Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas as a Convert

I adore Christmas, and I always have, but there are many ways in which I feel I'm only now learning to celebrate it. I hope you'll indulge me as I share this part of my story. I think it has a lot to do with how I approach this season now, as a adult and as a Catholic homeschooling mommy.

My mom was always wonderful at setting the Christmas mood, making our home feel like a cozy nest of holiday cheer. We always had a tree, lights, snow globes, presents, and feasts. But I didn't grow up Catholic, of course, and what's more, I grew up in the Church of Christ, so, what went on at church during the holiday season was a non-event. I am starting from scratch with traditions for my family because, religiously speaking, I have none.

The Church of Christ has a pretty fascinating history, firmly rooted in Scottish Protestantism. It is a rigid, literal, pared-down church, and many former members (myself included) feel that to leave it is to escape something like a cult, where you were completely cut off from the rest of the Christian world (enter those search terms in Google and you'll see what I mean). What is essential to understand is their core belief: "If it's not in the Bible, spelled out in a literal way, we don't do it." They certainly acknowledge that Christ was born, of course, but their approach is:  "December 25th was a date chose by the Catholics, it was pagan to begin with, and what's more, the Bible doesn't say to celebrate Christ's birth, so we won't." Fun, huh? Full of good cheer and love? So, there was no Christmas Eve service. If Christmas was on a Sunday, it would be a regular Sunday service, no acknowledgment that the rest of the world was singing "Joy to the World." I don't know if I can adequately describe what this felt like as a child. My parents celebrated with us at home, but my grandparents were hard-liners, and didn't even get a tree. I remember begging to go to Midnight mass with a friend one year, and for some reason my parents agreed...oh my word! It was a feast for my senses, and I was so envious of Catholics and their beautiful traditions.

To find one's home in Holy Mother Church is to be completely overwhelmed with traditions, advent wreaths, novenas, feast days, and, yes, "the rules" about how to do it all. I tend to be a less is more kind of girl, and I seek and love simplicity, and that has been my guide as I wandered through all the options for how to celebrate this beautiful season of light. I was starting to get panicky about all of this last week, before Advent began, however, and Meg, over at Held By His Pierced Hands, set me straight. Yes, there are traditions, and they are lovely. And there are things the church asks us to do during this season, namely fasting, penance, and charity. But there are many ways to live into this precious time of year, and the "have to's" are not real.

For me, coming from a place of "rules, rules, more rules, don't dare break the rules," this has been incredibly important to me. I love the idea of holding off on getting a tree for a bit, and that's how my husband grew up as well (the Swiss tradition is to get it and decorate on Christmas Eve!), so we will wait a couple more weeks. I love candles, and the mood they evoke, so in the three years since my conversion, we've done the traditional Advent wreath, but this year we have a lovely wooden ring with a spot for a candle each day in December, and a wooden figure of Mary on a donkey to move towards Christmas Eve. It is beautiful, and we sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and say a prayer each night as we light the candle. It's not the most traditional, but my children stand in quiet awe while we do this ceremony each night, and they KNOW Advent is about waiting.

We don't have a manger set with all the pieces, but we do have some lovely wooden toys we've collected over the years, and we put it together to make a Nativity. We have a barn with lots of animals, a farmer figure standing in for St. Joseph, and a farmer's wife, standing in for the Holy Mother. There's a wooden egg nest with straw, waiting for the Holy Infant, too. Not traditional, but warm, comforting, and it was something the littles put together themselves. We do have some large figures of the Holy Family, and Mary is holding Jesus, though all the "rules" say she shouldn't be until Christmas. I see the point, but I don't think it makes a bit of difference to our preparatory waiting for Him.

And Christmas music. Wow. People have some strong opinions on this one. I read one blog in which the author asserted she will NOT listen to any Christmas music until December 25th, because it. Isn't. Christmas. Yet. I agree, and I really do get the point. I'm not listening to it yet either, but not because there's a rule about it. There's not:) At some point in the next week or two, we will, and we will still be anticipating Him, knowing the full rejoicing isn't here yet. In the meantime, the kids are learning carols to sing on the big day.

So, this is how things are evolving around here. We are doing acts of charity. We are quietly getting ready. Our traditions are coming together, and I am happily preparing to fully celebrate, in all the beautiful ways our Church provides.  Part of me is sad, wishing my grandparents, could have understood and appreciated the beauty of Christmas. Happily, my parents will be with us on Christmas Eve, when Cate is in the children's choir and pageant. I'm so happy they get to see what church on Christmas can be:)

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