coming around to Christmas
My first Christmas was at age 26. I'd bought my house in February 2013, and in December, I drove the mile to the nearest tree farm, and picked out a tree, feeling like some kind of combination sinner/traitor. My brother and I covertly set the tree up in the guestroom so it wouldn't be immediately visible if our parents dropped by. We didn't own any ornaments, so we ended up looking for little things from around the house that could be strung up. We didn't know you had to water the tree.
This is because we grew up not celebrating religious holidays (or birthdays.)
There were benefits: there's a lot of consumerism inherent in celebrating these "worldly" days, as they were referred to in our childhood home. By opting out, you save some money, some stress, some time.
But you also lose, in the case of Christmas and Easter, the entire sense of the church year.
That is something I've only learned to appreciate in the few years, while in the Lutheran church.
Those of you who grew up with the church calendar may not realize how incredibly grounding it is! Easter makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE when you go through Lent first. Christmas makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE when you go through Advent first.
(I guess what I'm saying here is: if you're going to not celebrate these holidays, I get why. Yes, there are pagan associations. Guess what: those are everywhere. We haven't yet managed to Christianize the names of the days of the week. If someone has, I don't want to know about it. But if you ARE going to celebrate these holidays, why not do it in the context of the church year?)
The only other people we knew growing up who also didn't celebrate were other non-denominational or Plymouth Brethren and/or homeschooling families, whose entire reason for not celebrating was "if it's not implicitly named in Scripture, we must eschew it" (I used to ask about deodorant and aspirin and was told "that's different",) or alternatively, "if it exists but you can give it up for Jesus, that's better."
(At a later date, I'm going to have to write about how long it took me to start wearing pants, makeup, and jewelry...)
Back when there were larger groups of Brethren still speaking to each other, they used to hold their conferences over Christmas, because no one was supposed to be celebrating, so where else did you have to be?
Jehovah's Witnesses, who also don't celebrate birthdays or religious holidays, probably had better exegetical reasons. We used to go on vacation over Christmas week because everything was empty. There were usually some JWs quietly splashing in the resort pools along with us. My late grandfather, a prolific and relatively notorious dispensational theologian, had a 20 page pamphlet denouncing the entire concept, never mind celebration of Christmas, most of which hinged on Jesus not actually being born on December 25th. (I'm willing to concede that point!)
Birthdays (which many of our friends quietly celebrated) were right out because "John the Baptist was beheaded at the only Scripturally recorded birthday party."
WE JUST WANTED CAKE, gosh! (My brother and I had a joint birthday party in 2014. Turns out literally ALL I like about birthdays is cake.)
We grew up exchanging gifts at Thanksgiving, since it was the only way my paternal grandparents could participate. The gifts had Christmas paper on them. We once attended some kind of Christmas show at a botanical garden - I was still pretty small, but I remember I was old enough to read. Everyone got a handout of the songs to sing along with, and we were told, okay, you can sing THIS verse of this song. I don't know what that was about. Probably a perceived doctrinal error. I do know my parents didn't like Nativity scenes, for the same reasons they don't like crucifixes - they have an issue with Jesus being displayed as weak: perpetually a baby, or perpetually dying. (I don't agree. He was those things at a specific point in time. We can acknowledge that without weakening Him, because nothing we do could actually weaken Him... right?)
When I was a teenager, we had one CD of Christmas music. Charlotte Church, I think. We loved it. I had literally never heard some of the songs before. Trust me, I understand - and get - Christmas music fatigue now, like everyone else. But part of me is still getting used to it, and kind of loves ALL of the goofy holiday trappings.
Meanwhile, we have made a little progress. We don't feel as guilty buying a tree - it now resides in the living room. Not wanting to give offence, we generally don't invite our parents over while the tree is still up. I haven't put a ton of energy into trying to establish family traditions, because it felt desperate, like trying to make up for 25 lost Christmases. I'm keeping an eye on what the families around me do. I have no particular vision for what our Christmases are going to look like in the future, and so I may steal your family's best ideas. You've been warned. Now pass the eggnog.