The Christmas season is here, and for my last post before the holiday period, I thought I would reflect a bit on my childhood memories of Christmas. They can be summed up with one word:
That’s right, I have no memories of Christmas from my childhood, because I had no Christmas. And not because my family celebrated Chanukah or Diwali or Kwanza or Eid. We did celebrate the New Year and exchanged presents then, because that’s what they did in the Soviet Union.
My parents were not Christians – they were atheists, and anti-theists. They had been members of the American Communist Party before my birth, and were still sympathizers with everything Soviet during my childhood. This included an active opposition to all forms or expressions of any kind of religion, spirituality, or non-materialistic belief.
At Christmas time, we had no tree, no presents, no family get-togethers with distant relatives, no special dinners, in a word, nothing. I was, of course, aware of the existence of Christmas – how could I not be? I found myself assailed by the omnipresent sounds of Christmas carols, grimaced at the Christmas pageants at school, and never answered anything when strangers or classmates said “Merry Christmas” to me. It was a season to get through, and my favorite day of the year was December 26th, when it was all over.
I learned early on that the Christmas tree and many other symbols of the season were actually of pagan origin, and that most people didn’t really think about their god that much compared to all the shopping, family commitments, travel and the rest that so occupied them during this busy season. As I got older and was able to overcome most of my active disdain for the holiday, I found comfort in the fact that one could easily “observe” Christmas without needing to buy into any of the religious stuff associated with it.
The decades passed, and in the fullness of time I became a Christian (how that happened is a very long story, and will be told elsewhere. Stay tuned). For many years now I have had a tree with lights, and presents opened on Christmas morning. I have uttered the once forbidden words “Merry Christmas” hundreds of times, have had many Christmas dinners with family and friends, and come to love a number of songs of the season. I no longer hunker down with a book and count the days until it’s all over.
And although I missed doing it when I myself was a child, I now fervently worship the child whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day. I think about this child, born to poor refugees far from home, with no good prospects, no power or might, a child who would grow to become the Messiah, the everlasting hope of all humanity, my own personal Savior. Jesus Christ, whose birth I now celebrate with prayer and love, accepted me, gave me the gift of grace and faith despite my long-lasting rejection of Him, despite my previous disgust at the mention of His name. And if even I, a faithless sinner, can be saved by His every-lasting love, who cannot be?
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to all, may we find peace, joy, love and hope in this season, and in all the seasons to come. See you in the New Year. God bless you all.