Photo by Shandi-lee (Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)
How many times have you heard someone say — I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t dance — with the case-closed authority of Solomon? Probably dozens of times, more if you yourself happen to be an artist blessed with the painting, flamenco, or woodworking gene. But have you ever heard anyone sheepishly confess, as they backed away palms up from an evergreen tree, Oh, not me — I can’t decorate Christmas trees?
Most of us dive into holiday tree trimming with gusto. We’ve got our methods, materials, and secret techniques down pat — from anchoring the tree so it stands straight to untangling strings of lights with a finesse that Houdini would have admired. Charlie Parker could have learned something from our daring as we coax familiar ornaments into different compositions each year, sentimental riffs made anew as a crystal angel is paired with a Santa made of plastic gumdrops or a tacky beaded lobster, to name some of my family’s favorites. Could Jackson Pollock outdo any of us tinsel-lobbers as we throw sparkling handfuls with random abandon? Or perhaps you prefer the single-strand-at-a-time method, placed with the en pointe precision of a Russian ballerina. I’m working the tree metaphor here, but feel free to substitute holiday crafts, baking, decorating, caroling, or gift-wrapping.
It’s your thing!
More good news! Remember Charlie Brown’s scraggly Douglas fir? The one with three spindly branches and a single bulb that weighed it down like a lead onion? Was there anything more pathetic or endearing? Pathetic attempts are not only okay at Christmas, they’re entirely fashionable. Call it folk art. Unlike the rest of the over-achieving calendar year, trying, if not actually succeeding, is acceptable during this season. Because, really, it’s not a question of what you are doing, it’s how you are doing it. The smallest of art projects becomes luminous with awareness and love.
For centuries, until recently, art was a concrete and widespread way of expressing one’s faith. Artists and artisans conveyed their devotion to God through painting, verse, and music. With the advent of the industrial age, abetted by myriad other factors, making art became the impractical pursuit of a chosen few. This is the great, unspoken loss of contemporary life. Creativity at its most transcendent — the moment when the work of art takes on its own life, when there is no separation between maker and object, when the artist is being re-formed by the very thing he or she is making — is comparable to the pure, blissful connection achieved in prayer or meditation.
We cherish Christmas because it presents us with weeks (months!) of artistic expression that is usually kept under wraps during the rest of the year. Christmas is a time when everyone has the opportunity to create — an act of transformation that mirrors what is most sacred in each of us. The works of our hands give glory to our Creator as they reveal us at our most human and most holy. Each of us was created with the same inexhaustible delight and diversity found in nature, and we are free to create with similar abandon. Perhaps this is the true magic of the season: We don’t question whether we should, or judge whether we can, we just create! I’d venture that we’d be more fully ourselves, as human beings and as spiritual beings, if we allowed ourselves that freedom more often.
This season let your spirit shine forth in the tree you trim, the candles you light, the songs you sing, and the cookies you bake. Let every ribbon you tie tie you more closely to your loved ones and to your own beautiful creative soul. While you’re in the Christmas spirit, why not consider giving yourself the gift of creativity, surely the gift that keeps on giving, all year round.
Judith Dupré is a fellow of Yale University’s Saybrook College and the author of several books. Her latest book is Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art and Life, a collection of stories about everyday spirituality and the nature of personal transformation.
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