When I was growing up, my moms worked craft shows to support us kids. They often worked right through Christmas Eve and so we never celebrated Christmas actually on Dec. 25. We would usually have our Christmas celebration in the second week of January. That way my moms could take advantage of the awesome after Christmas sales available back then. It took the pressure off and I always felt like someone special when I told my friends that WE were celebrating Christmas on January 10th or what ever it was. The date was not important . The presents were! My moms always went all out. I remember going to bed and there would be nothing at all under the tree and then when I awoke…lo and behold…the living room floor was covered with gifts! It was a most wonderful experience every year. Now, my moms have told me that they didn’t really go all out. They just waited until Christmas to get us the things we needed and a few extras. It just seemed like a lot, they’d tell me. And every year my mom got me a new ornament. I loved that tradition. When I got old enough, she would let me pick it and I often chose a baby Jesus even though we never had any type of Christian celebration for Christmas. My mom would say I became her little Jesus Freak at Christmas time.
When Dale and I were first married, we had a Christmas tree. Nothing too fancy, just your average tree. But I loved it. I had my Christmas ornaments from my childhood and I proudly hung them on the fragrant branches. I loved the smell of the evergreen needles and the fun of decorating it and the beauty of it all lit up in the evenings, lights playfully blinking. We’d exchange gifts on Christmas with Dale’s family. We would also get together with my family, in the earliest part of our marriage, and do the same thing. After we moved from California to the farm, we still had a tree for a few years. Usually we got one for free from the grocery store just before they’d close on Christmas Eve. We’d take it home and I would enjoy decorating it with my little ones. Same wonderful evergreen scent, same joy at decorating and the same beauty of the twinkling ,colored lights.
Then Dale decided that he didn’t want a tree. I am not sure why but I think he felt it wasn’t honoring to God somehow. I had carried on the tradition of getting a new ornament each year for each child and I wanted to display them and enjoy them at Christmas time. A friend in our home church said that he also had gotten rid of the Christmas tree but had let his wife hang some lights in the house and she hung the ornaments on the light strings. Dale figured this would be acceptable so I was allowed to do that. I put up a small bit of resistance about not having a tree but it was really fruitless. Dale was the head of our home and as such, he had the final say whether I liked it or not. I submitted my wants and desires to him because I believed that was what was required of me by my faith and my God. I made the best of it. I was thankful that I was allowed to at least have the lights. The house still seemed somewhat festive with the twinkling lights strung all about the living room. The children’s ever growing number of ornaments were proudly displayed and enjoyed by all.
But what about the gifts? We certainly couldn’t have them under a tree since we were no longer allowed to have one. Dale didn’t want the gifts to be related in any way to the Christmas celebration. He would say “We are celebrating Jesus’ birthday. You don’t give me a gift on our son’s birthday. Why should we give each other gifts on Jesus birthday. The gifts should be for Him only. Those gifts are our loving, grateful and obedient hearts”. So no gifts on Christmas…and no tree. I asked if we could do a gift exchange on New Year’s Day instead. I told him how it was such a fond memory for me of the mornings I woke up on our Christmas to find the living room floor covered with gifts. I wanted my children to enjoy the same delight. And I wanted to enjoy their faces when they came down the stairs and saw the pile we had for them. Of course they would know it was us because Santa Claus was out of the question. Absolutely NO Santa. And NO stockings. For some reason, Dale was against them. Maybe it was because Santa was related to stockings in his mind. I never understood it but I went along. I was young and infatuated with my “godly, mature” husband and if he said “no stockings” then no stockings it was.
When Dale was growing up, his father just loved Santa. He had a Santa collection and he always made a big deal about Santa for his kids at Christmas time. He got great joy out of it and the kids did as well. Dale was raised in the Catholic Church and his family was very involved. Catholic school and the whole nine yards. It was a very big part of his growing up years. When he was still young, maybe nine or ten, he found out that Santa was not real. His parents had “lied” to him and he was devastated. Santa was a man you could not see yet he was supposed to be real. God also was someone you could not see but you were supposed to believe the He was real as well. When it became clear to Dale that Santa was a myth, he had a crisis of faith! If Santa was a fake, was God a fake too?? He didn’t want his children to go through the same doubting that he did and so he said absolutely NO Santa. The children actually grew up to be somewhat hostile toward the whole Santa thing. I remember driving through town and seeing one of those giant blow up Santas on someone’s lawn and my 6 year old piped up, “Look…it’s the big fat lie!!” We all congratulated him and agreed that yes, Santa was a big fat lie. We’d say, “Did you know that if you change the position of just two letters, Santa becomes Satan?”
So Dale and I compromised and he let me have my big present pile on New Years Day. Things went like that for probably 15 years or more. Others heard about our gift exchange and how it took the “greed factor” out of Christmas allowing us to just focus on Jesus birthday and they began to celebrate like this too. We’d have a nice dinner with a star shaped birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Yet, I never really was satisfied with this. I came to have a lot of negativity toward Christmas because I wanted to celebrate it the “normal way” but was not allowed to do that with my children. I began to hate the Christmas season and experienced some depression when ever it rolled around. I was always relieved when it was over. Then it was time for New Years, the presents and the squeals of joy and delight from the children.
