It’s my favorite season of the year, and I’m speechless. I used to carry on in December with a twinkly grin and a ready, “Merry Christmas!”, one of the few times of the year when I didn’t have to depend on faulty hearing to know what people were saying, because everyone was simply wishing you happiness, family, and sharing. Now, older certainly and wiser mostly, I just smile and nod. I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel good.
My mother lamented not having been born Catholic, but wouldn’t go near a church, always claiming that she didn’t have a suitable hat (I always bought one for her each December from Woolworth’s, but it was never enough to get her through the Big Doors). My dad was a lapsed Episcopalian (“People only go to church if they need something in their lives”), so as the oldest of three children, I walked myself to Church and Sunday School every week under their quizzical acquiescence. I loved the questions, the quiet, the pageantry. But I don’t think it was my love for religion that fueled my answer to the grade school question of what I wanted to BE when I grew up: “A monk.” I knew nothing of monks — it wasn’t like I knew one down the street or had worked on a Monketry brownie badge. The answer was just inside me.
In college, I studied literature and comparative religion, and learned the life-kicking value of an Unanswered Question. Over the years I studied Buddhism, Taoism, Existentialism, Hinduism, Balinese Hinduism, Islam, undertook three years of a four-year course in Education for Ministry, danced with Druids, and took my 13-year-old son on a summer odyssey that included visiting the Amish, a Pagan festival in upstate New York, and a three-day stay in an Anglican monastery in Toronto. I could be a poster child for religious tolerance. But I can’t say Merry Christmas.
I heard on the radio yesterday that 91% of Americans celebrate Christmas, regardless of their religious flavor. And why not? Consumerism aside, it’s a glorious celebration of love and light, and I imagine that’s the draw for most of us. I used to try to get into the religious aspects of Christmas, but jeez, don’t we all know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 and didn’t shop at Target? I loved directing the Christmas Eve pageant, choreographing golden-crowned angels down the aisles of our way-too-stuffy church, right up until my priest told me I was “the wrong kind of Christian.” I walked out the Big Doors for the last time, and my husband, son and I attended our Buddhist Naming Ceremony in 2000. I was given the name Fortunate Ocean, and yes, it gives me pause every day of my life. It’s funny — I never wondered how to “live” the name Pamela.
So here I am, Buddhist through my love of questions, psuedo-Christian by birth, married to a New-Ager and the parent of Agnostics, and we all celebrate Christmas eagerly and joyously because it brings us together for a time of feasting and giving and doing that sustains us. My neighbors and friends sport a geographical index of surnames, a palette of facial features, and a travelogue of cultural backgrounds, yet they all seem to celebrate Christmas. Why am I afraid to wish them a merry one?