A couple of months ago I was asked what my plans were for Christmas. When I didn’t give the expected answer, I was told, “But you’re not even Christian, why would it matter to you?”. It was statement rather than query, coming from someone who, ironically, is not Christian either, but who can at least claim to have a religion.
Those words, whether by intention or not, prickled, stirring up familiar feelings of exclusion and hurt. They implied that first-world, modern-day Christmas celebrations are only about the birth of Christ, and as such, only those people invited to the baby shower need attend subsequent birthday parties. In other words, I don’t get a say on where I want to be and who I want to spend Christmas with even though I have a tree up in my house and presents under the tree and a son who is Protestant ( but thinks he’s Catholic) and the same stat holidays as everyone else.
Let me be clear, my mother is Christian and my father is not. Dad tried to teach us his religion but the words weren’t in a language we could understand, and being a pragmatic and logical man, he soon stopped trying. As a compromise, because that is the best way to get along when there are profound differences in a culturally-mixed marriage, we kids were raised in a secular household, celebrating most of the Christian holidays while respecting some of the Sikh traditions, picking and choosing the good parts and leaving out the bits that made us uncomfortable.
I know enough about the story of Christmas to be able to name all the main characters involved. Indeed, back when the schools were divided by religion (Catholic and Protestant, no less) it was difficult to avoid these stories. As a kid, I made gold-painted macaroni crosses at Brownie camp, read Gideon’s pocket bible on a family vacation, sang the Lord’s Prayer along with Sister Janet Mead, hung on to every lyric in Jesus Christ Superstar, and even attended Sunday school (my own initiative) at the local Salvation Army Church down the street from my parents’. I celebrated every single Christmas both spiritually and commercially, bought presents for everyone with my own money, and learned about the true meaning of Christmas from Charlie Brown.
Somewhere along the way, I got tired of being asked what tribe I was from. I grew weary of being welcomed as a “non-believer” at Church services. I avoided attending the “You People Who Come Once A Year” sermons. I couldn’t relate to the hypocrisy, dividing lines, or righteousness of organized religion but I still wanted to embrace the compassionate, community-oriented parts of it.
Years ago, I developed a friendship with a former patient who happened to be an eighty-six year old Dominican nun. She once said to me “You’re such a good person, I can’t believe you aren’t Catholic!”. I replied, “You don’t have to be Catholic to be a good person.” You also don’t have to be Christian to appreciate the significance of this time of year, in all its glory and its heartbreak.
So yes, it does matter to me. Thanks for asking.
I’d like to take the opportunity to extend best wishes to my faithful readers, all nine of you.
Oh, and Merry Christmas to the rest of you, including the good, non-Catholics out there.