Now that “the Holidays” (as we call the Nativity of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ these days) are over, I’m actually breathing a bit of a sigh of relief. It seemed that the whole thing, in between spending more money than I care to say on toys my son will play with only once or twice, watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Christmas Story in endless repeat on television, and avoiding, to the best of my ability, the odious prospect of singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, was one big struggle to remember what the day is really all about; and, I admit, it was a struggle I, largely, lost.
I felt bad for my son, especially, as he’s four years old now and starting to understand what’s going on a little more than he used to. I came home from the store one day to find him asking me if we could go see Santa Claus; the only, and rather desperate, response I could give was to swiftly show him the Holy Icon of St. Nicholas of Myra. It’s hard for me to express the shame I felt in my own shortcomings as a parent as I watched him dig greedily into his stack of gifts on Christmas morning and spend the rest of the day fighting with my sister (of the same age) over whose toys were whose. Sure, he’s only four, and of course, he doesn’t know better, and yes, why not?, but I made a vow to myself a long time ago that I want to raise my children better than that.
Until I became an Orthodox Christian (read: until I became a Christian) a couple of years ago, I had no idea what Christmas was really all about. I knew that I got lots of free stuff and had a big meal. The closest I came to thinking about the Incarnation of God and its implications was some vague talk I heard about the birth of “Baby Jesus” and the occasional hearing of the cliche that “it’s better to give than to receive” (which, of course, I knew from experience was complete bologna). I feel that my children deserve better than that, and, if I’m going to raise them as Christians, I must give them better than that.
At more than one point during this Christmas season, I found myself wishing I was a member of one of those Churches that are still on the “Old” Calendar. I admit it: I love those years when Pascha falls on a different day from Easter, and the further apart the two are the better. I can hide eggs and talk about magical bunny rabbits and otherwise indulge guilt-free (other than trying to stick to my Lenten fast, which rarely works out) in the completely meaningless and utterly empty “holiday” of Easter and then, a few weeks later, actually commemorate the Resurrection of Christ. There’s something in me that wishes I could do the same with Christmas. On December 25, I could open presents and drink a little egg nog (even though I’d be violating my fasting rules) and have a little fun with that thoroughly secular and commercial “holiday” called Christmas; then, on January 7, I could really, truly, actually celebrate the birth of Christ the Savior and the Incarnation of God with its full implications concerning the union of humanity and Divinity, all while everybody else takes down the multi-colored lights and Santa Claus displays from their houses and yards.
I don’t see such a jurisdiction-jump in my near future, though. So, next year, I’m afraid, I’ll find myself in the same situation all over again. I’d love to hear any advice any of you have to offer here, especially those of you with non-Orthodox or non-Christian (and, yes, nominal Christianity is the same is no-Christianity) family that you celebrate Christmas with. What’s the trick?