Friday’s Reflection: If We Put Off Celebrations Until Everything Was Fine

In my novella, The Winter Seeking, wise woman Myrtle says, “If we put off celebrations until everything was fine, we’d all starve and never eat another piece of pecan pie.”

Today’s reflection suggests that if we are to seek healing in our own lives and also help in the healing of the whole world, we must learn the art of celebration, of how to make feasts when we are grieving, of how to create an ongoing story of grace and peace.


  1. says

    Thank you for this, Vinita.

    I don’t usually comment here, because I already comment in too many places, but I was drawn to this. I want to insert a couple of thoughts for people celebrating through Christmas seasons they would prefer to cancel.

    Four Christmases ago, one of my closest friends was looking at her first holiday season as a young widow, and we were facing our first without our son. Our family had hosted a massive Christmas dinner for our friends for 20+ years, and we all talked on and off for weeks about what to do. In the end, another family took over the dinner, my friend decided to maintain her traditions with her young adult children exactly as they had always been, and we decided to change ours almost completely. We all spoke to one another and prayed together by phone in the middle of dinner that day — everyone else in snowy Ohio eating turkey and mashed potatoes, and we on our deck in Key West, grilling seafood kebobs.

    I guess I write this to say that, as Myrtle provided in your story, it is so good in these situations to have loved ones with whom to talk through these terrible times and articulate the struggle for celebration in the midst of heartache. I have been with people whose holiday silence has been deafening, and with those whose love pours out in words and ideas and plans. My friend and I both agreed on the phone that day that neither plan worked — neither brought back the people we loved — but I am so grateful that we had each other and our whole circle of beloved friends with whom to share, as your characters do.

  2. Lynda says

    Vinita, I also read your blog but rarely comment; however, today I am very struck by Myrtle’s words that “we are between the promise and the coming true”. That is an incredible way of expressing where we humans find ourselves and it also speaks to the suffering in the world as well. Thank you.

  3. Mise says

    I think Robin did the right thing. If you don’t feel like celebrating, then you shouldn’t feel pressured or obliged to engage in celebration. I am happy that she had a “circle of beloved friends with whom to share”. Linda G is right. It is awesome when it works that way, but in my experience, it doesn’t always work that way…rarely in fact. What if there is no circle of friends and all is “holiday silence”?

    • says

      You listen to the silence and you will find it speaks to you, not in voices but in deep communion with God. Silence, I found when my boyfriend died suddenly a few days before Christmas a few years ago, felt like a threatening thing about to consume me if I paid attention to it. I do have wonderful friends but they can’t be babysitting me every moment. I gave in to superstition (he’ll show up smiling at the foot of my bed and freak me right out, his picture almost looks like he could walk out of it, etc etc etc). Silence was the enemy. Long after that I saw the silence for what it was — a beckoning to deeper mystery. I wait now for it to come back and speak to me!

      I love time by myself and have spent many many Christmas Days that way. Ah bliss!

    • says

      That’s a good question — and I am, glad, too, because our families weren’t up to it.

      Most of the time, though, what I heard was silence. Endless and empty silence. I still hear a lot of that. That, I think, you endure.

      God can be extraordinarily elusive.

    • helen says

      You are forgetting that even if there is no CIRCLE of friends, there is still the One Friend Who is always with you. He listens to you, He doesn’t just hear you. You need to talk to Him like a friend, because he IS a friend. My circle of friends lives 3000 miles away, and we keep in touch. But they aren’t always reachable, so there can be that silence. But with God, there is not silence, just a quietude, wherein I can speak and pour out my heart. Any time. God love you, Mise. He wants a relationship with you. Can you not open your heart to Him just a little? He loves you. He is always there. He listens to you. He is your Friend.Let His love encircle you if you don’t have a circle of friends, and let holiday silence be a means for you to hear Him.

      I wish you well this Christmas season, Mise. I really do. Keep going to Church. Pray. And then pray some more. God will help you. God loves you.

