by those of us lit with the divine spark continues regardless.

 

Don’t rush Christmas

In late September, I dropped in to a local garden centre. A staff member was busy putting up a Christmas display. I looked at her in alarm and said, “Ahhhhhhh!!!!!!”

In September, people. September. It’s not acceptable.

A few weeks before November 11, a photo made its way around Facebook:

Do we really have to remind people to be respectful?

One of the local radio stations has gone all-Christmas, all the time. It’s too much, too early. Not to mention that, to fill the air time weeks and weeks before Christmas, they drag out every mundane, or just plain terrible, song ever written about Santa and Ho-ho-ho.

It’s November, people. Stop!

By the time Christmas rolls around, I am so tired of the false cheer, the terrible music, the relentlessness of it all, I find it hard to enjoy the season.

I have shields up, deflectors in place. I need to wait. I need more time.

Please allow me some peace.