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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Eve Enlightenment

Parishioner's Response by Patricia Caspers

I didn't grow up spending Christmas Eve in church. In fact, I didn't spend much time in church at all, so for me Christmas wasn't about the birth of Christ so much as it was about time with family, eggnog, the scent of gingerbread cookie ornaments mingling with the evergreen scent of the tree, and laughter.

When the family scattered because of death and divorce, Christmas changed too.

Because I didn't have faith in the Christmas miracle, for many years my sense of loss at Christmas was stronger than my joy-- and that's still true to some extent, especially since moving 3,000 miles away from the tiny family I have left. I often feel like shouting a la Charlie Brown, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" But as much as I appreciate the beauty in Linus's heartfelt monologue, I just don't believe.

I'm learning, though, that all families change over time. Children grow and go their own holiday ways or bring families of their own to the gathering. Death and divorce happen all around, and there are enough melancholy holiday tunes to remind me I'm not alone with my loss.

This year we bundled up our children and attended the candlelight service at First Parish in Fitchburg where we have recently become members. It's a place where my atheist husband and I can enjoy the beauty of the season without feeling like frauds.

The choir carolled, Marcia read a story for all ages: Jackie's Gift: A True Story of Christmas, Hanukkah and Jackie Robinson , (with which I became so enthralled I forgot where I was or what I was doing until my little guy led me blinkingly back to my pew), and Leaf reminded us to accept all gifts with the spirit in which they are given.

While Leaf spoke I thought about all of the Christmas celebrations I've attended with various families since the last happy eve I spent with the Caspers' clan, and I realized that those holidays were gifts, too, yet I accepted them begrudgingly or refused them altogether.

We spent a quiet Christmas morning at home with our children and, for the first time, the evening with my in-laws, whom I'm still coming to know. While I reminisced fondly about Christmases of Old, I kept Leaf's words in mind and was grateful for each gift of the day: a skype with my parents in California, the Santa sparkle in our children's eyes, a tamale assembly line and impromptu mini-feast with my brother-in-law, and of course, the pie.

It's a good and sometimes difficult lesson for every day, to be present to the gifts instead of the trials-- remembering the woman who let me and my over-tired, tantruming preschooler ahead of her in the grocery line, instead of the tantrum itself.

But that's the great thing about life; it offers ample opportunity for learning, and failing, and learning again. And that's a bit of miracle I'll carry into the New Year.