The “True” Meaning of Christmas

The other day, I heard a Christian get very upset about people who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. He actually went into a bit of a rant about it – bragging about how he is sure to tell folks back, “No, Merry CHRISTmas!” (in a very sarcastic sneer of a voice) when this happens. After all, that’s what Christmas is about, right? Pissing people off and getting pissed off yourself, that is, right? ?!? Come on! Makes ya afraid to wish people well… they might get themselves in a tizzy over it.  Sheesh…

Ya know? Like most kids I loved Christmas as a child. I have fond memories of moments with both my mother and my father – both individually and as a family. We weren’t the model family by any means…  and my parents did not get along, at all – but, I only have good memories of Christmas.

My mom (the religious “nut”) was, of course, all about the “real” meaning of Christmas. To her, it was all about celebrating the birth of Jesus and the greatest gift of all that God gave to mankind – his son. We went to church. A lot.  I loved church at Christmas-time when I was a kid. The music… the plays… it was… beautiful. Moving. Magical.

If it were up to my Mom, we would have probably went to church on Christmas day too… but, that was where my Dad would put his foot down and insist we spend Christmas day as a family.  Not half of us at church… and half at home (since he and my oldest brother didn’t go to church).  I don’t recall my mom ever arguing about that… just wistfully wishing he would “see the light” and that we could all spend the day together as a family – at church, of course.  She dreamed that dream for many years… and prayed and prayed for it. Me? I was happy to spend the whole Christmas day at home with whatever new presents we received that morning… and/or going to my aunt’s house later to see cousins, grandparents, etc.

I remember my mom stressing to me over and over that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday and how we should never lose sight of that. Santa and presents – those things were just thrown in there. She warned that we shouldn’t get wrapped up with that “worldly” part (as enticing as it was).  We would sing Jesus happy birthday along with all the other Christmas songs.  I was completely okay with this.

My mother, one brother, and I were often coming or going to church… and I remember we’d drive different routes on the way home, just to see all the different decorations and lights people would put up.  My mom would usually get us lost… but, we didn’t care. She always got us home eventually.  We’d sing songs the whole way… and stop and look at some of the really cool houses. We especially looked for religious type decorations… manger scenes… but, we loved them all. My mom told me that each light, on each house, on each tree – was a birthday candle to Jesus. I thought that was so cool… and that Jesus must be reeeeeally old.

Then there’s the music… I always loved Christmas music.  I was always in chorus at school, and choir at church.. in plays… and often signing a solo or duet in church presentations… I have mixed feelings on some of that..  but,  I always loved Christmas music, and still do.  It is one of the few things I miss about church. I still sing the songs to my children… have CD’s. Just because I am not religious anymore, or got to church anymore – doesn’t mean I don’t still like the Christmas story itself.  It’s a beautiful story, and its music is also beautiful.  It just is.

Last year my family (my husband and I, and our 2 sons) attended a church for the first time in ages. We went to hear a couple of my friends sing in their church choir for their first time ever.  We went to hear the Christmas music, and I went to support them… and out of curiosity (because I know my one friend can’t sing! LOL).   I also thought, maybe, it would be nice to show my kids what the inside of a church looked like for a change. I thought I’d let them hear “the true meaning of Christmas” from the church perspective and see how they liked it. Both my boys love music too.

My boys did like seeing the Church… from the inside.  And they liked the music… but, they acted like they were going to die when the preacher kept talking and talking. My 10 year old son looked up at me in desperation and whispered, “I THOUGHT you said there was going to be MUSIC?!?”.    I sssshhhed him, and told him there WAS music… and there’d be more at the end. He rolled his eyes… fidgeted in his seat and acted as if he was going to die.

I almost died laughing when, the offering plate was passed around,
and my son looked up at me in surprise and whispered, “You have to PAY to come here?!?!?”.  I shook my head “nooooo”… but thought to myself,  “only if you want to go to heaven!”… =)  Of course, I didn’t say it out loud.   In the end, I was glad I went, but don’t think any of us have much of a desire to go back again anytime soon…  But, I may take them to hear the Christmas choir again this year anyway…  we’ll see.

Anyway – back to my childhood…

My Dad (“the” atheist) on the other hand, loved  pretending and the whole make-believe aspect of Christmas.  He was all into the stories of Santa and he had us all fooled alright. At least for a while. He was such the story-teller and prankster anyway. It was often hard to tell when he was kidding or not. But, I could usually tell.. he’d get that gleam in his eye and often crack himself up (eventually) when he was joking. He really loved to play up the Santa stories. I was the youngest.. and I think, my brothers probably told me it was all pretend before my Dad wanted me to know. Still, I believed anyway… because, I wanted to.

