For a few years, before my mother divorced my father and married her second husband, we were garden-variety Christians who celebrated the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25, along with the rest of Christendom. I was too young to understand the particulars of our theology, but it seemed pleasant. Sunday school was awesome. We made church buildings out of sticks. We ate those vanilla sandwich cookies. In one of the most stunning acts of grace I ever witnessed, one Sunday my teacher spilled her juice because one of the students had already just so, and was crying.
I never forgot that, how the teacher’s spill took the focus off that crying child, who thought he was about to be punished for being clumsy. He was not. He was hugged.
My parents had been married in that church, with its basement dinners and Friday night weddings. Because I showed an early love of microphones, I once gave a recitation at the Christmas pageant. The spotlight blinded me and the only way I could get through it was to pretend I was talking directly to Baby Jesus. As practiced, I ended with “Did I say my speech alright?” and a tilt of my head, and then did the equivalent of a mic drop.
Afterward, my Sunday school teacher cried and my mother might have also.
And then my mother divorced and the man she re-married was a Christian fundamentalist, and we were thrust onto the cold landscape of that hard-shell theology, with no pianos at church, no Christmas, and no Easter, either. Christmas, after all, was foisted upon the rest of the world (Christ-mass…get it?) by Roman Catholics intent on stealing our babies and our souls.
Or something like that.
We were just kids, and we mostly did as we were told, though I believe my mother knew that if in our new-found faith she took away the tree and presents along with everything else, she’d be swept up in a full-blown rebellion launched by three children willing to torch the house to get what they wanted.
So we had secular Christmas — no mangers, but lots of glitter. A few families at my church didn’t even have that — cleaving, instead, to the notion that all religious holidays were from the devil and we should be blessed to be celebrating Jesus every Lord’s Day (Sunday).
So we’d gather on or around Christmas and sing not a single carol. We’d gather on Easter Sunday, and sing nothing about the resurrection.
I know. Go figure. A fundamentalist can split a hair, and then split it four more times. I know. I’ve done it.
Jesus was not born in December, and a lot of the rituals we enjoy were gathered/stolen from other faiths and cultures, but the songs and the manger sometimes make me long for my pretend life, the one in my head, the one I had before we became fundamentalists. In that life, I don’t struggle with my faith. It just is. In that life, I am comfortable in a pew and my prayer life isn’t spotty. I am wise. I Think Deep Thoughts. God talks directly to me, and not in code.
And then I remember that I am the creator of my faith, and blaming a childhood for where I am is pretty intellectually lazy on my part.
And I also remember the wonderful things I learned from Angry Fundamentalist Jesus (mostly, that things should be fair, and that Christians who read their Book know they must work to make things so). And I remember that after crawling through the desert that is fundamentalism, things turned out incredibly well, and not just “considering.”
Tonight, I will spend time with my husband’s family, who have become my family and I don’t say that lightly.
Tomorrow, I will go to my son’s house and be enfolded there.
I am stepping away from the blog for a few days. I’ll be back on Dec. 31, when I hope we can get together and share New Year’s resolutions we have no intention of keeping.
In the meantime: Merry Christmas. However you celebrate, whether you celebrate, may you be surrounded by light and love. Those are, after all, the best gifts of all.