Christmas Eve, Christopher asked me how come I hate Christmas. I said I don’t hate Christmas. I really like Christmas, except the gift part.
“That’s the main part, isn’t it?” he asked.
No, I explained. The big part of Christmas is family, and for those that celebrate Jesus birthday, that’s pretty important. We went off a little bit about how Jesus wasn’t really born at Christmas. He knows the story, he wrote a report on it for school. But as I pointed out to him, the date isn’t important, but to people of faith, having a day to commemorate is.
I got to thinking about my Christmas’ past. Even when I was a very religious little boy, even on years when I was in a Christmas play, it never was about Baby Jesus, for me. Until I was about 5, it was about the presents. Something happened before I was six, I am not sure what it was. I have an inkling (another blog, i’m sure). But before I was seven, I was strongly opposed to Christmas and birthday celebrations, especially the gift giving part. The logic of giving each other presents for something we all were going to do (have a birthday or go thru Christmas) seemed lame. I argued that no one what you want more than you do, so either someone spends money on something you don’t want, they spend more than you did, so you feel guilty, or they spend less so you feel ripped off.
And, as a Christian, I could find no reason for it. Giving to the poor seemed like a great Biblical ideal, but Jesus pretty much said giving to your friends or people you wanted to impress was not Christian. I fought the fight, asking people to not get me anything, which they ignored. I reinforced my requests by not buying other folks presents, but eventually I got old enough to date, and I realized nobody was going to be my girlfriend if I didn’t buy them a Christmas present. Then I had kids. Even I have to admit the whole crappy commercial silly exchange takes on a certain brightness when you give a toddler a stack of toys. As the kids age, I tend to feel a little more like I am being leveraged, but then they are gone and I remember what I really did love about Christmas.
My parents were both from Mississippi, I was born there. But when I was very young we moved away. So Christmas was a repeat of Thanksgiving, except we tended to have our little family Christmas on Christmas Eve, or whatever day before we left for Mississippi.
By the time I was 9-10, my maternal grandmother had moved to Montgomery and both of my grandfathers had died. We still made the pilgrimage back to either Jackson or to Green Hills Farm in Soso. Turkey and dressing and fried corn, fried okra, rice, mashed potatoes, pecan pie, green bean casserole, later, maybe broccoli casserole, sometimes some chocolates, presents at Christmas, not at thanksgiving. Bunking in with cousins or sleeping on the floor at the farm. Good times! Somehow, it seems like we usually stayed for 2-4 days and went fishing or shooting the rifle (not really hunting) or hiking up the terraced cow pasture behind the farm or just hanging out, letting my cousin Wanda turn us on to Mott the Hoople or Thin Lizzie or Pink Floyd. Somehow I never heard of any of these bands until we would go to Jackson and Wanda would play them for us. My music was the Beatles, the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys and a few country or easy listening bands like John Denver or the Carpenters.
Somewhere along the way, we cousins pretty much all got married and had in law families and the best we could do most years was make it back home to our now expanded immediate families. Then the grandmothers died, and some aunts and uncles, and now it has been a decade or more since I have been to anything that was close to this, and that was an Owens family reunion, the last time I saw most of the Watkins was nearly 15 yrs ago at grandma’s funeral, but I didn’t see Wanda or Vikki then. These are people I still stay in touch with, more or less on Facebook, but for face to face meetings, those old Christmas’s ended over a half a lifetime for me. I miss my people, even though about half of them drive me crazy with their politics or religion or the way they treat each other. And along the way, I have shared the joy of other family Christmas’s, and this year has proven to be an especially good one, not because we were rich and netted a great booty of presents, but just being close together and having time to enjoy a quiet Christmas
So whether you believe this little verse, and whether you believe that birth was on December 25th or not, I wish you a good Christmas:
Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And further, one of my favorite uncles, who I have to admit is probably one of the more deeply flawed characters in a family that could have inspire William Faulkner who was living with his baby sister and aggravated her so much this past summer she kicked him out, so he climbed into an old pickup truck and drove off into the sunset. We have all been concerned about his whereabouts, but like the lost lamb, today, he is found. Alive, not well, but well enough, a very nice Christmas for all of us, but especially for Wanda and her little sister Vikki. Call it the Christmas Miracle of Hattieburg, Mississippi, if you like. I wouldn’t argue the point!