Some of the first songs I learned by heart were Christmas carols – the religious ones, not the cutesy ones with animal voices the radio overplays. This is because my first “debut” as an actress was as an angel in the town Christmas pageant when I was eight. I grew up loving those songs, envying lit-up trees, gobbling up cookies and eggnog. But what those festivities lead up to is always, without fail, the loneliest day of the year.
It was lonely when I didn’t have a lot of Jewish friends to commiserate with, but the ones I did have had their own plans with their Temple youth groups that I was not a part of. It’s lonely still when other Christians talk about the traditions that mean so much to them, but I can’t get in the same spirit because making traditions as an adult is harder; they don’t just happen. They are cultivated over a period of years, often starting from childhood. Making up traditions as a grown-up just isn’t as fun.
I was twenty-three years old the first time I decorated a tree, and ran around my boyfriend’s house on Christmas Day in red pajamas shouting “SANTA CAME! SANTA CAME!” because Jewish kids never got to do that.
It’s safe to say that Christmas, the season (ie: Advent) is completely separate from December 25th (which we know isn’t Jesus’ real birthday anyway). I loathe December 25th today as I did growing up: everything is closed; there are only Christmas movies on TV; no one around to hang out with. Sure, I could look at it as just another day to read in my favorite chair in my pajamas all day, but somehow it’s different when I choose to do that on my own volition, not because there’s nothing else to do instead. Run out of a kitchen staple, like milk or pretzels? Too bad, you’re stuck.
So yes, I am a Grinch who hates Christmas. But I have always loved Advent: the anticipation of the birth of salvation.
This year’s Advent will be my hardest, as my mid-faith crisis is in full swing. But the songs I learned as a child are still just as beautiful, particularly this line from O Holy Night: Chains shall he break/for the slave is our brother.
I have my concerns about how reasonable it is to believe that a virgin woman conceived a baby, and that baby was raised from the dead after he was crucified as an adult. I have so many questions the Bible doesn’t directly answer, but I love the Christmas season for reminding me of what matters most in this life. For a time, I have renewed faith that mankind is something unique and precious – not doomed from the beginning of existence. It takes a great deal of faith to believe that. It makes me wish that Advent could last year-round.
Since I have yet to find a new church home, it’s still Chinese food and a movie for me this year. Actually, the Chinese food is mandatory no matter what traditions might develop throughout my life. There may not be much spirituality in that, but there is camaraderie, and that to me is compatible with the meaning of Christmas.