I used to blatantly, agree with those who said or posted on fb, “Keep Christ in Christmas!” or “Christ is the Reason for the Season!” but recently, as I’ve been meeting new and different people in my various writing groups, I realize that Christmas means different things to different people and it’s very judgmental of me to think I know how someone else should think about Christ or celebrate Christmas!
It was easier and fun celebrating Christmas when the kids were little. We sang Christmas carols and other fun Christmas songs, decorated our tree, sometimes with a train under it, set out other favorite decorations, and counted the days until Christmas, using a wall-hanging with a felt Christmas tree and 24 pockets holding felt ornaments that each stuck to the tree. A nativity set was placed on the top of a three-shelf unit, with the animals eating from the manger and aluminum foil stars shining on the wall behind it. Until Christmas Eve, the shepherds watched their sheep on the piano, the wise men sought the star of the East from a distant, corner end table, and Mary and Joseph and their donkey made their way to the stable, from the vantage point of the top of a stereo system. (Baby Jesus was either hidden away, until the appropriate time, or, in later years, He was wrapped in plastic or cloth and attached to Mary with a rubber band… for the effect that she was actually pregnant.) They all managed to convene at the stable on Christmas Eve, except for the wise men who actually took longer to arrive.
On Christmas Eve, we read the Christmas story from a children’s Bible story book and acted out the Nativity story and went to a Christmas Eve service, sang songs, and opened gifts from each other. Sometimes, we watched The Best Christmas Pageant Ever or another Christmas movie. On Christmas morning, there were stockings filled with treats and a gift or two from Santa. We decorated pre-cut cookies and ate brunch together. Sometimes, we visited our families back home, spending Christmas Eve with one family and Christmas Day with the other. As I look back, it was fun and traditional for us, but in other ways, it was rather “formal,” stilted, and, oftentimes, predictable, almost as if it were pre-arranged and a production of sorts, planned mostly by me, with little room for spontaneity, new ways of doing things, and barely accepting the changing feelings and beliefs or desires of each child, as they grew towards and into adulthood. Now, with our kids grown and some married, and one with a child, we have the opportunity to find and create new ways to celebrate Christmas, as a family, whether we are together in one location or have some family members far away.
I remember one Christmas when I chose not to set up the tree because I didn't see how it had anything to do with Christ or Christianity. Instead, I set out a makeshift manger by using a cardboard, tote box with a doll. However, my three-year-old didn’t understand why we couldn’t have a tree like other people. I set up the tree the next year, with the tote box manger next to it, and continued to do so, for many years after that.
I’m learning that beliefs are very personal and we really cannot dictate or teach them to others. We can only share our beliefs and invite others to consider them. We can choose to accept the beliefs of others, as true for them, at that particular time in their lives and realize that some beliefs will change, over time, with knowledge, experience, deeper faith and understanding. We may spend time with and work together with others who share similar beliefs. However, if we only hang out with those who think the same way we do, because we think we are “right,” then I think that would be cliquish or acting Pharisaical.
I’m not saying that it’s not important to consider who we hang out with or who we choose as our closest friends. I wonder why some people, and I have been one of them, become so afraid of changing how we think or act that we feel as if we will fall out of a boat and become lost in a sea of churning thoughts and ideas or be shunned by those who disagree with us. Perhaps, it’s true and we’re afraid of changing the way we have thought or believed as truth for such a long time. I realize now, it is very important to carefully consider the truth of what we interpreted to be true, as children, and be willing to clarify or even change the long-held values, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that we no longer believe are true for us today.
I remember, as a kid, reading or hearing Psalm 23 and being afraid of the Good Shepherd who had a rod and staff. I thought those items were used to hit and hurt those who were disobedient. That psalm certainly didn’t comfort me back then. I didn’t realize the rod and staff were used by a shepherd to protect the sheep from predators and to retrieve any sheep who feel off a ledge. I was also fearful and confused about a prayer I said before I went to sleep, as a child: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I became confused about which part of the prayer used “keep” and “take” and wondered what would happen to me, if I said the prayer wrong. I also didn’t relish dying in the middle of the night. It was not a calming prayer for me, as a child. Now I know that God doesn’t care if I mess up the words of a prayer. He just wants me to love and trust Him and become the unique and creative person He created me to be.
I’m reminded of another verse in the Bible that says, when we are children, we think like a child, but when we become men or women, our childish ways pass. Well, I’m here to say that I have gray hair… no, silver hair… and, although I’m no longer a child, I am still learning to become more and more of an adult, seeking and learning truths and finding that many of my beliefs were formed when I didn’t fully understand something, as a child, many years ago. I’m also noticing that those thoughts and related feelings, sometimes, pop up in my life, as reactions, and need to be addressed from an adult perspective. I’m willing to set aside my childish ways and thoughts and am making choices to grow and continue to mature in areas of showing compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness towards myself and others, as well as, serving others, things that weren’t expressed or taught clearly to me, while growing up.
One example of being more considerate toward others includes how I act while driving. For me, this includes not only blessing those drivers who zoom past me or cut me off, after the initial shock and adjusting my driving to suddenly accommodate them, but realizing we are all driving somewhere… as a community of drivers, driving in lanes around each other. I can choose to be gracious and kind and allow safe, following distances and room for another car to change lanes instead of tailing someone ahead of me, driving in a reckless manner around other drivers, or basically, acting as if I own the road. It may seem like something small to you, but for me, it’s showing compassion for others who are on the road with me and a way of showing the spirit of Christ to others, without being preachy.
In my heart and spirit, I can celebrate Christmas by remembering, celebrating, and being thankful that God sent His son, Jesus Christ, into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. (For many, many decades, I believed that Jesus came to condemn the world. This is another example of living with twisted Scripture or faulty beliefs. The thought of God condemning the world terrified and terrifies me!) I can also be mindful of others, their needs, worries, concerns, doubts, and joys during and throughout this Christmas season and accept their beliefs as uniquely their own.
No matter how, when, or if you celebrate Christmas or the “holidays” this year, I hope you experience peace, joy, and love in your heart and spirit, enjoying times of connection with others, in your home, at a bus stop, mall or restaurant, at a gathering, or while on the road to wherever you are going.
I ask God’s blessings for you this Christmas and holiday season and throughout this New Year!
Wishing Peace and Love to you, and to your loved ones, today and always!
P.S. If you would like to know why I kept my Christmas tree up all year and have celebrated Christmas and God’s love and the love of my beloved, deceased grandmother, every day this past year, you can read about it and see pictures at: http://twowhitebutterflies.blogspot.com/2013/03/happy-easter.html.
I also wrote about dealing with grief over my grandmother passing away on this day, December 20th, over four decades ago, in this post: http://twowhitebutterflies.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-end.html.