I remember my very first Christmas. We had a very small table top tree that possessed a few more needles than the one Charlie Brown had. There was a string of lights and a few ornaments, including a hand made cross tree topper that was fashioned from two sticks gathered from the front yard. The tree and the trimmings were borrowed, the year 1994, and the guilt I was feeling over that dinky bit of fake pine was nearly palatable.
Its a difficult thing to decide to do something you’ve been told your whole life was wrong, that participating in such a ritual was a sure sign of apostasy and that to do was was to willingly turn your back on God. It’s rather terrifying, wondering if they, the religious leaders you are now ignoring, were right all along, and everyone else, who is doing just what you are doing, is wrong. But then fear was a huge part of my religious construct.
Most of what I believed and practiced up until that year was because I was terrified of the consequences if I didn’t. I questioned the faith I’d been brought up in all the time. I just never voiced them. Fear kept them on a little shelf that resided only in my mind.
What did I know about Christmas? Oh the usual.
1.Jesus was not born on December 25. That day was a Roman pagan holiday and must be avoided at all costs.
2. Ancient Pagans had Christmas trees. Its right there in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:2-4)
3. Wise men, Mistletoe, Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, tinsel, carols, etc, are an affront to God and those who participate in those Satanic things will be thrown into the Lake of Fire
4. No true Christian kept such evil holidays, along with any other holiday that may remotely be attached to the traditional Christian calendar.
That naughty little list, along with the other teachings of my old religion held me back, kept me afraid, of God, of religion, of how others perceived me. But despite my spiritual and emotional terror, I have this one fatal flaw, stubborn curiosity. By the time my sad little tree was settled nicely in my living room, I’d spent a year in an ongoing comparative religion experience, splitting time between my old church, and a small Southern Baptist one that I’d been roped into playing piano for. That time helped me walk away from the faith that kept me in terror, and started me on a path that was brand new.
While my new religious path was initially terrifying, my fatal flaw went into overdrive. I began to understand the hows and whys that millions of Christians celebrate Christmas. I began to respect that there is a rich tradition and history to this holiday, and I began to realize that even the non-religious or people of other faiths can find some value in parts of this winter holiday. I also discovered that there are other major holidays that occur during the same period, practiced by people of different faiths, yet that get very little attention, outside those that participate. A comparative religions course I took a few years ago showed me that even though all faiths have their unique aspects, it is in what they have in common, that intrigued me.
Its been 20 years since that first Christmas and I enjoy this time of year, but religion has less and less to do with my personal celebration. I have never been able to go whole hog over it. I’ve tried, but the effort ended up feeling forced. I enjoy some of the holiday music that plays, leaning heavily towards the classics, Handel, Mendelssohn, ancient folk tunes and spirituals. I enjoy the decorations, but keep them fairly low key at my house. I love buying presents, trying to find the right thing for each recipient, but I’ve never been one to spend lavishly, mostly because our budget is small.
Yet my religious past, just doesn’t have me going whole hog over the religious aspects of it. I’ve tried, but just can’t make that leap. I find the story beautiful and endearing, and there is much depth and richness in the lessons of the birth of Christ. But my fatal flaw has me asking questions, that surround the religious tenets that surround this time of year.
But, I don’t have to be afraid anymore about how I celebrate a holiday. I don’t have to fear stepping out of the boxes of religious dogma. I no longer have to be in terror of questioning all things God. I can continue down the path, I embarked upon 20 years ago, at peace with where I am at as a skeptical mystic, who doesn’t quite fit within the boundaries of traditional Christianity. I wish at times, I still had that pitiful little tree. It represents a shift for me, a journey that began, even though has taken me a very long time, to discover that fear makes for a very poor aspect of faith, and is a terrible way to live one’s life.