Thursday, December 8, 2011

christmas eve

I'm not much of a Christian.  I think there are certain prerequisites to being a Christian, one of which is believing in God.  Nonetheless, I am a Christmas lover.  I love all of it.  The evergreens, the fact that pretty much every commercial on TV is about buying for someone else (even car ads, which, come on, do people really buy cars as gifts?), that people listen to music recorded in the 40s, etc. 

It has taken me a while to land where I have with Christmas.  I have always loved it, but I used to be a lot more militant about making sure my Christmas celebration was strictly secular.  I consciously wrote "xmas."  I worked the Christmas Eve shift at the mall so I couldn't get to my parents' house in time for church.  I ignored nativity scenes, and eschewed "Silent Night" in favor of "Deck the Halls" or "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer."

Now, I have mellowed.  I not only go out of my way to attend Christmas Eve church, we make the kids put on nice clothes and go with us, just this one night a year.  We have not one, but two nativity scenes in our house.  O Holy Night is my favorite Christmas song.  I'm not sure why I've re-embraced the religious aspects of the holiday.  Sometimes I tell myself that I want the kids to appreciate all the different parts of Christmas.  Sometimes I tell myself that they need at least a little religious education, considering that years ago a 4 year-old A loudly cried out "WHO'S THAT?" upon spotting a crucified Jesus statute when in a church for a wedding.  But really, it's not about them, it's about me.

I know that the religious symbolism was imposed upon non-Christian symbols in an attempt to co-opt pagan holidays.  Christmas is, underneath, a celebration of the Winter Solstice, of the returning of light to a cold and frightening earth -- lights on evergreens, candles in the windows, yule logs, etc.  But for a thousand or so years now, it has also been a Christian holiday, and that is how I was introduced to Christmas, 30 years ago.  The real reason I like the nativities in our house is because I have such fond memories of playing with a nativity as I was growing up.  I like going to church on Christmas Eve because it's comfortable for me, like an old hat I put on once a year, and remember where I came from.  The church we go to has a non-judgemental pastor, who gives nice secular sermons about family and giving on Christmas Eve -- values I can accept.  The kids like the bells.  We light a candle and remember elderly relatives that have passed away, and that we miss; I like the melancholy happiness of remembering my paternal grandparents on Christmas Eve, and the ghost of Christmases past that I spent in their home (I still wish someone would put new socks and a scratch-off lotto ticket in my stocking, like my Grandma used to). 

I suppose that once I was able to settle into myself a little, once I knew myself well enough that I did not have to assert it quite so hard, I was able to recognize that, although I might not actually still believe in the religion I was raised to believe in, it is a part of me, and a part that I like to revisit, this one time a year.  The tradition gives it weight.  Walking out of the church in high heels on Christmas Eve, trying very hard not to slip on the ice and fall down, I always feel lonely and loved, all at once.  I am again a little girl in patent leather shoes holding my mom's hand and going home, and at the same time I am a grown woman, a thousand miles away, holding Kathy's hand and going home.

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