Christmas 2017 was the fifth consecutive year I have not attended church services during the season. My children have never experienced being in a children’s ministry Christmas program. I do not have any pictures of them dressed up on stage singing Christmas songs with their Sunday school classmates. It’s been a little strange as my childhood Christmas memories are synonymous with church memories.
However, I have been unable to participate in church after deconstructing. When I lost my fundamental religion, Christmas was also something I lost. Christmas also deconstructed in my mind. For the first few years, I was unable to listen to any religious holiday hymns. It was too painful because it reminded me of the grief. These songs all placed me back into a community I no longer belonged in.
Even so, it’s impossible to distance yourself. It’s impossible to not feel the loss of your religion every single year.
I still weep during ‘silent night’. I still feel a strong, beautiful connection to the divine during ‘O Holy Night.’ Thinking about the birth of Jesus has never escaped me. Celebrating Jesus has never left me. However, I’ve been so confused about what to tell my children about Christmas that I have just let it be a festive, happy, time without throwing church into it. I didn’t want to confuse them like I was.
The first belief that left me regarding Christmas was the accuracy of the nativity scene. My entire life as I can recall was spent with a very specific setting that described the birth of Jesus. I saw the nativity scene everywhere. Church. Home. Stores. Books. Movies. Here is what it included:
Baby Jesus was wrapped in rags, in a manger filled with straw. Mary, Joseph, three wisemen, and various barn animals surrounded him. Sometimes this scene included an angel. I believed this was accurate, until I read the biblical accounts:
It was very disorienting. First, the biblical accounts never reveal that there were three wisemen. There could have been two, three, or ten, we do not know. Second, the wisemen did not meet Jesus as a baby. They met him when he was 2 years old, a small child.
It might seem petty to focus on these details, but for me, these deceptions were suspicious. Also, they opened doors to what else am I being deceived about? Did I truly believe Mary was a virgin and then miraculously pregnant? Logic and biology tell me that I can’t believe that. Does it matter? Shall I feel shame for using my reason and intellect? Does it change anything, for me, if Mary was not a virgin? What do I tell my kids about any of this? What does Santa have to do with it whatsoever?
This year, however, I finally brought Jesus into the conversation about Christmas with my kids. I told them we celebrate Christmas for a lot of reasons. Here is what I told them:
- Jesus: We are celebrating the birth of Jesus. A man that showed the world that God/the divine lives in us all. A man that told us to love one another, forgive each other, and be kind to all. A man that loved everyone and spent his time feeding the hungry, and healing the sick. A man that taught us to stick up for the bullied. Jesus is who we look up to as an example of who to be in our lives. His message was new to the world and it gives hope and light to all that is dark. Evil humans killed him because they didn’t want his message to thrive, so we keep love alive at Christmas time and try to remember it everyday throughout the year.
- Winter Solstice: We are celebrating the rising of the sun. Christmas Day marks the day of the year when the days slowly become longer. The sun stays out more and more. Historically speaking, this was call for a massive party. The sun was a god that provided food and when it went down for the winter, famine was upon them. Winter was hard, people starved. Christmas marked the beginning of the end of difficulty.
- Love: We celebrate the people we love. We give gifts, donate toys to needy kids, and give food to those that need it. Santa Claus loves to give presents to all the children because he loves kids. We celebrate our families with food, games, and conversation. We celebrate our friends and love for all of humanity.
They might have grasped some of this. Perhaps all they really care about right now is Santa Claus. However, this is what Christmas means in my home. As they grow older, the conversation will become more historical, more intellectual, however, I’m just an ex-evangelical doing my best.
Perhaps next year we’ll go to an Episcopal church. Maybe midnight mass. Perhaps we’ll celebrate Hanukkah instead, so they are gifted with a different perspective. The most important thing for me is to raise loving, giving, children that see the divine in all humans, especially within themselves.
One thing is for certain, however, there will not be any inaccurate nativity scenes in my home.