  4. Mise says

    Thank you both for your words and may I express my condolences to you both for your loss. You may find that God speaks in silence, Linda G, “beckoning to deeper mystery”, but I’m with you, Robin. Silence is empty and God “extraordinarily elusive”. Being alone can be blissful sometimes, but I noticed Linda G that you also have “wonderful friends”. So you don’t always have to be alone.

    • says

      Thank you, Mise. Yes I have friends and we even visit once in a while, one on one, and for the most part I am on my own while each of them does their own thing (work, family, spouse, other buddies, etc). We keep in touch more by phone than in person. It took me eons to learn to do function as I do now, independently, it didn’t just happen overnight since I grew up believing that I am supposed to be partnered and that I should move among the social masses. It never occurred to me that I truly don’t want to have a husband nor do I want to be part of a group. I had to learn to appreciate who I really am, not what I thought I should be. I learned too that interested involved people attract interested involved people — which ironically happens in social settings, where people of a feather flock together for a common cause, but you can find people in other situations too. Sometimes it’s as simple as welcoming a new neighbor whereas you usually only give a nod and keep going (that’s God in action right there) or finding you have lots in common with someone you deal with in the community for one reason or another. While I do have family and friends each of us has their own balance of same so I’m not alone-alone although I function on my own. I joke about how my notebook is my spouse, ha.

    • says

      I should clarify that I hear God in the silence as well. It’s far more complex than either/or. Linda is right — silence can be a beckoning to a deeper mystery, But it can also be a beckoning to profound desolation. But them, companionship can be both as well, depending on the circumstances. Ah, discernment . . .

      I do tend to find that, for me, the more that others insist that God is present, whether in individual conversations or in group celebrations — Advent as a whole, for instance — the more remote God seems to become. I think that I would very much enjoy spending Christmas alone, and that it would be much easier for me to find God’s presence in that way — but at the same time, I am grateful for the family and church to whom I have responsibilities that preclude my doing that.

      Back to Vinita’s story: her character Myrtle could have been my grandmother, who hosted decades of Christmas dinners, through the (early) death of her father, long term mental illness of her mother, and loss of three daughters-in-law and a baby grandchild. I should point out that we have never “not celebrated” — we have simply abandoned, without much difficulty, traditions that became more painful than joyful, and are working on replacing them with others.

      • says

        That’s what scared me at first, thinking it would slip me into a dark cave somewhere, so I avoided it. I hear the sound of the water in the pipes all the time and even that lead me to think how that water flows like life, in one direction (the present to the future). It doesn’t stop and go backwards and then flow in circles and stop. Nor should we.

        Yes I don’t really get into the Advent/Lent programmes either, I don’t feel any sense of God there just because it’s a calendar season. As for tradition, I just came home from the store with two pies for our Christmas dinner of roast beef and chicken-something-or- other wrapped with cheese and broccoli at the kids’ house. Christmas Day they go to the other parents’ place and I might or might not take the tree down on Boxing Day. I do things on LST (Linda Standard Time)

        God knows where and who we are.

  5. says

    It’s just what I needed as I sit here fighting a virus that refuses to completely go away and grieve a world that witnesses God’s people too often inflicting cruelty upon each other. In spite of all the political, environmental and psychological mess that is the backdrop of our lives, He still comes to us as a completely vulnerable infant and trusts us to raise Him up. We need to celebrate. So, I offer you a heartfelt Merry Christmas!

    • says

      Me too with the cold that turns out to be only irritation from heat and dry air. It does feel like something horrible though. Merry Christmas back to you.

      Yes the world does seem to ooze evil these days and it’s a wonder God doesn’t get fed up with it. But then he’s God and we’re not (thank him for that one!) You know I find that in that stillness we talked about, that silence, when you can hear your heartbeat dance with your bones and tissues move, you do touch that peace that is in you like a kernel inside a seed. Imagine. We carry that in us all the time.

  6. says

    More on Mise’s question: What if there is no circle of friends and all is holiday silence? Or Vinita’s: How do we make feasts when we are grieving?

