Every year there is someone asking me if I celebrate Christmas. Yes, I actually do. Though it took me a while to find and embrace my own meaning of Christmas. In Russia it was all about the New Year – a big party with friends, tree, presents, and fireworks. Yes, there was a subtle element of making wishes and possible surprises (miracle would be a word too strong for that) but nothing spiritual. The point was to have fun with people you like.
We did not really care about Orthodox Christmas back then. I thought it was a boring tradition of old people, visiting cemeteries and talking about those passed away. No presents or party going involved. Dull.
We moved to Finland in 2001 and I learned about “Joulurauha” (I would translate it as “Christmas serenity” or “Christmas stillness” from Finnish), which I also was not quite getting for the first couple of years. My Finnish friends explained that this time of the year was supposed to be about reflection and finding your inner peace. Everyone feels a little bit down and worn out by the end of December that’s why it’s important to find some time for yourself, be quiet, not rush into anything and release any bad feelings. I was not getting it, because I was young, hungry and impatient. I wanted to rush and splash, I was bursting with ambitions and did not want to stay still. In fact, staying still was a total waste of time.
I finally got the sense of Christmas in Germany. I was already working hard and playing harder, I had some serious choices to make, I was not a student anymore and life was becoming more and more complex – houses, mortgages, schools for kids, MBA plans, being passed for promotions… And I got it. This is the time of the year when you decide what is that that you really want – and who do you want it with. When you rush, resent, avenge – you have lots of energy, but you do not necessarily get what you want in the long term. The whole point of Christmas markets, cheerful music, presents and long holidays is to think what’s important and what too shall pass… And then there is a miracle part.
I am not very religious (probably not at all) and definitely not sure about circumstances around baby Jesus being born, but I do know that Christmas is about hope and anticipation, wonders and miracles. Presents are just a symbol that life is generous and has a lot to offer and there are people willing to help and support you. Feeling loved and supported makes you stronger, more confident, positive. And this is the real meaning of Christmas to me. “Happy Holidays” is very politically correct and universally suitable, but (sorry) it’s not the same as Merry Christmas!