Transformation. Transformation. Transformation.
Why is Transformation on my mind so fiercely at Christmas time?
Well, it’s all around us.
At Christmas we transform our homes, our work places, our streets. We cover them with light, colour, sparkle and glitter. We turn the world on its head. Bring trees indoors. Put lights on the outside of buildings.
At Christmas we transform expectations. We behave in abnormal ways. And treat that as normal. Grown men wear ties dotted with snowmen. Responsible women wear baubles in their ears. Strangers kiss beneath poisonous berries. People smile at each other on trains. Non-believers go to church. Sober folk have one sherry too many. In pantos across the land we laugh along with men dressed as women and women dressed as men. The less said about the office party the better.
So, where does all this come from? Why all these transformations?
I know that a lot of them are traditions with clear historical root/routes. But what interests me is why these traditions arose in the first place. And what is it within us that requires them. Certainly, in the case of decorating our streets, workplaces and houses it seems to be a desire to brighten things up. To side with the light in the time of greatest darkness. Like all living things, we need the light of the sun to survive. And in the cave, darkness brought with it greater vulnerability to predators, fewer hours in which to hunt, difficult times. Reduced sunlight has physiological impacts too. Depressed mood, reduced energy. S.A.D. So, are Christmas lights a vestige of magical thinking? By keeping a fire burning do we ensure the return of the sun?
Personally, I think it is simpler and more basic than that. I think that we need the light. And we need the dark. It’s a matter of balance. When it is too dark, we crave the light. When light prevails we crave the darkness. We are contrary creatures. The grass is always greener. Something primal to our nature needs transformation. Change. We often protest against it, say “if only things would stop changing…” but, in fact, it is usually us making the change happen. As a species we seem to be addicted to it.
Why all the change?
Imagination. It defines us. Makes us what we are. The ability to imagine is the ability to see several possible outcomes. Alternative futures. It is our blessing and our curse. It allows us to shape our world. Transform it. Make it better. Or so we imagine! But it seperates us from Nature. Or at least gives us the illusion that we are seperate. It also means that we are never satisfied. Not a good combination. It is causing a lot of trouble – a mistaken conviction that we are free to use Nature’s resources as we wish to benefit ourselves in the short term. A mistaken assumption that there will be no consequences. We are beginning to understand that the consequences are huge.
We cannot deny our natures. Cannot give up our imaginations. But it is vital that we learn to use them responsibly. Morally. Imagination can be used for good or for evil. To destroy or create. It is not value neutral.
We have to learn to use imagination well. Which means that we have to practise. Which means that we have to play. Play is the training ground where we flex and strengthen our imagination within safe boundaries. Which is why the increasing scarcity of opportunity for play in our society is so worrying. Play is vital for the healthy development of children. It is vital for the continuing development of adults too.
This is, I think, the reason for the traditions of odd behaviour around Christmas. It is playful behaviour that allows imaginative transformations within safe boundaries. Everyone knows the rules. Understands that it is play. It allows us to imagine changes and play at them without actually having to commit to them. It is just pretending.
The true challenge comes when we are presented with the chance to change for real. To truly transform. Then, we have to make choices. moral choices.
And that’s what I will be looking at tomorrow.