Food and Faith is a blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
In recent years, I find myself increasingly melancholy in the days leading up to Christmas. There is a lot I want to love about the holiday, like stopping and spending time with loved ones, and the outpouring of kindness on one another. These are beautiful sentiments, but so often hard to focus on during the hustle and bustle of the season.
Since I was a kid, and realized that there was no Gregorian calendar for Mary and Joseph to mark baby Jesus’s birthday on, I have thought Christmas was a strange holiday. None of the reasons I heard really seemed to set aside December 25th as that much more important than any of the other 364 days of the year. And though the birth story was endearing, I felt like there were plenty of other miracles in the gospels worth of holidays, that we didn’t celebrate. However lately, my views have changed.
I’ve recently been a little past obsessed with this BBC show called Victorian Farm. It’s actually part of a whole series of shows that follow a historian and two archaeologists spend a year farming as they would have in various historical periods. When they celebrated Christmas in their Victorian Farm house they discussed how important and treasured Christmas was to the people at the time. It was a bright light in the bleak, short days of winter.Christmas was not established in December as some honorarium of an actual date. Christmas is in December because we need it to be.
I began to think of what late December meant to the farmer and to agrarian societies. You were far enough from the growing season that you were eating your stores, but still close enough that you remembered the bounty of summer and fall. Your garden was dead, the land was dormant. Daylight was short making many of the tasks you still needed to do difficult. The weather was poor, cutting social lives outside the home.
Christmas is December 25th, mere days after the shortest day of the year because our spirits need the light and renewal that the celebration entails. Celebrating the selected birthday of the Savior was a great excuse to break out the best of the stored food, to brave the cold and visit friends and family. It helped to sustain the morale and the spirit. It helped to sustain the finite life we are living.
In the current era,with our brightly lit homes and imported foods, the contrast of winter is not so sharp. Instead of being concerned with the current season and the challenges it brought, we are concerned with the holiday season and the hustle and bustle int brings.
Maybe that is the melancholy I feel. The seasons don’t pass as they used to. Maybe it’s a part of my soul, inherited from a previous era, that longs for an ebb and flow determined by an agricultural calendar. Or maybe it is simply a distaste for consumerism.
Regardless I look forward, this year, to seeing Christmas as a festival for us, not just to celebrate an event or miracle, but one to sustain me through the winter months, and the consumption.
Elise Springuel is an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Presbyterian Hunger Program, serving in Indianapolis, IN.