This is a question I think about a great deal as someone whose job it is to help people discover and live their soul’s purpose, and most importantly, as a person committed to living soulfully in every area of my life. I’d like to share a few reflections, as well as some tools that might be of use to you as you soulfully explore and inhabit this season.
Like most American kids in the 1970's, I was raised Christian (Irish Catholic), and held the two main narratives of the season, that of the birth of Jesus, and Santa Claus, in dynamic tension (not to mention the other televised narratives of Rudolf, Frosty the Snowman and Charlie Brown). Why did we need so many dang mythologies to illuminate the human experience at Winter Solstice? Why did we have to buy and wrap presents for people? What was the point of all the presents and sweets? Why did we go to church on Christmas and accept the Eucharist? Why was drinking and eating excessively so intertwined with this season of giving and remembrance? Why did we have to be good for Santa? Of course, the adults had no clue, no personal understanding of the soul of Christmas. However, when pressed, they pulled some amazing bullshit out of their asses. And it sufficed for awhile until the big day.
You know what big day I’m talking about. The day that jerk from school or that older cousin popped your balloon and told you that Santa wasn’t real, therein crushing a magical world, therein establishing, if not already present, an isolating mistrust between child and caregiver. Thanks, American Christmas.
And now, as a 41 year-old man, a lover of gift-making, gift-giving, gift-receiving, eggnog, cookies, fireplaces, pajamas, Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Christmas movies, and yet also possessed of a soul-level identity, one that pulls me into my soul’s purpose to engage in what poet, David Whyte, terms “the largest conversation a person is capable of having with the world”, I sit here wondering.
Against the background of our inescapable, and increasingly diverse, consumerist and discordant culture, and vacillating between ignoring and embracing the political, economic and ecological free fall in which our species finds itself, I sit with this question, “What is the Soul of Christmas?”
I want a soulful relationship to this season, and deep down, I want to find the purpose of Christmas, of holding space for the American soul to emerge, to shine brightly and show me something new, something to be proud of and a part of.
Of course, this isn’t an intellectual exploration, as every soul, every family, every community, every culture, every faith, every sovereign nation is as unique as a snowflake. No amount of posturing or argument will produce a satisfying and final answer. I think it has to be felt, explored and wrestled with in non-cognitive ways. It requires a lusty paganism, a devout questioning, a prayerful experience of the whole season and its particulars. As poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in “Letters to a Young Poet”,
“I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language. Don’t dig for answers that can’t be given you yet: you live them now. For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer.”
To aid in this exploration, some colleagues and I have curated a selection of soulful experiences to play with this holiday season. We think this question needs exploring, because there is so much that is good about the holidays, about all our cultures and religions during this time of year, and we are curious what more goodness, truth and beauty we might discover by holding the question “What is the Soul of Christmas?”
On Black Friday, we launched a non-profit project, the Soul Care Package, a free, no-strings-attached assortment of soulful experiences. Thus far we’ve “delivered” almost 4,000 Soul Care Packages, which include:
The music will bring you into a deeper connection to what you love, hate and want most in your life. The video series will illuminate some of the ways soul moves in the world, as delivered by luminaries like Oprah, Jim Carrey and Mark Zuckerberg. The Holiday Cheat Sheet will empower you to have deeper, more soulful conversations with your friends and family. The exercises will connect you with a deeper experience of your own purpose and the ways your home can express it.
As a co-creator and enjoyer of the Soul Care Package, I can tell you what has already shifted for me. My fiancee and I are in a conversation about the ethics of our formidable reliance on Amazon to acquire presents and household goods. We also spent two whole days making presents for family members — that didn’t happen last year. We’ve watched many Christmas movies, decorated our home, our cat, and we hosted our 3rd annual caroling party, and first as a cohabiting, engaged couple, which included more live music, more treats, more kids and what felt like more of the soul of Christmas.
We encourage you to have a go at the Soul Care Package and let us know your thoughts! Please post your experience on social media, along with the hashtag #soulcare and invite your family, friends and online communities to join you in your exploration of soul this holiday season.
We look forward to hearing from you and exploring this question together.
Brandon Peele (and the Soul Care Package team)