Happy . . . Something

RascalIt’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?

6 thoughts on “Happy . . . Something

  1. What a GREAT read — both your blog and the thoughtful responses to it. I am left with the distinct and satisfying feeling that this open dialog, clearly celebrating the joys of embracing the world in the all it’s diversity yet doing so on one’s own terms, IS the spirit of Christmas. The feelings and experiences expressed here go far, far beyond the traditionally tired and trite (but still mostly communally pleasant) utterances of “Merry Christmas” so no wonder you are reluctant to say something that you feel is not only not necessarily true to your experience, but is also so limiting! However, having been privy to this lovely conversation, I’m inclined to think that if and when I do utter those words myself, I’ll really be wishing them the comfort of insight, the peace of acceptance and the joy of sharing all that you have so clearly identified here.

  2. Wonderful post, Pam! And like LeeAnn, just how I am feeling. It’s just a feeling of “hope you are happy this season”, for me too.

    Yes, LeeAnn, the prayers thing is a tough one for me as well. I have decided too, that we are all One, and praying is simply sending your thoughts, hopes and dreams out to the universe, hoping it will all add to the betterment of the “WE”. Sort of “the law of attraction” thing. I answer people now with a “coming your way”, or something like that. Just because I’m not praying to their version of god, doesn’t mean it can’t help??

    Have a wonderful holiday, Pam!! (and LeeAnn!)

  3. Funny, even though I am Jewish, I have often wanted to be a monk, and I enjoy visiting monasteries and spending time in silence….alas, my tradition does not offer such a path! Although my current spiritual life involves Jewish and Buddhist practices, if someone mindlessly wishes me “Merry Christmas” (which I do not celebrate), I have to control my urge to seethe….it is the mindless part of the greeting that bugs me, the rote repetition of a phrase is devoid of true meaning. I would rather wish someone a happy solstice than say the “m” word….

  4. I too, am a seeker in the spiritual sense of the word. I pick and choose what feels right from the major (and many of the minor) religious traditions of the world. I like how Lee Ann phrased it “I have never rejected anything in its entirety but never accepted anything in its entirety either.”

    “Merry Christmas” is just words . . . it’s the feeling and hope behind them that count.

    So Merry Christmas to all!

  5. Ah, Pam. My adopted sister 🙂

    Once again you cut to the crux of the matter with eloquence. I now find that I can say Merry Christmas to anyone without reservation because I define it as “I hope you have a wonderful time this holiday season and enjoy the gift of family most of all”. In my first job out of college I worked for a Jewish man who never cringed when someone wished him a Merry Christmas, and never hesitated to wish someone a Happy Hannukah. I thought of that comfortable atmosphere again the other day when a store clerk, after finishing my transaction, looked me in the eye and very pointedly said “Merry Christmas”. It sounded more like “I hope you trip on the curb leaving the store”. I wondered if she had been told to say Happy Holidays instead and was staging her own personal rebellion against the “war on Christmas”. Such nonsense, but I realize that my definition of “merry Christmas” has broader acceptance than anything else I could say, and if I truly wish people happiness at this time of year, that phrase is more likely to communicate it than anything else.

    I too have had nearly as wide ranging a spiritual quest, but my phobia of labels prevented me at every stage from saying “I’m a ____________” I suppose I would now say I’m a patchwork amalgam of them all. I have never rejected anything in its entirety but never accepted anything in its entirety either. And yet, although I’ve personally resolved the “merry Christmas” dilemma, I still choke on what to say to someone who is asking for prayers. I still can’t petition “the Other” because I know we are all One, and I have no language for that situation. I guess I’ll keep working on that 🙂

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