When Dale returned from his 3 month trip to Brazil, Christmas had already passed. I had spent it at the beach in California with my children and my brother. It was wonderful but again, no presents, no tree. As Christmas drew closer the next year, Dale called a family meeting and said, “God has told me that we should not be celebrating Christmas at all. He also has told me that we should not do our family gift exchange on New Years either. When I was in Brazil, it was over New Year’s eve and I went to the beach nearby. All these pagan people were writing out their wishes and desires for the coming year on pieces of paper and putting them into little boats along with candles and small gifts. They would launch the boats into the water and they believed that this ritual would somehow get them the results they had asked for, that some pagan deity would answer them. A day or two later I was talking to a man about our family and he asked how we celebrated Christmas in the United States. I said that our family was not typical and that we did things a little differently than most. I told him about our gift exchange on New Years instead of Christmas Day and he replied ‘Oh, so you celebrate New Years like we do with gifts and such.’ ‘No !No!’ I insisted. ‘We don’t celebrate like you. We are not trying to appease or gain the favor of any other god.’ After I spoke to this man I was horrified that anyone would look at our family’s way of celebrating New Years and equate it with this awful pagan ritual I witnessed. Because of this, we are not going to celebrate New Years like that any more.”
I was dumbfounded! I was also angry. How dare he take away Christmas from us! How dare he take away New Years as well!
After making this proclamation, he went around the room asking what the kids thought. Well ,of course they all agreed with him. What ever he said was God’s truth so he could not be wrong. Well, almost all the kids agreed. My little 6 year old, the “big fat lie discoverer”, said meekly, “I still want to have presents on New Years.” I piped up, “Well, so do I , come stand over here by mommy.” Dale said he would allow us to make a really BIG deal out of each child’s birthday thus covering the bases for gift giving. “We have a birthday almost every month anyway.” he said. As if one child receiving gifts was going to make up for the other ten receiving nothing until their birthday came around. As if this would make up for his taking away this wonderful celebration that our family enjoyed together. I was so angry. And so helpless. I had no voice, no recourse, no vote. He decreed, we agreed. Case closed.
I tried to make the best of it. When the children’s birthday’s would come around, I would remind him saying, “Remember, we are making a BIG deal out of their birthdays!” And he did. We spent way more money on each child than we ever had before. We got them really nice gifts and plenty of them. And I always made sure that they had a nice big pile of presents to open on their birthday. A nice BIG pile.
But when Christmas would loom on the horizon…I would become so sad. Sad that my kids never got to enjoy the fun of Santa. Sad that they couldn’t enjoy the beauty of a glittering tree full of the special tokens of love that I had chosen for them, Sad that their special New Years Celebration was no longer waiting for them around the corner. I hated the Christmas season. A Christian made me hate it.
FAST FORWARD TO 2008
Dale and I were divorced and talking about my upcoming weekend visit with the kids. He wanted me to have them on the weekend of October 17th because he was going to be out of town. I asked where he was going and he told me he was heading to Utah to meet a woman he had been chatting with on line. They had been conversing for a few months. I was happy for him (sort of) to have the possibility of a new relationship. I had one and I am basically a merciful and compassionate person…why shouldn’t he have a new “friend” as well? I agreed to take the kids that particular weekend.
He flew out to Utah, one way , and drove this woman, Loretta, and her three little kids out to the farm to meet my kids. After a few days, he put her on a plane to visit her older son. When her week long visit with her son was over, she returned to the farm and hung out for a week or so. Then he left with her and her children again to go back to Utah to get some of her things. She moved in with him and my kids. It’s interesting to me how Dale could rationalize that it was okay for him to subject my children to living with this new woman almost immediately after the children met her. She was sleeping in my room, using the bathroom he had specially built for me. They were unmarried. We humans are very rationalizing creatures. It’s as if I was so amazingly sinful to have left and yet here he was living with another woman right in front of them She lived there for about a month or so, trying to be “mom” to my kids and a mere 6 weeks after their first face to face meeting, she married him.
My understanding was that Loretta was used to celebrating Christmas the way most people (Christian and non Christian alike) do, complete with a tree, presents and even (you guessed it!) Santa Claus. The first Christmas that she lived in my house, they had a big tree covered with the ornaments I had lovingly bought for my kids. She and Dale stayed up half the night making personalized stockings for my children (and hers as well). Then on the morning of December 25, 2008, 5 days before they actually married, they opened presents and celebrated Christmas…just like I had always wanted to. My kids got to enjoy the excitement of a “real” Christmas morning but not with their mother…with this new woman who was merely living with their dad. I cannot express the astonishment, betrayal and rage that I felt at my ex that morning as I talked with each of my precious children and listened to their excited voices telling of the stockings full of goodies, each one with their names painstakingly printed on them…
More from Laura:
- The Amazing Bosch Universal Mixer
- Three Lilacs and a Statue
- Sing, sing a song….
- When am I supposed to sleep…?
- He Preferred Crest
- Santa vs. Satan