The holidays are upon us, and I hope in the midst of all the retail pressure that comes with them you’ve found some time to reflect on what the holiday season is truly about (regardless of which one you celebrate).
I grew up in the Episcopal church, which is the same church both of my parents grew up in. My father is agnostic, so he doesn’t join my mother, my sister, and me when we attend services or programs, but he would always come with mom to see us sing in the children’s choir at Christmas. Christmas was also one of the few days he always had to spend with us. When I was younger, he worked in food service and hotel management, so he was most often working on holidays, evenings, and weekends. This made Christmas even more special to me, because it was a day I knew my dad would be there.
As I grew older, I learned more about what Christmas really meant, as well as more about other December holidays celebrated in my own country and around the world. I also learned where many of our Christmas traditions came from.
The origins of some, like the gift giving, are rooted in the Christian story of Jesus’s birth and the arrival of the three wise men with gifts. Others, like Christmas trees, came from pagan traditions and were adopted by the church to encourage conversion and integration of local festivals into the Christian faith. Traditions can be a complicated thing to untangle.
This year, as I’ve been focusing on the true meaning of the holiday season to me, I’ve drawn on many sources. I’ve looked back at the bible stories and my upbringing in the church. I’ve thought back to my favorite Christmas sermon (it features a comparison between the anticipation of Jesus’ birth and the anticipation of the new Star Wars movie) and the various churches where I’ve celebrated Christmas at midnight mass with my family. I’ve also looked back at my study of other religions, including Wicca, and the personal relationship with the divine that I found so appealing there. I’ve looked back at my life and the years that I’ve celebrated with my own family, and later my husband’s family, and I’ve come to some conclusions about what the holidays really mean to me.
Christmas is a time to rejoice in the hope that comes with Jesus’s birth.
The holidays are a season to spend with friends, family, and all my loved ones, regardless of which holiday they or I are celebrating.
The holidays are a time to give back to your community and remember those in need.
The holidays are a time to be selfless, not selfish.
This isn’t what the holidays mean for everyone. There are plenty of people who celebrate a secular version of Christmas that has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with presents, Santa Clause and pine trees. There are plenty of people who don’t celebrate any holidays in December.
I’ve worked hard to embody the meaning of the holidays this year, and I plan to continue to do so through the end of this year and into the next.
What do the holidays mean to you, and how are you embracing that meaning this year?