As a child, my Christmas was always a religious/secular event. My family followed the German tradition of celebrating on Christmas Eve, something I was quite thankful for because I really had little patience for waiting for Santa to leave stuff overnight. Christmas Day was always spent praising Jesus, either at the Congregational Church or at Mass.
This ecclesiastic “either/or” came out of being raised by the blending of religious traditions on my maternal side. My grandmother was German Protestant (Congregational Church, now United Church of Christ) and my grandfather was German Catholic. On my father’s side, we go back to those happy Christians, the Pilgrims, who found ways to deaden any joy around the birth of the Savior.
My memories of celebrating Christmas in the Congregational Church are centered around the Advent Workshop that Nan Kaper would set up every year. I still have felt hangings from one of those Advents. Families would gather on Sundays after the church service and join in these activities as a way of deepening fellowship. It must have taken enormous amounts of organization, but as a child, my memories are centered around the fun of creating.
I honestly don’t remember whether there were special services December 25th if that day didn’t fall on a Sunday, or if we just waited until the Sunday closest to that day. But I do remember that the Church would be decorated in festive garlands of fresh evergreens, and red and white candles.
The music was the most fun, especially since the sanctuary would be full of folks and the sound of so many voices singing together was truly uplifting. The choir would have special soloists and the children’s choir would add their sweet voices to the mix.
While the Congregational Church was the mainstay of my childhood church experiences, I would occasionally attend Mass with my grandfather. I realize it is untoward to compare, but in terms of celebrating Jesus’ birthday, the Catholics ran away with first prize!
Part of the mystery and sense of sacredness came from the pageantry, pomp and ritual that a high Mass entails. When I was a child, the Mass was still being said in Latin, so the whole thing was like theatre! The archbishop would have on all the robes, the priests would be carrying the candles and censer, and all would walk in procession up to the altar. Then the Catholic aerobics would start with the prayer responses, the kneeling, and the standing. It was quite a workout!
The music for Christmas ranged from Father Gruber’s elegantly simple “Stille Nacht Heilige Nacht” to the rousing Hallelujah Chorus by George Friedrich Handel. Here too, the sanctuary was full and the voices of the congregants as well as the choir brought a different kind of chill.
Deep Winter Celebrations
It took me decades before I learned of the other deep Winter celebrations: Hanukkah, Yule, Solstice. I had Jewish friends and enjoyed lighting the Menorah, but never really could figure out the Jewish calendar and when Hanukkah would come around.
I traveled to England and was able to actually walk around Stonehenge before it had to be cordoned off. I marveled at the tenacity of those early astronomers whose engineering skills continue to focus the sun’s rays on the moment the Earth turns toward the light.
I fell in love with Yule when I connected with my Wild Woman archetype and imagined myself as a spirit deeply connected with animals and trees. This image still resonates with me, although I am no longer as wild as I once was.
Tapping into the Spiritual Energy
I try to imagine how my ancestors experienced this time of year. For example, what was it like for my grandparents when they were young at the turn of the last century? What role did Christmas play in the lives of their family? Did they enjoy making music and Christmas cards? Did they find delight in fellowship with other worshipers?
And going further back, did my Irish relatives who experienced such lack in the 1840’s, find the promise of Jesus’ birth to be hopeful, or did they identify with Mary and Joseph trying to find a safe place to have a baby?
Or reaching back into pre-Christian times. Did my Celtic ancestors get drunk on meade and dance till they dropped? Did my Germanic line light up trees in the forest and make sacrifices to the gods?
The Meaning of This Season for Me
I find this time of year I want to slow down and spend time contemplating what I have or haven’t accomplished. I want to sit with my hopes and fears, and give them space to exist without needing to do anything about them. I want to express gratitude for all that has come into my life and commit to sharing those things that have inspired me or encouraged me to be more authentic.
I have long since stopped attending traditional Christian church services. My spiritual beliefs and practices are no longer rooted in the Christian tradition, but those experiences left an indelible legacy.
What I Don’t Know and What I Imagine
There is a wonderful Christmas song written by Mark Lowry, “Mary Did You Know?” I first heard it sung by Pentatonix, but have since heard it done by many Country & Western singers. I love how it asks me to ponder what I don’t know and imagine what could be possible. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I am choosing to imagine positive things.
I am imagining that I will find ways to share what I know with others and they will attend my seminars and workshops.
I am imagining I will be able to travel again, and will find the perfect cat sitter so that I can go off knowing my fur buddies will be safe and loved.
I am imagining finding ways to make a difference in the lives of folks who are struggling with the challenges that aging brings.
I am imagining playing a bigger role on a larger stage and challenging ageist notions that hold so many of us hostage to stereotypes of decline and helplessness.
I am imagining deepening my connections to friends, expanding my participation in other communities, and finding companionship.
May you imagine wonderful things, too!
One response to “Happy Birthday, Jesus!”
This is wonderful Mary. Happy Christmas 🎄Loading…