100th: (yes, they DO eventually end...) Cleanse not your teeth with the table cloth, napkin, fork, or knife; but if others do it, let it be done with a pick tooth.
Today's Search Engine queries:
THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS
5 December 2004
The Alchera Project for December has a number of options to explore. This one sounded interesting:
I had to laugh when I read it because the very first thought that came to my mind was a nativity scene we saw at the home of some friends many years ago. The home had young children and their nativity scene was a stable, a manger, and toy figures. Superman, Winnie the Pooh, Leggo people, etc.
The second thing that came to mind was Terri's recent entry (yay! Terri is writing again!) about the commercialization of Christmas and seeing her first Christmas commercial before Halloween.
Jimmy has a line in The Big Voice when he's about to introduce the singing of the first song he and Steve wrote together (a Christmas song). He says, "Well, since it's after Labor day and the Christmas season is in full swing..."
Somehow all three of these things kind of tie together to explain how I feel about Christmas and how my feeling about it has changed over the years.
It was always a half-and-half thing, gifts vs. Jesus. Since I attended 12 years of Catholic school, there were also lots of Christmas "things" going on and the lovely decorations in Church when we went to Mass on Christmas Day.
But our family wasn't overly religious, at least by comparison to a few others I can think of. When I think about the central point of Christmas it has always been family: buying gifts for the family, cleaning the house for the family, planning the family dinner, mixing with the family on Christmas day.
Jesus was always in there--and my father made a manger which I still have today (and still set up), but I suspect we spent more time putting out cookies and milk for Santa than we really did doing religious stuff.
As I got older, Christmas was about the ceremonials--the caroling, the mulled wine, the parties, and that sort of thing. I remember caroling on the cable cars with the Newman Club and later with the Lamplighters, always ending up at the Buena Vista pub for Irish coffee. There was never a more beautiful setting than the Newman Chapel at Christmas, with the red curtains, all the gold, and dozens of poinsettias.
But always going home for Christmas itself was the most important thing. Home was the heart of Christmas.
When our kids came along, we did about as much religious stuff as we had done in my house when I was growing up. We set up the same manger with the same figures. I still remember the year that Jeri was able to read "gloria in excelsis deo" on the banner held by the angel that attached to the top of the stable by a bent nail. She decided that the angel's name must be "Gloria" and she has been Gloria ever since.
(Jeri also made a manger scene one year, out of a cardboard box and cloth figures that she sewed and stuffed with cotton. We set that up along with the wooden stable as well.)
The kids had Advent calendars, as I did, but there again, it was more the fun of seeing what was behind the door each day than there was any connection to the season.
Our kids always sang Happy Birthday to Jesus and when they began doing skits one of the most memorable was their version of the birth of Jesus. Since by that time we had five children and I'd done LaMaze, you can imagine what the birth was like! I think Mary may have given birth to Snoopy, but I'm not sure.
Of course, our kids went to public school, and you can't do Christmas in the public schools. You could mention Christmas when they were going to school, which you can't do now, but obviously there were no celebrations which centered around any religious theme.
We went to midnight Mass for many years, something I usually loved--the beautifully decorated church, and the Christmas carols. As my disillusion with the Catholic church grew and I attended church less and less, this last vestige of formal "religion" kind of disappeared.
The year I stopped going to midnight Mass completely was the year David died. Paul and I decided that we would go to the cemetery at midnight and that would be our "Mass." Originally it was going to just be the two of us, but ultimately it was all of us, and a lot of Dave's friends too. It became a yearly tradition, which eventually included Paul's grave as well (well, of course, since they share a plot).
We have also adopted a family for several years. Walt takes the name of a child from his office "adoption" program to buy gifts for. I have worked at the Christmas dinner here in Davis a couple of times and I delivered Christmas turkeys to HIV+ clients in Sacramento. I've also gone caroling at convalescent hospitals a couple of times.
The most meaningful Christmas for me in recent years, though, was in 2000, the first year of this journal, when so many people reading about my friend Priscilla, who was unexpectedly saddled with her 5 grandchildren over Christmas when her daughter was arrested (at the time we thought Priscilla was dying of AIDS, she was so weak and in such pain--but she seems to have rallied, thank God), chipped in to help make her Christmas happy. I still think of the outpouring of assistance that came from people who read this journal at that time, and the following year as well. Priscilla said it gave her the strength to go on. (I told about it here and a couple of other entries around that time)
Nowadays, Walt goes to Mass, I don't, so while I may send out religious Christmas cards to people I know would prefer them, it's usually irreverant cards for most of the rest on the list. Christmas centers around having the family all here, getting the meal put together, and just being all together.
Gifts are a part of it, of course, but they've never been the main thing for me. When the kids were little, I spent waaay too much money each year--and it was a source of "words" between Walt and me when the bills started rolling in after Christmas. But I couldn't help myself.
Now I am more restrained, and since there are so many of us to give and receive we all generally just choose one name, so that we don't have this mountain of gifts that people don't need, bought with money people can't afford to spend.
There is "religion" to my Christmas, but it is a religion of "community," of doing things for other people, of gathering the family together, and of loving and laughing together.
And isn't that what a real birthday party is all about?
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Newman Hall Chapel, cir. 1963