It’s hard to believe, but this soon-to-be-upon-us Christmas will be the eightieth time I’ve celebrated the festive season with family. I have no memory of the first five or six such occasions, and most of those that came after are a hodge-podge of recollections jumbled together across the years.
Although my extended family was a blend of Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian church-goers, Christ was never the centre of our celebrations back then; family was always at the centre. As a youngster, I was taught all about the virgin birth—the trek to Bethlehem, the sojourn in the stable, the babe in the manger, the shepherds and wise men who visited the creche—but the visitor I most looked forward to every year was Santa Claus.
It may amuse you to know that I still believe in the spirit of Santa, that jolly, old elf who freely gives us presents while taking nothing in return (save, perhaps, for cookies and milk). I still hang up my stocking every Christmas Eve.
It may surprise you to learn that I still believe in the teachings of the Christ-child, too, despite the fact my knowledge of them springs from English translations of the writings of men (no women, alas), who told their tales in Hebrew and Greek long after the storied crucifixion.
It seems to me those teachings can be crystallized in two succinct statements attributed to Jesus: Love one another. Treat everyone else as you would like to be treated. There are world-religions other than Christianity that preach similar sentiments, of course, but I fear I know less about them than I’d like. Nevertheless, I dream sometimes of what our world might be like today if all of us, regardless of creed, could adhere to those two maxims, person-to-person, nation-to-nation.
Despite my belief in his teachings, I confess I cannot be sure Christ was the divine son of the god to whom we attribute our creation—that beneficent father-figure who reigns over us from on high, portrayed so majestically in magnificent works of art over the centuries. I simply don’t know if Christ really turned water into wine, raised Lazarus back to life, rose again from the dead, or will return someday in rapture and glory. I was taught these things, never with any proof offered, though—because true faith requires no absolute proof. Faith and proof are each other’s antithesis. But no matter; whether one believes Christ was divine or not, the truth of his teachings shines through for me.
It pains me when I hear so-called Christians take those teachings, impart their own twist to them, and then insist that everyone else adhere to their interpretation. I’ve read the entire Bible, some sections repeatedly, and I’ve yet to find the condemnation purported to come from Christ’s lips that is used by judgmental Christian proselytizers to justify the stances they spew forth on such issues as marriage equality, abortion, feminism, and science education, to name a few. The Christ I know loves everyone.
Nevertheless, despite my difference of opinion with such folk, I respect their right to believe as they do—so long as they do not seek to interfere with my right to do the same. Christ, it seems to me, invited people to accept his teachings; he did not force them. It is wise, I think, to be wary of those who use Christ’s teachings to further their own ends, to rend us asunder.
Lest I appear to be doing that here, let me clarify that I am not; I am simply riffing on my understanding of the meanings of Christmas. Both my continuing belief in a Santa Claus, and my endorsement of Christ’s two great maxims, are important aspects of the celebration for me. But I readily acknowledge that others may feel differently. I begrudge no one their right to hold and profess their own beliefs, even to disregard mine, and I do not seek to impose mine on anyone.
In addition to the influences of Santa and Jesus on my understanding of Christmas, there are others whose interpretations reflect my own. For example, in his famous story, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens described the occasion thusly—a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
Kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant, open hearts—these words echo the intent of Christ’s teachings, do they not? It’s a pity such sentiments surface so infrequently in our interactions these days, except for a brief time at Christmas.
Another artist, Elvis Presley, released a song in 1966, written by his friend Red West, whose lyrics included this plaintive call—
Oh, why can’t every day be like Christmas?
Why can’t that feeling go on endlessly?
For if everyday could be just like Christmas,
What a wonderful world this would be.
Anyway, buoyed in the spirit of Christmas, I’m looking forward to my eightieth celebration with renewed hope that the true reasons for the season will once again manifest themselves—and, I fervently wish, pervade the new year to come. Surely then, we would find the way, know the truth, and approach the life to which we aspire.
A wonderful world it would be, indeed!