I’ve had the good fortune lately of seeing quite a bit of my parents, which has led to our usual types of discussion–politics, religion, how to attach the toilet paper holder in our front bathroom–that sort of thing. It’s been wonderful, truly, and it was much of that discussion that led me to attempt to put words to my thoughts about Christmas, and why it is so important to me.
I am not a Christian. While my liberal Quaker upbringing was certainly influential in shaping much of who I am, I have never believed in the divinity of Christ, and in truth, religion itself has never actually meant anything to me. There were times in my youth that I wondered if something was wrong with me because of this. I saw belief in the eyes of other children, but could never muster any of it myself. I could not fear or worship God. Tales from the bible seemed no more real to me than fairy tales or the Greek myths I read about in school, and significantly less real than the stories of Frances Hodgson Burnett or Charlotte Bronte. I’ve been told that people find comfort and community in religion, but I found those things in other places, and I trust my own moral compass more than that of any church. In the end, religion is not something that I’ve missed in my life, and though I think most every religion has brought something of worth into the world, there is nothing of their individual traditions or rituals that has any meaning for me personally.
Except for Christmas. I love Christmas so deeply, it is difficult for me to express it in terms that don’t sound ridiculous. And it is not the Santa-fied, Ho Ho Ho, presents from Walmart Christmas I’m talking about either. I love the old carols, telling over and over the story of the Christ child, so much so that it isn’t unusual for me to be caught listening to “Carols from Kings” as early as July. I know all the verses of “Good King Wenceslas” by heart (and yes, I do realize it is really a St. Stephen’s Day carol). I love the colors and smells, and the warmth of home and family. I love the light displays and the decorations shining from the trees, even those that are obviously tacky, and I often find tears in my eyes as I look at them. There is a beauty in Christmas that I feel so desperately it almost hurts. I treasure every carol, every drop of eggnog, every rich color, sound and scent of the Christmas season as though it were the last I’ll ever know.
For years I have wondered at this paradox. What is it about Christmas that touches me so deeply, when the rest of Christianity leaves me cold? This question has plagued me for so long, it’s left me often feeling embarrassed and hypocritical, but I think perhaps I have finally figured it out. I’m almost afraid to write it down here for fear of offending every Christian who reads my journal, but I’m hoping that my personal journey can be taken as just that and nothing more.
I think that I love Christmas for the same reason as I love the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett or Charlotte Bronte. I think in the end it comes down to my love of a beautiful story, and could there be a story more beautiful? A poor baby, born in a stable, is hailed as a savior by people all over the world. They travel for days on foot to bring him gifts, from the richest kings to the poorest shepherds, and all because of what ultimately comes down to the child’s capacity for love. The baby is prophesied to bring love and peace to all the world, and they all believe in this so fully that they are willing to give up anything they have to show their gratitude. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s a tale worthy of celebration, whether one believes it literally or not. It teaches us the value of love, and of finding family in unexpected places.
And here is where I am sure I have offended. Is it wrong for me to celebrate a Christian story when I don’t believe that it is fact? Am I entitled to find beauty and truth in something I regard as fiction? The question seems almost ludicrous to me, because surely I would not be even asking such a thing about any other story. But though to me there is no difference between the Christmas story and The Secret Garden, I am obviously aware that there are legions of humans (and have been for centuries) who believe this particular story to be divine fact, and who have fought and killed for the right to that belief (and in some cases to force that belief upon others, but that is another entry altogether). Is it offensive for me to love this story, and to celebrate it with as much fervor as they? Is it wrong to love it for different reasons? Can one blaspheme what one does not believe in the first place?
I’m not sure what I’m really asking here, or if I’m asking anything at all. Truthfully, I have no intention of ceasing my Christmas celebration to avoid offending others, even though they may express offense. And really, I don’t even think that is what this entry is about. I think perhaps I am just writing this down for myself, so that I will have words to express what I love about Christmas, and why I celebrate it in the way I do. Perhaps as I think about my future children, I need to understand what this means to me, so that I will be able to explain it to them.
Perhaps I’ll regret posting this to the public. Perhaps not. I’d love to talk more about how I feel about religion, though it’s bound to be even more offensive to some. Which is maybe okay. If anyone else is interested in discussing Christianity (or religion in general) as myth, let me know. Maybe we can just talk amongst ourselves. 🙂
Es ist ein’ Ros’ entsprungen
Aus einer Wurzel zart,
Wie uns die Alten sungen:
Von Jesse kam die Art;
Und hat ein Blümlein bracht,
Mitten im kalten Winter,
Wohl zu der halben Nacht