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When I was a child, Christmas to me meant about what it means to most other children of low-medium income families. I was always excited about the presents, of course. I have to give a huge kudos to my parents. I think almost every year I heard, “Well there won’t be very much under the Christmas tree for us this year.” But every year when I came down Christmas morning I was wildly surprised with the HUGE amount of gifts there seemed to be.
Christmas in our house was simple. My brothers and I gained pleasure (or shall I say that my parents gave us pleasure) through the simplest things…
like driving around the neighborhood to look at the houses all decorated by saying
“THEY GO BIG ON CHRISTMAS LIGHTS!”
like picking out our Christmas tree every year
like enjoying the hershey kisses in our stockings
like my dad coming in the door on Christmas eve night, after we’d gone to bed, saying “ho ho ho!” pretending to be Santa
like our little plastic canvassed, homemade Christmas tree advent calendar, where we got to put up an ornament every day until Christmas
like listening to that old, beat-up tape of the Ray Coniff singers and the Vienna boys choir, while driving through yet another lake-affect snowstorm in northeast Ohio
like rolling on the floors laughing and being goofy listening to our Raffi and The Chipmunks CDs
Life in our house at Christmastime, as simple as it was, was pristine and perfect. We children have instilled in us the ability to appreciate the value of how much joy can be derived from the little things in life. We would spend Christmas day at home, just the six of us, and then travel 3 hours to Grandmas where we’d have Christmas with them and sometimes a few cousins. We have more traditions of course, but, as each family loves and enjoys their own traditions the most, I won’t go into them here. Us four grew older and entered adolescence, but when it came to Christmas the only difference you would probably notice is how tall we were and the peach fuzz on my older brothers’ chins.
When I was 15, all of that changed. A close family member began living a lifestyle that was steeped in paganism and occultism. He came to us declaring that our “Christmas” celebration had nothing to do with our God (Christ) but rather his gods and godesses. He triumphed in knowing that we were duped into celebrating a pagan holiday (the Winter Solstice) along with the rest of Christianity. After some research we realized that he was right, and in the interest of trying to return this loved one to the God he once knew, and keeping a clean conscience before the God we adored, we stopped celebrating Christmas all together.
The first year was awkward…I think we tried to “over-spiritualize” by celebrating the Lord’s Supper in our home and listening to Handel’s Messiah. While this difficult decision did include us, we children had a hard time accepting no more Christmas.
The next year and the two or three thereafter, we tried to establish new traditions. We had family game day on Christmas day, substituted non-traditional favorite foods for the regular holiday foods, and even started a gift exchange on Thanksgiving. It was never quite the same, and we all knew it.
Over those four years, this family member’s beliefs waffled and changed just as his life did as a whole. He still has not come back to Christ, and we don’t really know where he stands in his beliefs. We ache for him and pray that he will soon.
In 2005, when I was 18, my family decided at the last minute that they had had enough “scrooging” and that we had to change something. We bought a few gifts for each other. Unfortunately, this Christmas didn’t turn out so well either…as a few weeks before Christmas some terrible things happened in our lives. The only thing I can think to call that Christmas was “The Christmas of Tears.” The ghosts of that Christmas continued to haunt our grieving family all throughout 2006, but by the end of the year we were starting to heal, and live again.
I was a sophomore in college, sitting on my bed in my dorm room, when my mom called me. There was a hint of magic in her voice as she said, “This year…we are going to have CHRISTMAS!” Thus began a whirlwind of joy and the typical holiday frenzy. Christmas was back in our household, where it has remained and always will.
(Me – Christmas 2006)
I digressed into this painful dialogue because I believe that understanding my “history with Christmas” is essential for my readers to truly understand what Christmas means to me. I know what it’s like to NOT celebrate Christmas. So I believe that I appreciate it far more than most people will ever comprehend. Even my husband just looks at me with that “you are so crazy” look when I start going nuts with excitement about this holiday.
But even in all of my excitement and appreciation, Christmas (to me) is not about the birth of Christ. I know the truth about Christmas…Jesus isn’t and never has been “the reason for the season” nor do I even attempt to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Christmas (to me) isn’t a religious holiday so much, nor is it a secular holiday (as even I struggle with all the commercialization of the season). Christmas is what I consider to be a “family holiday”…a day that I spend with the people most special to me.
I still do all the things that everyone else does. I have a tree, pagan though it may be…because it seems so cheery and magical. I listen to the music because it makes me feel like an innocent child once again, one who can forget all the pain I have seen in my lifetime. I bake the cookies and eat the food, because that’s just common sense!! (YUM!!!)
But Christmas to me is simply what it always has been: Finding pleasure in the little things in life, not because of the things themselves, but because of who you share them with.
As my Christmas card for this year states: “Christmas is a time to celebrate the special people in our lives.”
That’s what Christmas means to me.