‘Tis the season of advent candles, trimmed trees, colored lights, stockings hung with care, greeting cards adorned with a family picture, too much food, even more shopping, and Jesus. So far, I’ve only managed the advent candles (demanded by younger son), lights around the house (courtesy of older son), and a good deal of shopping (that’s all me). It’s my third year as a Unitarian Universalist at Christmastime, and I still haven’t figured out what to do with the season.
Despite approximately 50% of my church’s congregation avowing secular humanist status, Christmas makes a big splash at my UU church. The meeting hall sports a decorated tree next to the altar and garland graces every window. Sure, a menorah (electric) at on the altar the Sunday enveloped by Hanukkah, although no mention was made of the symbol or the eight days it represents. And, as I’ve been told past years, the decorations on the tree are largely Earth-based. Still, the place practically screams Christmas. But no whisper of Jesus, the non-commerce reason for the season.
My struggles with Christmas began about five years ago. My mother had converted from Catholicism to Reformed Judaism. I’d left a liberal Episcopal church, both for reasons of poor fit with place and a crisis (or reconsideration) of faith. Perhaps my mother’s move away from Catholicism, which we’d long shared, gave me the permission to think more deeply about what I believed. Whatever the spark, I started to think differently about Jesus and the holidays and holy days around him.
My younger son asks it this way: “Mom, if we don’t believe Jesus is the son of God, why do we celebrate Christmas?” For the past few years, I’ve given him the same non-answer, turning the question back to him, “Should we skip it this year?” The answer is always a definitive, “No!” But the question nags at me.
Let me clarify that I deeply respect the teachings of the historical Jesus. Jesus taught and practiced unconditional love and radical inclusivity. He advocated for the poor, the downtrodden, the prisoner, the sick, the captive, and all the others society pushed to the margins. He practiced equanimity, patience, and peace. His teachings, if followed carefully and en masse, could result in a profoundly loving and peaceful world. Love one another. All the others. Now that would be radical.
Past years, I’ve found myself hung up on the divinity issue. If I don’t hold that Jesus is the son of God (okay, I’m a bit in limbo on the God question, too), then what business do I have celebrating the holiday. I know seeing it as a secular holiday only or as a solstice tradition are options others take, but I’m uncomfortable with those options, probably because for most of my life, Jesus was the reason for the season, as the saying goes.
Perhaps he still can be the reason. Perhaps the divinity question isn’t the key, at least for this Unitarian Universalist. Perhaps I can still celebrate with authenticity, given I still see Jesus as an amazing spiritual leader with a message of love that has power even 2000 years later. Perhaps the advent candles I’ve been lighting with more than a flicker of discomfort, feeling somewhat the fraud, still hold meaning, as I anticipate the birth of quite the liberal religious leader.
So for 2010, I’m dropping my non-Christian-but-still-celebrating-Christmas-anyway guilt. Okay, so I may not celebrate the birth of Ghandi or Confucious with the same vibrance (and spending) that I celebrate the birth of Jesus, but, hey, this is the celebration I know and it is about a person worth celebration and emulation.
May you, too, know love and compassion this month. After all, ’tis the season.