Susan Campbell is the author of Dating Jesus and the upcoming biography, Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker. For more than a quarter-century, she was a columnist at the Hartford Courant, where her work was recognized by the National Women’s Political Caucus, New England Associated Press News Executives, the Society for Professional Journalists, the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and the Sunday Magazine Editors Association. Her column about the shootings at lottery headquarters in March 1998 was part of The Courant’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage.
This post originally appeared at Hot Dogma.
Back when my parents were still married, we celebrated Christmas with all the trimmings. I sang “Away In a Manger” at a Christmas fair. One brother was a shepherd, when he wanted very much to be Joseph. We talked about Baby Jesus in the manger.
And then my parents divorced, and my mother married a fundamentalist Christian for whom Christmas was nothing more than those Catholics trying to get one over on you — Christ-Mass. Get it? So we celebrated, but only the secular part (tree, Santa, gifts) and we did so quietly because some of the more dedicated members of my church didn’t do even that.
I remember asking about that in Sunday school, and having it explained to me that Jesus couldn’t have been born on Dec. 25, and that holidays like that weren’t really our style, that we celebrate every Sunday and isn’t that better than just once a year?
I wasn’t stupid. Sundays weren’t nearly as interesting as Christmas, and as I grew up, I found that theology growing smaller for me — and my Christmas trees getting bigger.
Ah, but the sword of fundamentalism plunges deep. You can think you’ve walked far from that whole thing, and then? Something snatches you back. I decorated our tree last night, and drowned myself in a maudlin retelling (mostly, to the ornaments themselves, as who wants to be around a maudlin hillbilly?) of each ornament’s history. The Mickey Mouse ornament I bought the year of my own divorce, when I won a writing contest and spent every penny to take my son to Disney World. The cheap, buy-’em-by-the-half-dozen ornaments I got the year I thought I’d lost all my Christmas gear. The fancy glass ornaments I saved up for, just like the ones my dad brought back from Germany. Sprinkled throughout are precious homemade ornaments from my sons, a poem, a pair of cotton skates, a carefully rendered manger scene.
As I decorated, I listened to Nat King Cole, who has accompanied me every year as I make my (slow) way back to Christmas. And every year, when the choir behind him swells, I get a little choked up. It’s a good kind of choked up, I promise. So what if Jesus wasn’t born on Dec. 25? It’s a beautiful holiday when people show a little more kindness, and a lot more love. We really do need a little Christmas.
So when I die, and I stand before God, and She asks, “Did you have a Christmas tree?” I will answer, “Hell, yes, I did.”
Sorry about the hell, though.