Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Memories

As promised, a little bit about my Christmas past. I don't think I'm alone in feeling torn between the way I was raised and the inclusion/political correctness of our society. I try to be as sensitive as I can to the needs of those who don't share my cultural traditions, and at the same time, I sometimes get frustrated with the level of our pendulum swing.

I was not raised in a religious or even spiritual home originally. I'm pretty sure that I spent more time at my friend's churches than I ever did at a church "home" with my own family. I went to church with my 3rd grade teacher in Germany, to a friend's Church of Christ church (no instruments - I'd never heard of such a thing), another friend's vacation Bible school (I can still recite all the books of the New Testament from a song I learned there), a Christian Center church with 1970s Christian rock music, I had Jewish girlfriends who never really taught me anything about Chanukah although I REALLY wanted to learn. Christmas was a holiday when Santa came and we got some toys and Christmas cards. Sometimes relatives would come to visit, but mostly, not.

When we lived in Germany, we joined in their traditions of wooden ornaments and birds on the trees. We celebrated St. Nicholaus day on Dec. 5 by putting a shoe by the door. If you were "good" you would get little candies and toys in your shoe. If you were not good, you would get a switch in your shoe.

From the ages of 9-12, I lived in Panama City, Florida where I went to public school. When I was in the sixth grade, at Patterson Sixth Grade Center, I was in the choir. That year, for the Christmas program, we did a musical called, "One Small Child". Clearly, Christmas has its roots in Christianity and is the celebration of the birth of Christ. I get that. When I was 12, I didn't really think about it that much. To give you a sense of this musical, here is the first stanza of the first song (yes, I still know it by heart...):
"One small child, sent from God,
stem of hope from Jesse's rod,
light of light, king of kings,
in his hand salvations rings.
Born to save us all from doubt and sorrow
born to lead us all to a new tomorrow,
born to be a hope for peace to every nation
a gift of love for all creation..."

I LOVED that musical. In fact, somewhere in a box, I have a cassette recording of us singing that musical. The entire show is about the REAL (i.e. Christian) meaning of Christmas. To be honest, although I was a fairly smart child, I didn't really register that the show was particularly religious because at that time, in that place (deep south, people), that was the norm. In the late 1970s in Panama City, Florida, I don't think saying "happy holidays" was a twinkle in anyone's eye. I don't know how it was for the rest of the country, but I'm pretty sure that we were fairly ethnocentric as a nation.

I remember when I was in high school - I think it was 1984 - when the word "Christmas" was banned from the school. We weren't allowed to have any form of Christmas anything. In our journalism room, we had a "Purple Wish Tree" that looked remarkably like a Christmas tree but was decorated with intricately cut purple snowflakes. My best friend at the time was Jewish and even she mocked the change "in name only" to all the traditions. I asked her at the time if it bothered her that there was Christmas stuff everywhere - did it offend her or upset her. She was not a religious Jew, she called herself culturally Jewish, so perhaps her answers gave me a false sense of safety - she didn't mind. In fact, one year, she spent the night with me on Christmas Eve and celebrated with the family in the morning.

Why am I rambling on about this? Well, I guess all of this is to say that I find myself confused annually. I respect those folks who do not celebrate Christmas and I don't want to offend them by throwing Christmas in their faces every two seconds, and at the same time, I love songs like, "Away in a Manger" and "Angels We Have Heard On High". I love "The Charlie Brown Christmas" special (particularly the tree). By the same token, I love that Peter, Paul and Mary sing "Light One Candle" to honor the Jewish tradition of Chanukah and I would love to learn about other cultures and their traditions. This week, when I was talking to folks who are "not from our tribe", I found myself commiserating with them. When talking to the Christmas crowd, I can relate to them.

It is complicated, isn't it?

Regardless of all of this, I wish anyone who visits here much joy and peace and a SAFE New Year. I wish you all love and laughter and time with your family and friends. That's what really matters, right? No matter what we call our celebrations or how they come to be, the most important part of that is love.

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