I'm writing from the light of a Christmas candle stuck into our menorah. The intense quiet of sleeping comes from the next room. The house actually smells like warm gingerbread and fresh Christmas tree. The special muffin batter is ready for the morning. I'm finally going to finish this dress I've been making, and then I'm going to sneak into my son's room with gold-wrapped, ribbon-curlicued presents, including the one for which he wrote a letter to Santa. I will extract the gingerbread men he left out for Santa—I thought a plate of cookies would be an acceptable offering but Aviv, ever practical, insisted on putting them in a ziploc bag (labelled Santa) so that they wouldn't get ruined on the commute back to the North Pole.
This isn't Aviv's first encounter with the pagan art of staying on good terms with the spirits by giving them offerings. The first time he did it was at the Asian Art Museum. Ganesha was present and accepting offerings. Give him a penny, make him happy, get good fortune. Then when he encountered the Virgin Mary at Taquería Cancún, in all her gold-spiked, offering-laden glory, it wasn't much of a leap to think of her as kind of the same thing. Now every time we go there he gives a penny to the “Urgent Fairy” (it was his idea, and he says she likes the penny best because the gold matches her “gold points”—which, by the way, fold up when she goes to sleep and then come out again in the morning). —So the concept of leaving out cookies for another friendly spirit who only gives you good fortune if you behave well was a no-brainer for him. Santa Claus is as real for him as I am. I love that he believes in Santa Claus. And I love that I do too.
“Truth is. Belief is not required.” (Gerry Roston) You don't have to believe in God to feel that there is definitely something bigger than all of us, and inside us, and there are times when one is especially aware of that. Tangueros are the most devout people of all—look how often they go to church! Night after night, seeking and sometimes finding that communion with...whatever you want to call it. Magic. Connection. Love. Community. Truth. Memorizing their prayers every day so that when the time comes to go to church, the prayers spring spontaneously from their hearts and join the prayers of those around them. Devoting their lives to searching for and living with this...thing...this faith, this hope, this love. Some of us call those kinds of people monks....
I went to a different kind of milonga tonight. You go funny places once you have a kid. We went to a church for their live manger and pageant. I've never been anywhere more pagan in my whole life, it was fabulous. First of all, the whole “Christmas” thing...enh. Many Bible scholars think that Jesus was actually a Leo, born some time in August. But it was already entrenched in everyone since time eternal, pretty much everywhere, that you've got to have a holiday marking the solstice. The return of light, the beginning of a new cycle. So we'll just tack Christmas on to the pile of other ways of celebrating the same thing.
Then those Christmas trees. Last year I decided Christmas trees were the most humanist and transcendentalist symbol ever. The story of the Christmas tree is that one winter this guy was walking through the forest and he saw the stars shining through the branches of an evergreen and he was enlightened and became whatever they call Christian bodhissatvas. Yes, the light of God shining through nature. Much later Thoreau and his gang would reinvent this idea, and much earlier Zen Buddhists had come up with the same idea...well, good ideas never go out of style. But what I thought was particularly divine about the Christmas tree was the act of noticing the light of God shining through nature. Man's intellect, always striving to process and understand the world around him, the light of reason combining with the instinct of nature, that's what we're celebrating with the Christmas tree. We're celebrating the fact that we're such very clever animals, we notice the wonderful things in life.
And right up there on stage, a whole herd of live animals. Ducks, geese, a donkey, two pygmy goats, two miniature sheep, a pot-bellied pig, several bunny rabbits, chickens, and everyone quacking and snuffling and eating hay all through the milonga. Connect with the reality of nature! That's what's really heavenly!
And there we all were, sharing the light by becoming a really giant menorah—we all got a candle, and the rabbi (or whatever they call her) lit hers and then shared the light with someone else, who shared it with someone else, and before long the whole church was full of each person's individual spark of light made visible, lit up by sharing with the community. We sang together. We prayed together. We filled the space with our shared energies. And that was the real magic.
I've already been given so many gifts this year. The gifts of many different kinds of love, and change, and belonging, and freedom, and balance, and truth. It's been a hard but wonderful Dragon Year. I hope for these gifts for you too.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and devotion and generosity exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.” (Francis Pharcellus Church)