I was a child who never had a Christmas.
I wasn’t Jewish.
Nor were my parents atheists, not by any definition of the word.
We were Christians. We just didn’t observe the religious holidays associated with that faith.
My parents explained to me that it was because the observations - the rituals, traditions and religious rites - associated with the Christian holidays were adapted from the pagans.
Besides, they said, even if Christ had been born on December 25th, we didn’t need one day of the year to celebrate his birth; they celebrated his life and death every day in everything they did.
I accepted that. But my child’s heart still yearned to believe in the magic of Santa and his elves. My storybook habit fed my imagination tales that ranged from the ironic sacrifices of the The Gift of the Magi to Jo March surrendering her one vanity in order to provide a fitting Christmas for her beloved sisters.
I couldn’t wait until I grew up and could have a tree of my own, decorated just the way I dreamed it. I would sit and watch it twinkle from my cozy chair by a roaring fire with a cup of hot cocoa or cider in hand. I pictured the friends who would gather, the songs we would sing, the laughs we would share. We’d pull taffy and make chains of popcorn and berries for the tree. We’d light candles and kiss under the mistletoe. Oh, when I grew up, I would have a Christmas that no one would ever forget!
And I did have many grown up Christmases. One year we even went out into the woods (well, not really, woods are scarce in Kansas so we went into the pasture) and cut down our own tree. Our big yellow dog, Saffron, went along and chased bunnies into the thickets and escorted us and our tree back to the car with a cheery wave of his plumy tail. I had parties, and friends. I had lights and laughter.
And I finally unwrapped the gift of growing up, a child who never had a Christmas.
I didn’t need Christmas. I just needed friends and fun, lights and laughter.
I didn’t need rituals. I just needed traditions of showing my love for the people who matter most in my life.
I didn’t need gifts. I just needed shared experiences, seconds glimpsed through a single lens by me and even one other person.
I had everything I needed. I always did. Christmas was just one way of experiencing and expressing what was already mine.
I love the beauty of the pagan rites, whether they are celebrated through the Christian interpretation or some other. They are expressions of the laughter, light and love that we all need to live. They remind us of our spiritual oneness and our spiritual wholeness. They speak to us of themes that are infinite and eternal – rebirth, giving and receiving, peace and lovingkindness.
But I don’t need them to experience my spirituality or to acknowledge the meaning these themes have for me.
I have said that I believe rituals are anchors – physical symbols and routines we use to anchor ourselves in the meaning that underlies the ritual. They are only powerful when the ritual has meaning.
If the ritual is an expectation, of giving and accepting gifts, of cooking the feast and doing the dishes, of standing in lines and signing the cards, and sending polite “thank yous” for things we didn’t need or want -then that becomes the anchor. That becomes what follows us from holiday to holiday, gathering to gathering, tradition to tradition.
Having had my dreams of Christmases come true, I no longer count the day itself as special. I do, however, count the meaning it has to me as essential in the fabric of my life. I enjoy sharing the rituals of others, they speak to me because of my bond with the people celebrating them. But it is the bond that matters, not the ritual.
I was a child without Christmas, I am now an adult blessed with everything that Christmas stood for when I stood on the outside looking in.
Whatever ritual ties you to the experience and expression of peace and light and love – I hope you will celebrate it as an anchor. I hope that you will pin it to yourself like that post-it note of vital information that’s pinned to your bulletin board at home or at the office.
Gifts don’t need a reason or a season.
Because every season is a season of the heart – and the gift of your heart is the greatest gift you will ever give or receive.
I wish you happy happy, merry merry, joy joy, today and every day!