Like so many non-religious, Christian-ish derived families in America we always celebrated Christmas. We always got a tree, decorated it with lights and glass balls, ceramic animals in Santa hats and at least 2.5 “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments per person. We sent and received Christmas cards, most that said something like “happy holidays” or “peace on earth” and piled mounds of wrapped presents under the Christmas tree. After the present orgy we ate a big meal, played cards and were awkward or awful to each other, depending on how much alcohol was involved. There was no god, or Jesus, or spirituality at all involved. As a kid I loved my dad’s ancient nativity set, but felt weird about Christmas carols like O Holy Night and even Joy To the World.
As I’ve spent time exploring my own spirituality I have found a fair amount of meaning and tradition to pull out of that strictly materialistic celebration of my Photo by HRW Worchester childhood. As I studied ancient and neo-Pagan beliefs and practices I have built a winter celebration that I really enjoy. Of course, though, as soon as you think you’ve got something figured out the universe throws a wrench in the works. Keeps you on your feet, I guess.
This Advent season I started attending a Friends church in my neighborhood. Quakers come out of a Christian tradition and some groups are quite traditional and conservative in their Christian belief. The Meeting I am attending, though Portland-Oregon-liberal, still includes scripture readings and some serious Jesus talk at times. The last Sunday of Advent Meeting for Worship included a “Christmas Pageant”, the first I’ve ever attended, where the kids dressed as characters of their choice, gather around a growing nativity set. If there is anything more in the spirit of Christmas than a dozen tiny angels with bed sheet robes and pipe cleaner halos, I don’t know what is.
Being exposed to all this Christ focused thought, including that found in Waldorf inspired blogs I’ve been reading, and a “new believer’s New Testament” bible I found in a free pile, has led me to a reexamination of my beliefs about Jesus. But reexamination has not led to any conclusions yet. I still have some major reservations about Jesus and Christianity, reservations that may never be reconciled. The Bible I found has an introduction for new readers that sums up Christian belief. After long meditation I disagree with almost every point, from original sin to a devil who tries to keep us from the light. I also don’t quite hold with photo by Fruitnveggies' a belief in time with a singular beginning, pivotal and unique points and a final end. Both my spiritual and scientific world views see time as cyclical, rather than linear. And without a belief in original sin or the unique event of Jesus Christ’s life can I really believe in redemption through his death? At the same time there is so much theology and philosophy woven throughout Christianity that I couldn’t possibly reject it all out of hand. Rudolph Steiner wrote extensively about Christ and I haven’t read any of that. I look forward to continuing to broaden and deepen my relationship with Christianity, and with human’s relationships with the divine.
The pastor at my Friend’s meeting left us with a final thought the other weekend. He said that all of the characters in the Nativity story were active participants in the story. Each of the participants had heard God’s invitation and actively engaged in the events. He said some people were like the Shepherds, minding their own business until they were asked to come and witness God’s works while some are like the Magi who had been searching for a lifetime. Others are like Joseph who thinks he has everything worked out before God wrenches everything apart only to put it back together completely differently. He reminded us to listen for that invitation this Christmas season, listen for the invitation and accept it, no matter what our part may be to play. What invitation are you being sent this winter?
Christmas, though, is very much about tradition. No one ever read me the story of the birth of Jesus when I was a child, so my traditions aren't about that part of the story. In the end, there is one story that sums up Christmas to me.
"'Twas the Night Before Christmas"
By Clement Clarke Moore
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONDER and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!