Here goes: the countdown’s on. “On the first day of Christmas …” on through the traditional repeats, from partridges to pipers and more. Or, switching to the Hawaii version, through “peegs,” hula lessons, even cans of beer, veering a bit off the track of the original intent, but possibly adding to the general merriment.
I enjoy “The Twelve Days” countdown. I’m sure generations of children before and since will join me in saying this. My family always sang and made music, all year ‘round, but especially at holiday time. I consider this as a gift, like my music lessons — lasting gifts that are with me, still, and are continuing on in the newer generations. When I was 11, the song book present from a favorite Uncle and Aunty included in its carols section “The Twelve Days,” with a stylized partridge and pear tree gracing the title above the piano score. I ran that number into the ground, singing along as I learned how to play and follow the musical repeat marks sending me back, then back again. Singing this along with other seasonal standards became a ritual for me.
Rituals of any kind begin for the purpose of marking events in specific and specialized ways. Humans as far back as paleolithic ties developed rituals. We know this for certain from what archaeologists have pieced together from burial site finds. In Hawaii, we know this from the rich body of chants that were preserved during the stifling of ritualized cultural practices during missionary times, and have been rebirthed. There are similar examples to draw from around the globe. As rituals are carried forward, they evolve. Ritual practices sometimes change to the point of burying the original thought or intent entirely, such as the what has happened with the extreme commercialization of Christmas in the western world. Or rituals can become so ingrained that they stagnate, lose meaning and are let go, forgotten.
I doubt that any of the keiki, from the age of reasoning to 99 years plus, will let go of the meaning and fun of the Kauai community coming together for the Lights on Rice Parade. Or visiting the glittering holiday display within the historic County Building, complete with mermaids, train and a stunning Mr. & Mrs. S. Claus. (Open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 6-8 p.m. until Dec. 30.)
Or the family feasts and fun; candlelight services, possibly; the opportunities to volunteer; the paths made easy for us to support and give to those less fortunate through various non-profits passing along much-needed donations and toys for children. It’s fun to hear the clink of pocket change muffled by a bill or two in those bell-ringer kettles. And don’t forget the shared enjoyment of attending holiday plays and concerts, many of them free or with donation.
One little neighbor friend has started a ritual of delivering a cute, handmade craft and cookies on a holiday plate, with her smiles, to us. Our neighbor lady can be counted on for a mini-fruitcake (delicious!). Others extend invitations to share a meal, a glass of eggnog with snacks and conversation, a holiday sing, fruits-fruits-fruits and garden plant starts — heartwarming and unforgettable moments of giving and receiving that are perpetuated in the circle of goodwill and plenty being tapped and expanded.
One of my favorite holiday memories, still crystal clear in mind, is of my first two children standing together looking like the “Campbell Kids” in matching snowman pajamas and new warm slippers, singing “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph” with gusto while I accompanied on a big, old upright — an informal concert for the new baby, Daddy and Grandma. Singing those old favorites along with new ones became a family ritual as they grew up, their baby brother, and then another baby brother arriving, soon to join in. Another ritual that has continued into their adult lives and as parents, themselves, was piling into the car to see the Christmas lights — neighborhood houses where people had spent hours rigging special displays to set dark December nights “on fire.” A chorus of oohs and aahs from the back seat, depending on the degree of loudness, would act as an informal vote for favorites.
A Christmas ritual introduced when my keiki were very young was the Advent calendar. The snow crystals that fancied up the first one shimmered as I unfolded the oversized card. The children curiously watched it being stood on display and listened as I explained the meaning of this first seasonal decoration, how each day, we’d open a corresponding window. The calendar and its surprise became a point of daily discussion: Whose turn was it? (They were good about taking turns.) What had been found, so far, and who was the finder? What next? And then the moment of the day: to loosen and lift the little die-cut flap and discover a new picture. The hidden objects revealed progressed from simple things like sugarplums, candy canes and gingerbread cookies as the windows increased in size to reveal carolers, a lit-up tree, camels and wise men, shepherds, until finally, on Christmas Eve, the star and angels, and then on Christmas Day, the Baby Jesus within the manger scene.
That first Advent calendar did duty once or twice more, folded away and stored carefully with ornaments. To allow the forgetting and keep the surprise element, new versions of the calendar were added for the in-between years. Sometimes the themes focused on merriment and Santa, rather than a religious theme. But always the same “present” on the 25th of December depicted the coming of love and hope for the future.
The Christmas star over all translates symbolically beyond a religious message into the coming of light, holding the promise of enlightenment — a desirable outcome from any dark, disturbing and painful influences that do not promote joy and happiness for all beings. This theme runs strongly through all religions based on original teachings, no matter the sects and dogmas that may set them apart. It’s the reason behind the season.
Dear Readers, here’s a wish for you for light and joy during these challenging days on our island, and in our world.
Check out more writings by Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, at local book outlets and on Amazon, or through her service businesses website, www.kauaiweddingsandbooks.com Watch for the launch of her new, monthly travel column in TGI, “Faraway Places,” coming in January.