Heaven scent

It seems kind of fashionable in Quaker circles to be a bit ‘bah-humbug’ about Christmas. This seems mostly to be a reaction against the increasingly material, commercialised nature of Christmas, against the dislocation of Christmas from its traditional and spiritual roots.

A number of conversations and posts have got me thinking about what Christmas means to me. Apart from family, there are two things that are ‘must haves’ for me at Christmas time. They are a proper Christmas tree, and Christmas Lilies. The reason is the scent. Smelling the pine needles takes me straight back to the wonder and magic of Christmas as a child. There was one year when I was about eight and we had a Christmas in Keri keri. Grandad got a branch of a macrocarpa tree to serve as a Christmas tree. It was just all wrong for me even when covered in decorations. It looked OK, but it didn’t smell right.

Christmas lilies were Mum’s favourite. If you’re lucky they bloom just a week before Christmas and last for a few days afterwards. The scent of them brings an image of Mum right to the front of my mind, and more importantly the feelings I associate with memories of her come flooding back. It’s nearly eight years since she died but the feelings triggered by the scent of the lilies are just as strong.

Christmas was important to Mum. She’d start make the Christmas cakes several months before, poke them with knitting needles every few days, and pore brandy into the holes. It was important to her to have the whole extended family together so Christmases were often large affairs. She was always very thoughtful when it came to presents, choosing things that really connected with people.

We never wrote letters to Santa when we were kids. When we were a little older we did all write lists for each other to show the kinds of presents we wanted. We didn’t always get things from the lists for each other, often it acted as a kind of inspiration, or a challenge to get them something they’d love, but that wasn’t on the list.

I made a kind of Christmas list this year, none of the things on it were material, they were intangible ‘life’ things I wanted for some of the people I love. They aren’t things I can give as a ‘present’ to those people, it’s not in my power, but maybe by being ‘present’ with those people over the coming year I can help them a little to come to those things themselves.

One of the best pieces of advice I heard this year, was “the greatest gift you can give anyone is the gift of your full attention”. So to me, being present with people is what Christmas is about. I can’t be present with Mum anymore, but the lilies get me close, and that helps me to be more fully with the people that are here.

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