I’m honored to have my dad, John Daniewicz, as a guest blogger on this special Christmas post. Two stories dominate our collective psyche during this time of year. What do they have to teach us?
As we sit by a warming fire this winter solstice, with Christmas fast approaching, what are we celebrating? It is a bleak time. Darkness comes quickly, and it is cold. In the woods, there is the smell of damp, dead leaves. In the north, all of nature has been brought to a shivering standstill, covered over by a frozen jacket of ice crystals. In our distant past, we needed to curl up into a ball to hibernate. Food was scarce.
In this depressing situation, our more recent ancestors have told us two different stories to cheer us up and give us hope. They are in sharp contrast to each other because they carry very different messages about the way to happiness.
The first story is about a young mother giving birth at night in a homeless, cold stable that is warmed only by the nearby sheep and by her loving, but mostly helpless, husband. This is the story of a mother risking her life and undergoing the great pain of birthing under the most difficult of conditions to heroically bring forth a new life in order to develop her family and to help the species continue. By doing so, she has also volunteered to do the many self-sacrifices necessary to suckle and care for a helpless, demanding infant, and to raise and teach this child so that he in turn can become a great teacher. And by this commitment, she has also agreed even to be at the foot of the cross to watch him die after he has dared to take on the powerful with his teaching.
The second story is also told as true to our children so that they will believe in its message. It is about an old, white-bearded man who lives very far away up in the frozen north but who has the power to see all—to see who has been bad or good. For those that have been good, he is jolly, laughing like a bowl full of jelly after he has squeezed down the chimney in his bright red outfit to deliver toys and other desired possessions that the good kids have earned by their past behavior. As opposed to the cold stable story, all is nice and warm in these houses with stockings hanging above the fireplace and with tasty cookies and warm cocoa set out for him next to the glittering Christmas tree. He has a wife, but she stays mostly in the support role of doing the cooking, while the boy elves make all the presents and the old man delivers the promised goods.
Both are stories of giving, but what is offered as the way to secure happiness is very different. The female giver promises happiness from love and caring on an unconditional basis, even during the worst of times. The male giver promises happiness from shiny, new possessions—but only if we have worked hard to keep our end of the bargain in a hierarchal society where worth is ranked by wealth. The female giver stays with us and lives with us for as long as we need help. Meanwhile the male giver stays up in the cold north except for an occasional visit—if we have cookies and hot chocolate waiting.
The story of Santa Claus supports a belief in the patriarchal system. Santa Claus’s ability to pass judgment and reward those who do good is parallel to the patriarchal Christian version of a God the Father who is harsh and judging. The common description of both of these male figures tends to instill a belief that the masculine should be on top of the system and that the masculine will provide comfort and security (via either presents or heaven) to those who believe and abide by this hierarchy. In addition, the Santa Claus story fosters the belief that materialism brings happiness. While gift giving can be a worthwhile sign of affection, if we follow the money, we can see that today’s overemphasis on gift buying is due to capitalistic interests. This is why Santa Claus frequently appears in malls and department stores.
The story of Mary’s courage in the birthing of Jesus presents a very different picture, but she doesn’t get much emphasis from the patriarchal side of Christianity. This is similar to the way her son’s main teachings (loving, caring, and sharing for all on an egalitarian basis) have been deemphasized because they go against our wealth-based and patriarchal class system.
If we reemphasize the courageous examples of Mary’s steadfast love and Jesus’ rebellious teachings, then we can get back to a well-balanced model of the divine feminine and the divine masculine that is inside each of us and all creation. And this gives us something to celebrate during this cold, winter-solstice season—each other.
John Daniewicz, happily married for 45 years, is the proud father of two and grandfather of three; cook; maker of wine, beer, and sake; in-line skater, swimmer, hiker, and canoe tripper; subwoofer builder; BS in Electrical Engineering; U.S.M.C. Viet Nam; MA in English Literature; technical, PR, and marketing writer; founder and flounderer of three industrial sensor companies; meditative and contemplative prayer practitioner; and is writing a book on “The American Enchantment,” about how we all have bought into the false promises of capitalism, individualism, and machismo.