When I think of Christmas, I think of the candlelight services at church on the 24th, with friends and family coming together to celebrate in the birth of Christ. The Christmas hymns, the haunting thrum of the organ and sailing voices of the choir. Over a hundred tiny candles glowing valiantly through the darkness as Silent Night pours from the congregation. Then, leaving the service and stepping out into the cold winter night, breath clouding through the air as departing friends share goodbyes and good tidings. A steam whistle in the distance, playing some cheery seasonal tune, announcing the arrival of Christmas as the clock chimes midnight.
I have long since ceased to believe in many things, and I don’t attend the Christmas Eve services anymore. I don’t want to go into detail about my loss of faith, but I bear no grudges or animosity toward those who believe, so long as they do not use their beliefs as a weapon, or as a way to push their agenda onto the unwilling.
Despite this, I still think of those nights, standing on the church steps as flurries dance in the sky, when I think of Christmas. They are memories I hold dear, and find comfort in, and I know the church doors are open for me should I have need of them, even though I no longer believe. The place is full of Christmas memories. Being the donkey in the Christmas pageant, then being promoted to narrator. Serving as an acolyte for several years, fearing I would accidentally light a wreath on fire. The beautiful Christmas hymns, my favorites being “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” I still, and will always, contend that religious Christmas songs are far, far superior to secular ones, though I admit that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a jam.
Now, I attend a different sort of service on Christmas Eve each year. One that takes place long ago in a galaxy far, far away. New traditions have grabbed hold. Frozen pizza for dinner, a latte or two, and Star Wars to round out the night. And though it’s only been in place for a couple of years, that tradition is starting to feel a bit like Christmas, too. Because really, those nights at church and the nights in the movie theater are not so different. One just has more popcorn.
Family, friends, and a feeling of calm, and of belonging. That’s what Christmas is, for me. In the face of all the things I dislike about the holidays – and there are several – there are some ideas and values that are close to my heart this time of year. Even though traditions might change, memories of old remain.
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