My childhood holds fond memories of lighting the purple and pink advent candles and picking out an outfit for Christmas mass. As a kid, I went through the motions not necessarily understanding the deeper meaning of Christmas, or organized religion at large. But one thing I did take away was the gift of love and its ability to move mountains during this time of year.
For the past several years, I’ve struggled with staying close to the traditional religion of catholicism with which I grew up. I dragged my husband to Christmas Eve mass two years ago as we clung onto a hope that we will better connect as adults. As we held hands in our best attire and chose a pew to sit in, I had a vision that we would become one of those couples who attend every Sunday, not just once a year. It was a peaceful and beautiful service, but we didn’t connect. The Sundays thereafter came and went once again.
And every time December rolls around, I’m reminded of this struggle as I buy presents for my loved ones, recognizing that gift giving shouldn’t be the focus. Then Christmas Eve nears, and I feel a hint of nostalgia to my childhood – when I could feel that indescribable air of love sweeping through my family, neighborhood, school, and community. This spirit is what keeps me looking forward to it every year.
My love for Christmas has only grown stronger as I get older, while at the same time, I continue to grow distant from organized religion. This led me to ask myself, “What is it, then, that Christmas means to me? Have I strayed from its true meaning?”
It’s a tough question to ask myself, especially now that I’m expecting a baby boy in three months. Suddenly this puts pressure on my soul to develop an 18-year plan of how my husband and I should raise our child, religion included. The only thing we know is that we believe in God and we want to teach our son the same set of moral values. But how do we parent this when we are still asking the big questions to the man above ourselves?
As I reflect on defining what Christmas has grown to mean to me, however, I realize that I haven’t strayed from these values at all.
At its best, Christmas is a time of giving. I’m not talking about the gifts marketed to us 24/7, but the random acts of kindness within our own circles and abroad. It’s a time when we slow down to do something to help someone in need and be part of something bigger than ourselves. These inspiring moments remind me how important it is to lead life with my heart and to love our neighbors.
At its best, Christmas is a time to rid of destructive distractions. We cram in the same room with our family and friends and indulge in food and conversation. We stop worrying about the materialistic and mundane in exchange for the things that really matter. This rids us from modern temptations in society and brings us closer to humanity, bringing out better versions of ourselves.
At its best, Christmas is a celebration of life, love, wonder, and hope. It serves as a reminder of why we are here on this Earth and our capability to do good.
And so, it hit me, perhaps I haven’t lost a connection to Christmas at all; I’ve just bonded a spiritual one. I feel confident in the person I have become and the life that I am leading. I may not have all of the answers to life’s biggest questions, and I may not be found in a church this Christmas, but that does not mean that I have strayed from my soul or that I’m not working on my relationship with Jesus beyond the church doors.
When I say Merry Christmas, I say so from the bottom of my heart, wishing for the same blessing of love on others that continues to bless me this time of year. May we all choose to see the gift of this holiday that comes not just to those who are religious, but to anyone who opens their heart to the good that does exist in this world.