by Alyson Hazlewood
Believe it, or not, it has caught us by surprise: Christmas has come around again! At New Life this means there is snow-spray on every window in the dining hall and the morning meeting is sprinkled with references to Christmas every day. Everyone is bringing their own skill-set to add to the festive spirit in the community.
By now you might have guessed, that Christmas at New Life is a joyful affair, and the result of the combined efforts of our whole community. Although not celebrated by Buddhists, New Life is made up of a multi faith, multi ethnicity group of people, many of whom have been away from home for extended lengths of time. The longing for home and tradition can exert a particular pull at this time of year, so Christmas is a good excuse to decorate the dining hall, make merry, exchange gifts, give thanks, and engage in some wholesome fun.
The holidays can be a very triggering time
Of course, for some this is not always a common experience at this time of year. The holidays can be a very triggering time, rife with repressed family issues that seem to surface as if on cue as soon as the turkey is carved. For those people recovering from addictions, fear of relapse as a means of coping with the stress is a common anxiety, and often family members just don’t understand that for an alcoholic, a glass of wine with Christmas dinner is simply not an option. As Ram Dass humorously quotes, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend the holidays with your family.”
In Johann Hari’s excellent TED talk on the nature of addiction, he states “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is connection. Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond, and when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other. But if you can’t do that, because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief. Now, that might be gambling, pornography or cocaine, but you will bond and connect with something because that’s our nature. That’s what we want as human beings.”
Neither tree nor stockings, but “Secret Santa” gift exchange
I personally have made efforts to avoid Christmas celebrations altogether for many years, preferring to avoid the pressure to visit family-in-law, step-families and divorced parents that are scattered in different parts of Europe, the rampant consumerism, food and alcohol excesses, and hours languishing in front of the TV eating chocolates. I usually orchestrate this by arranging a quiet holiday overseas. However, I have noticed a subtle yet persistent longing for communion and connection at this time of year, a desire to be part of something, to participate in a celebration of meaning, so I look forward to this first New Life Christmas celebration with our community.
We will kick off celebrations on Christmas Eve, with a screening of the movie “Elf” in the Forest Hall to get us all in the Christmas spirit.
On Christmas Day, our wonderful Thai cooks are given the day off, and a special Christmas menu is planned and cooked by volunteers and residents. We may not have a tree and stockings (maybe next year? ;-)), but we do have „Secret Santa“ gift exchange. A limit of 200baht per gift was set to encourage some creative purchasing, but several people have been busy making their gifts by hand. And after having a sneak peak, we can tell you that they’re really beautiful!
That’s how the New Life community reconnects with the true spirit of Christmas
To help us reconnect with the true spirit of Christmas, our beloved meditation teacher Gary, who openly identifies as both Christian and Buddhist, will give a talk on the Meaning of the holiday. I had a quick chat with Gary in advance of his talk and he let me in on some of his discourse: “The true meaning of Christmas symbolises the potential of humankind. The story of the nativity can be seen as a metaphor, with the Virgin Mary having particular psychological symbolism; the pure, virgin mind, untainted by defective thinking and afflictions of emotion, a clear mind capable of birthing an energy and physical manifestation of perfect love and wisdom, a holy personality in the form of Jesus.”
And this potential for unconditional love and compassion that we all possess is encapsulated in the life of Jesus. His teachings were as radical then as they are now; “Love thy neighbour as thyself. Forgive thy neighbour as you would wish to be forgiven.” And even more radically, “Love thine enemy”, for this is the only way that real transformation can occur. The Buddha put it this way, Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed.”
Special Christmas Dinner and party in the Forest Hall
For the afternoon residents Lauren and Meely have put together some optional body centered games, such as dodge ball, limbo dancing and musical chairs. Alternatively people can choose to have a swim, take a nap, or walk off Christmas lunch around the lake. Later residents have the opportunity to take a Songteaw into town for the weekly AA meeting which can be an invaluable resource for recovering addicts at Christmas.
For Christmas Dinner, long term volunteer Karen cooked up a storm in 2014, and valiantly offered to cook again this year, no mean feat for 60 people! On the menu will be pumpkin cutlets, cauliflower cheese, Yorkshire puddings, roasted rosemary potatoes, cumin and honey glazed carrots, roasted vegetables, bread stuffing, mushroom and onion gravy, gingerbread cookies, chai tea and chocolate cake. A veritable feast!
And to end the day on a high energy note, we can dance off any Christmas bloat in the Forest Hall with Gary DJ’ing on the decks.
So from all of us at New Life, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!
Aly Hazlewood is a Writer, Beauty Editor and Make Up Artist from London, currently exploring new ways of living and being. She blogs at http://www.