I've Got the Holiday Blues (Audio Available)

Sermon by Rev. Diane Rollert, 13 December 2015

Sermon by Rev. Diane Rollert, 13 December 2015

holiday tear

Acabris !  Acabras ! Acabram !
Fais-nous voyager par dessus les montagnes !

C’est la chasse-galerie qui vole, passant par dessus les villages, les forêts, les rivières, laissant derrière une traînée d’étincelles. C’est une nuit superbe avec la lune dans son plein, illuminant le firmament comme un beau soleil du midi. C’est la chasse-galerie …

Canot d’écorce qui vole, qui vole,
Canot d’écorce qui va voler !

Maybe you know this Quebecois tale of the chasse-galerie, the story of a flying canoe that takes off from snowy fields up in the frozen North. On New Year’s Eve, just as midnight is about to strike, eight loggers working far, far from home, make a deal with the devil. The chasse-galerie will fly them back to their village at lightening speed to spend one night with their sweethearts, avec leurs blondes. 

Dansons comme des perdus, mais pas un seul verre de Molson, ni de jamaïque, vous m’entendez !

Here’s the deal: The devil will fly you home for a night of dancing. But for the entire night and into the morning, you cannot swear or mention the Good Lord, or drink a drop of alcohol. Break the pact, and your soul becomes property of the devil.

There are many versions of the tale (the one I’m quoting here comes from the 1898 story written by Honoré Beaugrand), but there’s always someone in the canoe who breaks the rules and gets drunk. By some luck, the loggers always get back to the logging site, but not without learning an important lesson.

Tout ce que je puis vous dire, mes amis, c’est que ce n’est pas si drôle qu’on pense que d’aller voir sa blonde en canot d’écorce, en plein coeur d’hiver, en courant la chasse-galerie …

Believe me, my friends, it’s an especially bad idea to ride the chasse-galerie with a drunken pilot!

Si vous m’en croyez, vous attendrez à l’été prochain pour aller embrasser vos p’tits coeurs, sans courir le risque de voyager aux dépens du diable.

If you’re smart, you’ll wait until the summer to hug your sweetheart, rather than risk flying in the company of the devil.

I’m thinking about those coureurs des bois, those loggers, up in the frozen North, stuck for the entire winter passing the holidays far from home. Now there’s a blue Christmas for you. So they spin tales, weaving in stories of flying canoes that they’ve learned from the Aboriginal people they meet, adding in their own religious morality (and poking fun at their own immorality — who can possibly make it through the night without swearing or drinking a drop of Molsons or rum?). But in between the strict morality of the day, there is imagination that takes flight. As they ride through the night in the chasse-gallery, they pass so close to the church spires.  They soar over the lights of Montreal.

Des groupes s’arrêtent dans les rues pour nous voir passer, mais nous filons si vite qu’en un clin d’oeil nous avons dépassé Montréal et ses faubourgs …

They land in the soft snow to wonder at the stars.

And us? We’re city dwellers here, waiting for winter to come.  The holiday season weighs heavily upon some of us. We may have our own frozen tundra of the heart to face. Lost friends, lost loved ones, lost family, lost work, living alone, sad memories that resurface at this time of year. Or maybe it’s just the stress and the lack of light that gets us down. Maybe it’s our own expectations of what should make a perfect holiday.

I admit, I’ve got a bit of the holiday blues this year. I appreciate the warm weather, really I do. But it also makes me worried. I want snow. I want to step into the wonder of winter at least for a short while. But what if winter never comes again?

I’ve got the blues because I’m an orphan now. It used to be that my parents came to celebrate Chanukah. My father came to make the best latkes (potato pancakes) I’ve ever had. My mother taught me the blessings and other songs. After she died, my father and I would reminisce about my mother, as we fried latkes in the kitchen together. Now I must hold all the memories on my own.

I struggle with the holiday stories too. With all that is happening in Israel/Palestine, I just can’t sing the traditional Chanukah songs this year. Triumphant songs of winning battles make me cringe with embarrassment — embarrassment for the whole world that seems to believe that violence is the only answer to every conflict. I’m coming to understand those I’ve met here who have rejected their Christian roots, who cringe when they hear triumphant Christmas carols. How do you hold onto your roots and let go of the parts that seem to proclaim supremacy over others?

Do we let go of all the tradition and wallow in our blues? There has to be some way to get back to that original intention of loving your neighbour as yourself, of the commandment that says “thou shalt not kill”, of doing unto others as they would do unto themselves — if you only asked.  There has to be some way of getting back to that promise of finding peace on earth and goodwill to all.

One of my colleagues, a UU minister, says we need to think of our life as a story. It’s up to us to write the next chapter by using our imagination. Awomen in this minister’s church was diagnosed with cancer for the third time in ten years. She had to decide whether or not to pursue aggressive and uncertain treatment, so she sat down to write the next chapter of her life.   In the process of writing, she started imagining herself enjoying the life she had left, no matter how long it might be. And that’s what she did. She lived the last 45 days of her life with gratitude and intention.  My colleague writes, “Maybe—probably—the next chapter of your life won’t turn out exactly how you write it. But the engagement of imagination to think about what we want to happen can clarify, provoke, and comfort us.”

What if we imagine the next chapter for ourselves in this holiday season? What if we write the next chapter for the world? I just have to say how grateful I am to know that 195 world leaders could actually come to an agreement about the future of this world and the need to reduce global warming. That’s a pretty good holiday gift of expansive imagination and intention, even if it’s not 100% perfect, don’t you think?

In this season of light, I truly admire those who can touch the mystery and wonder, who can get out of their rational heads and allow for magic to happen. What I want to tell you is that you aren’t making a pact with a metaphorical devil if you do. You’re simply taking this beautiful gift of the mind to expand beyond the limits of the obvious and the material. It’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s miraculous. It’s wonderful. It’s what we need to lift ourselves out of the darkness and into the light.

Mon père n’avait fille que moi
Canot d’écorce qui va voler,
Et dessus la mer il m’envoie :
Canot d’écorce qui vole, qui vole,
Canot d’écorce qui va voler!

To allow ourselves flights of imagination, to light candles in expectation and waiting, to welcome the possibility of a new chapter in our lives, to let the music lift our spirits with hope — I’d say that’s a pretty good way to face the blues.

And if you are filled with excitement and joy for this season, would you please rub your hands together and then release all of that energy to share with the rest of us?

Amen.  Blessed be. Namasté.

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