The Spirit of Christmas

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

Be it known that I love cookies so, alleluia!, the holidays are here.

Christmas cookie at San Dominico School

Christmas cookies at San Dominico School during Tableau reception.

Now that I have your attention I want to talk about Christmas, not the “holidays”.  I love the spirit of Christmas, the coming of Jesus. There, I have said it.  I also like the wisdom of Epicurius, Lau-Tzu, and Jefferson, but now it is Christmas.

Gardening, like Christmas, is about hope and peace. Many of us garden for that peace and tranquility of working with the earth, and the hope the things we grow will thrive. We have faith in life, we believe things will get better if we tend them well.

Christmas is a different kind of hope and peace. It really came home to me this year, having just attended the annual Tableau at San Domenico School where both my wife and daughter attended. It is the oldest private school in California and has been performing the Christmas Tableau for 108 years against the backdrop of a Fra Angelico set, a Dominican monk in the 15th century.

Fra Angelico - altarpiece for the church and convent of San Domenico in Florence 1423

Fra Angelico, a Dominican monk, painted this altarpiece for the church and convent of San Domenico in Florence 1423

The Tableau is a series of scenes from the Christmas story unfolding gracefully by the student actors dressed in Medieval costumes as the wonderful choir sings classic carols in Latin, accompanied only by occasional bells. It is quite touching, both solemn and joyful.

Jesus was born in a time of great strife in the world, with the Romans terrorizing the Mideast, and the Jews being persecuted.  Prophecies foretold there would be better days, a Savior would be born whose goodness and love for mankind would bring peace.

Christians believe that Jesus is that savior, and are joyful at this time of year that He was born, bringing about a religion of peace and love. I don’t know much about religion really, all the prophets seem to talk about peace and goodness; and all organized religions, Christianity included, have waged war to prove how good they are.

It is easy to get caught up in cynicism and to condemn the individual hypocrisies of religion.  We have learned to be wary of zealots who have very narrow definitions of their religion, preaching one “right” way.  It seems almost fashionable to be anti-religious because of all the atrocious things that have happened in the name of religion.

On the other hand, faith in God is comforting on a very personal level.

Thunderstorm cloud sunset, Fredericksburg Texas

At the school performance I found myself comforted to be among believers of peace and love, in an atmosphere of hope.  Peace is possible for those who follow the teachings of Jesus. I appreciate the way the nuns presented this message as they introduced the Tableau; asking us only that we open our hearts to the message of hope that is Christmas.

How can that be a bad thing? I am glad to have been reminded that the world is more than the headlines we see in the newspapers.  If only for a brief moment this is the season to be glad that Jesus was born, that Christianity started, that a hope for peace is genuine, and there is a Way to achieve it.

It is not scientific, is not even practical, and even if most people, including most Christians, don’t truly practice the teachings of Jesus, there is still the hope.  I do hope; I do believe in God.  It is good to be reminded of our best dreams. That is the spirit of Christmas.

Poinsettia 'Monet Twilight' Euphorbia pulcherrima red foliage flower bracts, Christmas plant

In the Christmas story, the Kings brought gifts to Jesus, and now somehow Christmas has become a season of extravagant, commercial gift giving that we universally decry.  But, if only for a moment, let’s think of all this frenzy of gift giving as Joy Gone Wild. As incredible and impossible as it is, such excess would only make sense if Christmas were actually a true story. Wouldn’t it be nice?  Peace on earth –  now that’s a reason to party. I think I will have another cookie …

I suppose I have not said this very eloquently, but Gardening Gone Wild has given me an excuse to write this down.

The world is not going to change anytime soon, but as individuals we can do better, religion aside, and be comforted that we are loved by friends and family – amazing and unscientific itself. Forget religion, forget that Christmas is what brought on this naïve, happy optimism in me.  Simply thinking about how peace might come about, and acting as if we love one another will make the world a better place, if only the small world of the people around us.

yellow gerbera backlit with bright light

This is not the first year I have gotten caught up in a bit of spirituality. Tis the season I suppose, literally a season of renewal. Since pagan times humans have celebrated the solstice in the dead of winter. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah symbolizes the lighting of candles to renew light. Hope is everywhere. Just don’t listen to the news. Unplug. Hang out with those you love.

I have looked back to see what I have written this time of year for Gardening Gone Wild and found:

Red and Green at Christmas: – How did red and green become so ubiquitous at Christmas time?  There seem to be several different stories, all wrapped up in the origins of the Christmas tree.

I Have Faith – This is a spiritual time of year, and a time to renew faith in God.  Whether a personal god, the pagan gods, or a god of doctrine and formal beliefs, any true belief is a comfort.  A comfort that there are bigger things than us, that we exist in a larger spirit.  Life will always go on.

I wish you all joy, and peace, in this Christmas season. Take a moment to give thanks for what ever it is that brings you hope for a better world. Blessings.  Have a few cookies.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Pam's English Garden December 11, 2015, 8:29 am

You’ve said it very eloquently, Saxon, in beautiful words and stunning pictures. I agree that gardeners must believe in peace and love working/living, as we do, in an atmosphere of hope. This is a great time of year to renew our faith. wishing you peace and love this Christmas. P. x

jenny December 11, 2015, 9:52 am

What a beautiful altarpiece. Reason enough to visit Florence. So much has been lost about the real reason we celebrate christmas. In England the red and green may date back as far as pagan times. certainly long before the christmas tree was introduced. The holly berries and the ivy were abundant at that time of year and brought into houses to brighten the dark winter months. We never failed to have a sprig or two of holly over the mirrors and the other piece of greenery of the season -mistletoe hanging from the lamp at the front door. That may have had a much later origin.

Saxon Holt December 11, 2015, 12:58 pm

Thanks for your comments Jenny. I suspect the pagans, so attuned to nature, saw God everywhere and were keen to connect with the seasons. Most organized religions seem to honor the seasons as well and it is certainly no coincidence that Christmas is celebrated around the solstice, not the actual birthday of Jesus.
I love bringing in the fresh greens at Christmas for the smell alone, always reminding me how I would prefer to be out-of-doors. I do wonder where the mistletoe tradition came from – maybe a bit of research for my next post…..

Saxon Holt December 11, 2015, 1:00 pm

Thank you Pam – and joyful wishes to you as well. May we imagine some breakthrough toward peace on earth, and looked toward our own families to find it. Merry Christmas.

Donna December 16, 2015, 4:05 pm

I want that tray of cookies – or at least the recipes for all of them. And, yes, I too want peace and love to be our personal priorities this Christmas as we Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Merry Christmas to you, Saxon, and to all gardening gone wild readers. And let there be peace on earth.

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