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.