The Christmas I was five, Santa delivered an easel and finger paints to my Grandparents’ house, where we always celebrated. Early on Christmas morning, before the grownups woke, my younger sister and I crept into the living room and finger painted the carpet. Our actions become legend, retold annually throughout my Grandparents’ lifetimes. I could repeat the story verbatim, although I have no memory of the event!
Thinking about the holidays in the generic, I realize their celebrations began in a fashion similar to my finger painting episode––as something to be remembered for generations to come. Of course, the early Christians, and the Pilgrims were celebrating and remembering events of great significance to their cultures and communities and creating rituals to make those days shine in memory, so filled with glow of spirit they could easily be plucked from a calendar of ordinary days.
That’s one drawback of holidays. They’re fixed in number and assigned to specific dates. Who wants to be so limited when Holy Days can happen anytime? If you’re anything like me, some of the most profound events in your life happened on ordinary days. Days that began like any other, but now are infused with reason to remember, to celebrate or mourn––bringing us closer to God, the source of our being.
In the 2003 edition of Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Andrea Hollander Budy, author of the essay, “The Hickeys on Sally Palermo’s Neck: Some Thoughts on Beauty and the Creative Life,” writes:
“I can’t quite experience what I experience until I write about it. Even our most vivid experience is in danger of transience if we don’t learn how to hold onto it. Writing is one approach...all art, in fact––is an attempt to call us out of our ourselves, or rather, to call us into the deepest places in ourselves.”
I can’t quite experience what I experience until I write about it. Ditto. The memories and events I’ve chosen to capture through writing––prayers, poetry, memoir, fiction, and journaling––have become holy to me. Since 1986, I’ve composed a Christmas newsletter that has grown exponentially along with my family, and helps me to remember moments with them that otherwise might be lost to me. This is why, unlike normal people, I can’t revert to mailing a family photo Christmas card with a quick note on the back.
Much like flipping through a photo album with it’s owner and hearing the stories behind the pictures, I return at least annually to my family’s newsletter. Here are some holy moments recorded in our December 1995 issue:
Letter from the Editor (me)
One recent Sunday night, I was folding laundry with a heavy heart, thinking of all the prayer concerns lifted up that morning, when I heard Chrislynn calling out from her bed: ‘I love you Mommy. I love you Daddy. I love you Jennifer. I love you Roscoe. I love you Expo (the last two being our cats). I love you even when you’re not with me. I love you even when you’re far away. Because that’s what love is.’”
Mommy Interviews Chrislynn [age 41/2]
Q: Tell me about God.
A: He loves you and Jesus always loves you too. And that is the Christ. And Jesus is alive, and we’re glad he’s alive, but he’s not on earth. I think that when baby Jesus was born, God picked the name for Mary and Joseph. The shepherds looked when the Angels told them, they looked around and to the right and saw the road to Bethlehem. And that’s what I think Christmas is.
Mommy Interviews Jennifer [age 7 1/2]
Q: What does Christmas mean?
A: We celebrate because it’s Baby Jesus’ birthday. When the angels came and told the shepherds he was born, they followed the angels. We have a play in church every year to show what it means and our church does Christmas caroling.
Q: What does Christmas mean to you?
A: That Santa comes.
Q: Tell me about God.
A: God is a spirit. God is love. We study about him in church. God loves everybody and the animals. You pray God.
Q: You pray God?
I lead spiritual writing workshops that I’ve chosen to call “Holy Ink,” because I believe the act of preserving our memories our thoughts and our feelings is a sacred activity, reuniting us with essential part of ourselves that necessarily brings us in union with God.
Writing is not the only creative act that leads us to the holy. Music, dance, performance and visual arts, storytelling and more birth the holy from our experience. As you gather with loved ones to celebrate the holidays, you bear holy gifts in your arms; the gifts of your words, your story, your life and your journey alongside others on this path toward God.
May you create space to celebrate holy ink, holy paint, holy photos, holy food and holy exchanges every day.
©Cathy Warner 2006