‘Twas two days before Christmas and all through the house, not a person was stirring…because we weren’t there. Instead we were off celebrating Hanukkah.
As a Christian, a confused, seeking, Christian who is trying to understand the context of my faith and separate fact from fiction, I’ve found my faith seemingly more relevant the more integrated in Judaism it becomes. Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, after all, was Jewish. Christianity, the way I see it, is Judaism extended.
So I ask myself, how can I understand the meaning of many things without first understanding their context? I am faced with this question every day when I am tempted to simplify the situation I was in with my husband, or the final act that took his life.
This has led me to accept an invitation to any holiday or holy day, whether Jewish or otherwise.
What has stood out to me the most at each of these events is that at every gathering there is always someone, young or old, who is able to recite the meaning behind what we are celebrating. I’m not sure I can say the same for myself at Christmas.
How did Christmas get so removed from Christmas? I’m not out to change it for everyone else, but for my own family I do want to be able to explain why I am doing what I am doing. I want my child to understand.
Every year my husband and I talked about what we wanted Christmas to be for our family. Christ was likely not born on December 25th, so the first question was whether or not to celebrate His birth on that day. Next, what to do about a Christmas tree that was adopted from a pagan worship ritual? Then, what do we do about Santa? Instead of changing Christmas, can we instead shift the arrow of these ingrained cultural traditions to point once again to the Christ-child, to mean something relevant for us?
We decided to pick our battles. We were not entering the war on “Happy Holiday’s” versus “Merry Christmas”. Or diving into the debate about which month and date of the year the Messiah was actually born in. Instead we looked for ways to modify existing traditions to point back to the born Messiah, and discard of any other human mascots that took attention away from Him. Santa was the first to go.
My friend handed my daughter a Christmas gift during their Hanukkah celebration. She pointed to Santa and asked my daughter, “Who’s that?”
My daughter lit up like a menorah. ”A snow man!” she said.
My friend looked at me puzzled.
“Oh, she doesn’t know about Santa.” I said.
The puzzled look remained on her face. “What do you do at Christmas?”, she asked.
“We talk about Jesus.”, I answered.
She let out a thinking sound, a little “hmmm”, as in That’s interesting, and You’re a little weirder than I thought. Then she said, “They stole Him from us you know.”
I didn’t ask who they were. I assumed I was probably in that category. But I was greatly intrigued by her comment.
“That’s why we love coming here.” I responded. “How can we understand Him without understanding your traditions? He was born Jewish and He belongs to you too, so these events are very important to us.”
I just know my kid is going to be the child who tells the other kids there is no Santa Claus.
Saint Nicholas, who Santa was evolved from, reached out to the orphans, the widows, and the poor, spending his entire inheritance from his wealthy parents on anyone in need. Why? Because he was living the type of life-style Christ said to live. He was pointing back to Christ. Saint Nicholas pointed to Christ, and who did society point to? Saint Nicholas.
Then, society came up with a new political tactic. In the early 1800’s citizens were running a muck. It was then that Saint Nicholas was morphed into the image of Santa Claus, a saint who drove a sleigh and brought gifts to those who were good, instead of those who were in need. A subtle, yet substantial humanitarian perspective shift. And the traditions continued to evolve.
My husband and I paused to take note of what we were doing and why we were doing it. Analyzing everything we had come to know from our Christmas celebrations. From there we decided on the following.
Presents. Without trying to go overboard, for the presents that are exchanged, we explain that we do this because God gave us a great gift when he sent His son into the world. He gave us the gift of love and sacrifice. He gave us His Son. We remember that when the Christ-child grew He lived out this sacrifice in the greatest love offering ever made. He gave His life for us.
Family. Like many modern day birth’s, Jesus was born into a family made up of his Mother, his step-Father, and a bunch of other odd characters that somewhat resemble barn-yard animals. My family of course is nothing like this. I’m just saying, some family might be able to relate…
Stockings filled with gifts. Originally introduced by Saint Nicholas, we now exchange stockings in remembrance of the gifts the Wise Men brought to the Christ-Child. They may not be filled with Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh, but when the Messiah grew He called us to do more with our riches anyway than to exchange them in our stockings.
Finally, our goal was to invite anyone, the poor, the rich, the grounded, the learned, the wise, the out-casters, to join us in celebration. As the star led the Wise Men to the Messiah, and the Angels invited the Sheppard’s to the babe, my husband and I longed to invite anyone who was willing to join our celebrations.
I know I have much to figure out. As the days pass I realize it is all on my shoulders to do. Maybe next Christmas will look completely different. Whatever the case, I will, as I did this year, aim to make decisions that resonate with my deepest beliefs so, as I raise our daughter without her father, I can stand behind my actions and, when our daughter asks, use these teachable moments to explain the meaning behind our intentional acts. They are, after all, a memorial for remembering the one we love, the one who first loved us. A love that was placed at the center of all we were created to be.
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