I have loved every Christmas of my life.
Even the one when I was sick and had to spend the whole day in the den while my family celebrated in the living room.
Even the one when I wasn’t on the best of terms with my Momma.
Even the one right after we lost Dad.
I love Christmas because I get true joy from the act of giving. I get to see my brother, whom I usually only see once a year when he comes home from LA for the holidays. I love wrapping presents. I love twinkling lights. I LOVE Christmas music.
But while my love for Christmas has never waivered, my connection to Christianity teetered and eventually fizzled out long ago.
When I was in second grade I was taking CCD. (for those that don’t know CCD or ‘ Confraternity of Christian Doctrine’ it’s basically Christianity school for Public School kids – mine was every Wednesday night.) We were coloring a very simple picture of a Shepherd next to a sheep. I think we’d learn some lesson about flocks and searching and…I really can’t remember. But I do remember sitting there, coloring the robes the Shepherd was wearing and thinking: “If God created us, it had to be for a purpose. Things are created for purpose, even if the purpose is fun. So if we were created by something it did because it had a reason. But what’s the reason?”
I raised my hand and Sister Mary Something (a very nice woman, really) walked over and put her hand on my shoulder.
“Why are we here?”
I didn’t mean why are we in this building. Or why are we in class right now. I mean why are we here – what is our purpose? At eight years old, I wanted the answer. And she knew it.
She smiled and lightly chuckled. She patted me on the back.
“Color your sheep, dear.”
I look at the crayons. I looked at the paper. I looked at the nun.
“Sheep are white,” I stated plainly. I set the crayon down and walked out of the room. I sat on the curb. Eventually my brother rolled up to join me. I don’t remember if we talked about it.
Mom pulled up in her White Ford Mini Van.
She got out to collapse David’s wheelchair and I swung the sliding door open and hopped inside.
When Mom was finally back in the driver’s seat I looked at her through the rear view mirror.
“I’m not going back. They don’t have any answers.”
“Okay,” said my extraordinary mother.
And I didn’t go back.
I did go back to church – but the frequency faded with each passing year. I never found the solace or love or understanding or perspective in the Catholic church that others say they find. And I think that’s okay.
Brendan came about the end of his faith in an entirely different way. Perhaps a story for a guest post by him.
But our paths converged and we married and we raise children and animals together in a dusty old house. And we celebrate the holidays we’ve always celebrated.
And then the pandemic happened. And gathering and obligation and ham and appetizers and pies took on a different meaning.
Brendan and I love Christmas. But we love it for every reason that has nothing to do with Christianity. We love it for everything it stole from holidays and celebrations and festivals already in existence. And so, this year, in our first commitment to The Year of The Wheel, we focused on the things we loved and left the other things behind.
We still listened to hymns we love and sand Silent Night. Because they’re beautiful songs. And the story of Jesus is a beautiful story.
But Jesus is not what we celebrate for Yule. Our family. Our friends. The things we took for granted for so long. We decorated our tree and left treats out.
We did it our way.
On Christmas Eve we had:
For dinner we had:
- Mom’s Salt-Crusted Prime Rib
- Sweet Potato Soufflé
- That Good Salad from NeighborFood
- Chocolate Chip Cookies &
- Coffee Pecan Fancies
We stuffed ourselves and looked at the gifts we managed to squeeze out for each other and hugged our babies close.
And we loved every minute of it. And we wish the same feelings for everyone out there. Not only the joy and thankfulness, but the feeling of bliss seated in the palm of your very own truth.
Celebrate the way you want.
And leave the rest behind. It isn’t serving you. That’s the best lesson I learned at the end of this arduous year.