    One of the things I wish that our family had been able to do, and maybe this will eventually become our tradition, is to “make feasts” for others. A friend who works with homeless kids in NYC just wrote about her hard her organization works to make Christmas for those kids, but it’s still not like having a family.

    Another friend whose extended and immediate family is so well off that they have abandoned gift giving this year is having the best time giving gifts and gift cards to under-the-radar folks in her life.

    I would be the first person to acknowledge the weight of fresh grief or that of spiritual desolation, and I would not shove anyone off the diving board into a pool of counterfeit generosity in response, but perhaps a slow, one-step-at-a-time approach works — as a gradual melding of what we encounter in the silence with ways of responding to the needs of others as we let some of our own slip away.

  7. Helen C. says

    How I missed this yesterday I don’t know! Perhaps I needed the messages given throughout the “discussion” as well as Vinata’s reflection. I really have struggled this Advent to try to reach Christmas. This is the third Christmas without my husband and it seems to be harder than ever to celebrate. We had so many of our own traditions which centered around family; they took place every year at our home. Each year was the same but different; children grew up, family members died, others moved away.This third year without my husband will be celebrated at my daughter’s home. Among us will be my widowed sister-in-law, my unmarried “children”, a young divorcee whose children are spending Christmas with their father in Georgia and my brother, his wife and youngest daughter. My brother has had a run of pain and anguish this whole year. My husband’s cousin and daughter are in from Florida; they too have had losses this year. Yet, we will celebrate the Season of Light to let it shine on our own particular darkness. We will bring together a new smattering of people and we will cook, laugh and maybe cry. Christmas pulls us together once again, even though we have had to struggle to get here.

    • says

      That’s a whole lifespan of lifestuff brought together in one day, Helen, and just think our departed are always watching over us and the proceedings. BTW your link doesn’t open when I click on your name.

    • says

      Helen, I am so sorry for all these losses in your and your family members’ lives. And for Linda G’s. My experience is that celebrations do become in many ways more difficult each year for those who have experienced great loss. (Right now I am struggling with the posts across Facebook – “the family is finally all gathered” — something that will never happen for us again.) I think that we are very slowly shaped into people who define and understand the word celebration differently than we did when it was easy.

      What I like about the story is the articulated affirmation of life “between the promise and the coming true.” My daughter just headed out the door for a Christmas Eve breakfast with two of her lifetime friends — all 3 of them 25yo women who have suffered tremendously in different ways in the past few years. I serve many elderly people who confide stories of terrible heartbreak to me — yesterday I took communion to an 81yo man who told me about the brother and sister who died before he was born. The world is filled with people of all ages of tremendous courage who persist in celebrating in that place.

      • says

        Robin those family gatherings are not always what they are cracked up to be in the story books. I’ve seen more fighting and arguing and bickering than I’ve seen peaceable interaction, believe me. People will be themselves regardless of calendar telling them they have to have peace and love now because it’s December even though from January til November they will raise hell with one another.

        Last winter, probably in February or something when I was bored enough to start biting toenails, I got the bright idea to start digging up my grandmother’s photos and my mother’s as well and printing and framing those. It occurred to me later after I had them up for a while that I put them up so I could consider my personal communion of saints and see where it all began and who they were before their own lives intervened. Before the bad marriage. Before the self centeredness set in. Before life embittered them. Who they were when they still had stars in their eyes and hope in their soul. I did have to move those after to accommodate my own family groupings and still have the room look like it could breathe but it’s a wonderful hobby. Sometimes it’s the only way we can appreciate our relatives hanging around!

  8. Ellen says

    As I was listening to this it brought to mind a form of celebration. My father was the first of the aunts and uncles to pass away in our big Irish family. At the lunch after the funeral there was champagne passed around. My cousin then toasted my fathers death because he is now in a better place. Since then many family members have died and this ritual of toasting them still exists. We are an Irish bunch that believes in celebrating and remembering them with alot of laughter as well as alot of tears.

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