Monday, January 12, 2015

Sibling Assignment #151: Our Family and the Two Christmases

For several years, my sisters and I assigned each other writing and picture taking prompts, called Sibling Assignments.  I just looked, and I posted my last Sibling Assignment post in August of 2011. Carol, Christy, and I have decided to get this project going again, and Christy assigned this prompt to reflect upon: 

 "As we wind down from another holiday season with family, reflect on how the celebrating has changed over the years."

You can find Carol's post here and Christy's is here.

How I experience our family celebrating Christmas is parallel to how I see Christmas celebrated in the U.S.A. 

In the U.S.A. and in the Woolum family we celebrate two Christmases.  Most of our energy and attention is focused on the secular Christmas, the Christmas of decorations, lights, Christmas trees, gift giving, shopping, and other Christmas traditions.

This Christmas is magnificent and I wish we would all embrace it as the prevalent way to celebrate Christmas and recognize that the magical traditions of the secular Christmas have little to do with the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, I wish my fellow Christians would stop saying things like "Jesus is the reason for the season".  For Christians, yes, this is true, but for all of us, Christian or not, there are countless other reasons for the season, including spreading good cheer, being generous, enjoying lights in the midst of darkness, and dreaming of snow.  

If we were to socially recognize that almost all of us, whatever our spiritual practices, celebrate the Christmas of Santa Claus and family dinners and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we would know that when we wish one another "Merry Christmas", we are not imposing the celebration of a Christian season nor of a Christian  feast day on each other. People are wishing each other a merry day of lights and tinsel and gifts and food and generosity and all the other fun things that come with the secular Christmas.

Of the two Christmases, I readily, but without self-righteousness, admit that the Christian Christmas means much more to me than the secular one does.  

But, I do not experience the beauty of the Christian Christmas much at all outside of worship, and, more specifically, outside of the liturgical worship of the Episcopal Church.   I experience it most fully when I'm in the company of other people I've been worshiping with all year long, others with whom I've been through all the seasons of the church year:  Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphany; Lent, Easter, Pentecost -- and two periods of "ordinary" time which follow the Epiphany and the Pentecost.  

Here's my point:  my experience with the Christian Christmas is almost private, certainly confined to my experience in the church itself.  

This is good.  I don't see why the experience of Christ's birth should be public.  

The secular celebration of Christmas is a public one -- to me, marked by wishing people "Merry Christmas!"  

So, I didn't grow up in an Episcopalian family. So, when I gather with my family at Christmas, as I've done the last two years, I cannot expect to have the Christian experience with Christmas I love so much -- and I'm perfectly fine with this.  

After all, the liturgy lives not only within the walls of an Episcopal Church, it lives in my heart and soul.  I prefer to be in liturgical communion with others, but this December, as Advent gave way to Christmas Day and Christmastide, these seasons lived in me.

So, to the question Christy raised -- how has our family celebration changed . . . one thing that has always been true about celebrating Christmas in our family has always been overwhelmingly devoted to the secular Christmas, to the Christmas of popcorn balls, fruit cake, cookies, nuts and bolts, Christmas cards, Christmas ornaments, gifts, dinners, alcoholic refreshments, wreaths and all the other fun things that bring us joy, happiness, and fun.  

This is exactly as it should be.  

And, yes, there has been change.

For me, the biggest change is no one comes to our family home spreading Christmas cheer. Well, most people didn't come to our house to spread the cheer.  Most came to drink it!  

Dad loved having people drop in at Christmastime.  For many of our family friends, our house was where they came on Christmas morning or later in the day to have a Christmas smash, most famously, Dad's Tom and Jerry's.   Mike and June Turner were often the first to arrive and nothing said Merry Christmas like Mike Turner walking in the house, greeting my Dad with a "Merry Christmas you fat one-eyed son of a bitch!  Where's the beer, god damnit?" And my Dad replying, "Jesus Christ!  Get your skinny ass out to the back porch and get your own god damned beer!  And Merry Christmas, June!"   LaughLaughLaugh.

Now that was secular!  But in my memory this went on throughout the morning.  Jerry and Corrine and their kids stopped by.  So did the Robinsons.  And Wayne Benson.  As I got older, friends of mine came by for a smash, many getting their initiation to the sweet battered goodness of Dad's Tom and Jerrys.  

No one comes by these days.

I don't know if the tradition of going around to people's houses on Christmas happens around Kellogg any longer.  

Today, Christmas also brings out Mom's determination.  

She has a storage closet upstairs full of lights, nativity scene, garland, ornaments, santas, angels, and other Christmas decorations.  In the basement, she keeps the tree she and Dad bought over twenty years ago.  

Mom is determined to have her house look Christmasy in the same way it has for years.  It's part of why I came to Kellogg for an extended visit.  I know Mom can't get the decorations out, can't bring them downstairs, can't bring her tree upstairs, and can't put the tree up.  

She needs help.  But it's all in the living room and Mom starts getting it all out, the stories begin to pour out of her.  She remembers where every ornament came from and if it was a gift, who gave it to her.  Her love of Christmases past and of teachers and friends she's known for years come alive again and she meticulously unwraps each ornament and puts in on the tree and as reminisces about the origins of other decorations.  

When she was younger, Mom was a Christmas tornado, bustling from room to room, putting up decorations, baking all kinds of treats in the kitchen, getting gifts wrapped, never seeming to stop.

Now, she's a light breeze.  She can't motor around the house without stopping.  She has to stop frequently, sit down, let her aching hip settle down or her lower leg stop growling.  

But, whereas her body is slowing down, her spirit and love of Christmas is not diminished a bit.  

And that love is being carried forward by my sisters who also love to decorate, bake, plan dinners, cook Christmas meals, make drinks and fill the Christmas season with their vitality.

And maybe when it comes to my place in the family, things haven't changed much.  I help where I can, but I'm a follower at Christmas.  I do what I can to help out, but I don't get much going on my own.  

I guess I could be called a Christmas introvert.  I try to find ways to listen to the liturgy that lives in my heart.  

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