Growing up a Jehovah's Witness, we didn't celebrate anything. Christmas was a big, fat no-no since Jesus was born in April or October and it was really a pagan holiday dressed up for Christ or whatever other bullshit they fed us to keep us meek. I always got excited anyway, I couldn't help it. Beneath my disdain for the "worldy" people, I was jealous and eager to observe. I wished I could have believed in Santa. I remember being in the first grade, sitting at my desk in quiet disdain while the other kids told our teacher what Santa was going to bring them. In my head I was thinking your parents are a bunch of liars. Pretty sad, not to have been able to indulge in that childhood swell of fantasy and imagination. I secretly loved Christmas lights. I loved Christmas carols, despite not being able to sing them. I'd wake up early on Christmas morning, even though we didn't celebrate. I'd sit stewing in my jealousy, knowing that in the neighborhood around me and the world around that, kids were madcap wild with joy, opening presents. I would sit thinking yeah you have Santa now, but when the world ends in a firestorm you're going to die and I'm going to live forever.
After the Witness years my family celebrated in a half-assed kind of way. I was a teenager and atheist, full of goth (non)sensibilities and I still carried a deep guilt over celebrating a holiday I was raised to believe was evil. At the time my parents were struggling in their marriage, my dad wasn't living with us part of the time. Christmas was an attempt to be a big bandaid on the amputation leaving the religion had caused. We weren't unhappy to be out of the religion but we had no anchor as to what we were supposed to believe in anymore. Christmas was an awkward time of gift giving that had no sentimental value. It was different for my baby sister, she was raised almost completely outside of the religion and has always had birthdays and holidays. Her joy was a beautiful thing to watch, it still is.
In my early twenties it got somewhat better. I was in a relationship for years with a man who had a young daughter I adored and Christmas through her eyes was fucking magical. I also had outgrown a majority of the guilt I felt for celebrating.
I think of the oddest Christmases. Christmas in Mexico during my quasi-bohemian artist colony days, celebrating with a group of brilliant madmen, a chosen family. I remember walking through the cobblestone streets late at night around Christmas. It was during the posadas, the 12 days leading up to Christmas. Strangers would stand in their doorways, inviting me and anyone passing by into their homes for a slice of cake, spiced punch. They did it as an homage to Joseph and Mary who found little hospitality on their way to Bethlehem. My favorite memory is of walking home late one night and passing by a mechanic's shop; they had a junked out car on the roof decorated with singing Christmas lights. It was across the square from a church. Men had come in from the mountains with donkeys loaded with firewood. The men would sell the firewood then use the money to buy gifts for their families. The men slept on the stairs of the church while all the donkeys were tied up in the square. As I passed through the square I remember looking to my left at the car on the roof with singing lights then to the right at the donkeys and sleeping men. I had an overwhelming feeling of peace and joy. I don't know what about that scene struck me but I was elated.
The year after Mexico I was spending my winter in Switzerland. Christmas week we went sledding, snowboarding; warming our bodies after with fondue. I wrote a piece about it that is available online here. I've never watched the video. I'm pretty sure I was a little drunk when I performed. So it goes.
Then however many years later Christmas in the midwest. Kansas. My standout memory from that holiday is one of my favorites. We went to a Christmas Ever service at the Mennonite church. I remember liking the service, how unpretentious everything was. People came in their overalls and boots, nothing formal and the pastor spoke mainly of loving one another. At the end of the service everyone was given a candle and asked to gather in the front of the church in a circle. The lights were turned off and the pastor went around lighting everyone's candle with his. Then he led us in an a capella version of Silent Night. After he stood thanking everyone for coming. He then said I'd especially like to thank those of you who have joined us from foreign lands. His eyes landed on me and he smiled and gestured to me and asked And what foreign land are you from young lady? I smiled and said Southern California. I got a kick out of it.
Then the sad, wretched Christmas of getting dumped over Skype by the man I was madly in love with. The most horrible words ever spoken to me: I don't love you. I'll never love you. If I had the choice to love you I wouldn't. The gift of that experience is knowing that if I could recover from that wounding and devastation, I can recover from anything.
The last few holidays have been laid back. Here in town, family. We'll spend tonight at my aunt's house. My dad's side of the family and his six siblings and their families. It will be chaotic and loud. Everyone will bring their dog. I'm bringing Love and his dog. Tomorrow morning we'll spend with my parents and sisters. Nothing too exciting. Gifts, brunch then not much else.
I still don't really like the holidays but I'm getting better at not falling into a deep depression around them. I avoid the stores. I spend a lot of time alone, reading, writing. I spend a good amount of time thinking where was I last time this year? and the year before that? where am I now in comparison? I like where I am this year.