It’s a crisp autumn evening. My cheeks are cold to the touch. It’s just after 5 o’clock, and a cobalt blue sky outlines the silhouetted black mountains surrounding our small town. Thousands of people line the main street wearing down jackets and warm winter mittens. Kids are bundled in their strollers, perched on daddy’s shoulders, or running around with snowflake wands of light, waiting for the parade to begin.
It’s the day after Thanksgiving. The day when Ashland welcomes Santa Claus for a short visit. Santa and his wife sit comfortably in a sleigh in the flatbed of a bright red pickup truck, waving to starry eyed children.Tiny dancing elves join the parade along with evangelical Christians carrying signs inviting lost souls to find refuge in their Savior.
The crowd watches as Mr. and Mrs. Claus reach their destination, dismount their chariot and ascend to the second story balcony of a restaurant on the center plaza. Once there, Santa waves again to the children, thanks the Chamber of Commerce for bringing him to Ashland, and invites us to join in a countdown. At zero, somebody will flip a switch that will instantly turn on the spectacular array of Christmas lights mounted on every building up and down the street.
At “ten,” the street lights turn dark, leaving us huddled in the cold, counting in unison, anticipating the blast off. Those timeless ten seconds are magical. When the switch flips, the light is breathtaking.
But … somewhere inside my self I am wholly uncomfortable with the entire affair.
I consider what it would take to reboot an outdated fairy tale featuring an overweight man dressed in red dropping presents down believers’ chimneys. I wonder what it would take to revision the gluttonous rush to consumerism in the name of gifting.
In the spirit of a sincere yearning to uplevel our cultural values and norms, I look to my own experience.
Selfistry emerged out of the stillness and silence I rested in for a number of years. I know this with certainty: once we step back from our beliefs to examine them—when we have the courage to put down our customs and traditions for review—something genuine emerges.
My journey was a radical tearing away—more like jettisoning the baby, the water, the tub, and the entire bathroom in one radical toss. Though I managed to access a depth of authenticity, my extreme methods had unwelcome consequences.
Therefore I don’t recommend attempting to remove all cultural traditions at once, because it’s not possible. It was challenging enough for me, one person, to strip away all that I was carrying. To expect a group of people, let alone millions, to do so simultaneously is not only unreasonable, but it’s likely to prove harmful and traumatizing.
But I do recommend an inquiry.
I propose we consider carefully putting down some of our habitual outdated uncomfortable-yet-familiar ways of doing and being. I suggest that sincere considerations begin to create the conditions for something authentic and timely to emerge.
Once we’re able, as individuals and as communities, to investigate our acquired beliefs, our un-examined behaviors, our dissonant values … authentic inspirations will emerge. Guaranteed.
Where to begin?
First we can have this conversation.
With one another.
Then, we can turn our attention to the ground within us and begin to listen. If we carefully strip away beliefs while we turn and listen, the process can be gentle, exciting, enlivening, and effective.
Being raised a Jew, I have no relationship to Santa so I have no problem dropping him altogether. Splat. Just like that. But, I have granddaughters. And I love the magic in their step when they feel Christmas coming. I don’t want to strip that away. So, I’m curious about substituting some other magical being for Santa. I wonder about tethering the Christmas holiday back to what I believe is its roots, the winter solstice. I feel inspired to promote a reconnection to the cycles of nature and to our relationship with the earth we live on.
A friend was relating to me a story she tells her five-year-old granddaughter about a dragonfly. In her rendition, the dragonfly represents the Buddha—the qualities he embodies and which endure through time. She cloaks the Buddha’s wisdom and message within in an already very magical being that happens to be real: a dragonfly.
“I tell my granddaughter that, when a dragonfly lands on you, it’s a special moment.” She magnetizes me with her tale. “My granddaughter becomes curious, hopeful, searching in nature for magic instead of in some fairy tale.”
I realize my friend is linking magic to something real and I am inspired. Let’s face it … reality is magical.”
So I get curious…
Can we choose to celebrate the magic of the real?
Can we bring awe into our daily routines, allowing for the extraordinariness of ordinary life?
I bet we can.
I bet dragonfly tales are precisely the sort of original inspirations that arise from the depths of our own knowing once we put down the traditions we feel so attached to.
I believe we resist letting traditions go, not because we feel so connected to the specifics, but because we love feeling connected to one another and sharing the magic as a community. What we love way more than the fat man dressed in red is gathering in the cold, warmed by the crowd, counting down from ten, and seeing everything light up.