Yeah… my Dad liked to play a good joke. And, he liked to make us kids happy. To him, Christmas was all about the kids. All about family. However, he told us it was all about giving in general, and not about getting. He took us all shopping, and made us think long and hard about what to get our grandparents, etc. Dad was big into cards. He’d rather get a mushy card than a thoughtless gift. He’d spend long whiles in the card isle… picking out the right sentimental card for each person. Something I now do as well…

My Dad liked to sing too. He knew tons of silly songs. And, at Christmas time, he and I would sing Christmas songs together, one after another – from “Here comes Santa Claus”, to “Away in a Manger”. One of his favorites was “The First Noel”. Even he, an atheist, liked those songs. I remember I liked to turn the lights out, except for the tree lights, and snuggle up with my Dad on the couch… singing songs while we gazed at our beautiful Christmas tree. I liked to look at all the ornaments… and talk about them. And, he use to always tell me to squint my eyes a little when we looked at the colored lights… to make them turn into big, fuzzy, colored stars.

I don’t ever recall the horror that some folks tell the tale of when they first found out there was no Santa. I don’t really recall the moment I knew for sure. I remember wondering… doubting… for a long time… but, still wanting to believe. I wasn’t taking any chances. I figured, if believing got me presents? I was in! LOL Eventually, I just admitted I knew… but, my Dad still joked and would say, “I think I hear sleigh bells!”. That was enough to make my brothers and I run for bed. After all – Santa couldn’t come if we weren’t in bed, right?

I remember listening to my parents wrapping presents and setting things up. And thinking – “ah ha! They are putting the presents under the tree!”. I was always nosy. I liked to peek. I don’t remember being upset by it, though. I was just as anxious and excited as ever and couldn’t wait until Christmas morning. We really didn’t have much money… or get tons of expensive presents… but, we did all right… more than all right. We felt like the luckiest kids in the world on Christmas morning!

It’s funny. My mom and dad reeeeeeally did NOT get along. And, I know they didn’t see eye to eye on hardly ANYTHING. I know my mom didn’t like “Santa” stories… she didn’t encourage us to believe in Santa… yet – she never tried to spoil it for us either. She may have rolled her eyes a bit… and done her best to bring up what SHE thought was important – but, she never flat-out told us that our Dad was “fooling” us. She knew we enjoyed it. Even she couldn’t deny that. And, so, she let us. Besides, she was under the impression that the father was the head of the household and what he said went. So, maybe, she thought she was doing her wifely duties by letting my Dad do the Santa thing. Deep down, I think she liked the fun of “Santa” too.

And, my Dad… the atheist… obviously he didn’t buy into the whole birth of Christ story himself. But, I don’t ever remember him scoffing at the idea to us at Christmas-time or rolling his eyes. He never told us is was BS. Matter of fact, he LIKED all the religious Christmas songs too. He came to see my plays and specials at church. And, at home, he read me stories… Santa and baby Jesus ones alike.

And, the moral of this long drawn out babbling post of a story?  Well?? I guess it is this:

If MY mother and father could be as opposite as they were… and yet still succeed in making Christmas time a special, enjoyable, magical, and memorable time for my brothers and I – then, why is it so hard for people to let Santa and Jesus (and Hanukkah and Ramadan or anything else for that matter) co-exist?

As a kid – I never cared who believed in Santa… or who told me “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays”. I guess the “bah humbugs” must come with age… and bills… commercials, and political and religious opinions…. Not to mention five hundred thousand corny Christmas movie reruns (which, actually, I admit that I secretly enjoy watching).

I’m not sure how I managed to stay joyous myself all these years. Maybe I wasn’t born with the “God gene”….. but surely was blessed with a double dose of the “Peace, Joy, & Love” gene?  Or maybe… just maybe… my “atheist father” and “religious nut of a mother” were better parents than many parents. Between the two of them, maybe they did a few things REALLY right. Like teaching their children to be loving… tolerant… considerate…  and about what IS really important.

So, I don’t care if people tell me “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays”, Happy Hanukkah”, “Here comes Santa” or anything else! As long as they bring me presents – I’m happy. =)  Seriously, in any case – they are wishing you well, right? Isn’t it all just, “Good will towards men”, regardless of how you phrase it?

If people would channel their beliefs, likes, and dislikes into actually doing some good deeds, good works and helping charities – maybe we could get someplace. Actually, when people aren’t busy stressing about money and how to greet one another – there is something about this time of year makes people want to help… and to give. Regardless of their beliefs – if people want to give, and spread joy, help and love one another… that works for me. And, yeah… if I get a cool present or two out of the deal, I won’t complain.

So, I’m gonna try real hard not to get stressed out… caught up in the hustle and bustle, and to remember the TRUE meaning of Christmas that I knew my whole childhood… even with an atheist for a Dad and a religious nut for a mom… and that is……… LOVE.

Peace out.. and on earth… Good will towards men… and all that jazz…

=)

~smj

One Comment to “The “True” Meaning of Christmas”

  1. Have a wonderful days full of Love!

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