There was a heated discussion on a post of Tom Flynn’s at the CFI blogs about whether or not to celebrate Christmas because it is or isn’t a Christian festival. I don’t really have a position on that, but it prompted me to try to figure out if I ever really saw it (or felt it) as a religious observance. I may be misremembering, but for the life of me I can’t dredge up any real religious associations with it. By “real” I mean ones that I personally experienced as religious, as opposed to elements that I was aware were religious.
It’s odd, really, because there were a good few of the latter, but to me it’s as if they were just decoration. I somehow sidestepped the real religiosity.
Like: my mother always went to this thing called “midnight mass” at the Episcopal church, and my older sister and brother always or usually went with her. I wasn’t eligible to go because it was, you know, midnight, and by the time I was old enough…I don’t remember but the custom must have stopped, because I never went. It’s as if there was this odd little cliff between my siblings and me.
Another example: one of the rituals was for us to join up with an uncle and aunt and their four boys to drive around singing carols and looking at the Christmas lights. It sounds both boring and corny but I loved it. I loved ritual as a kid, and had a habit of trying to enforce it on the elders. Now obviously a lot of those carols were religious…but I can’t remember experiencing them as such. I knew they were religious, but it didn’t make any difference I can detect.
Or there was another ritual, this one at my school, which was private and in some sense Anglican: it was called “candlelight” and we walked in a procession holding candles and singing, and then we recited the nativity bit of whichever gospel that is, the one that starts with And there were, abiding in the fields, shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night. I can still recite the whole damn thing, with all the pauses and emphases just as we were taught them so that the recitation would be united. Well – that’s pretty damn religious. And yet to me it was just this pretty thing. I don’t remember feeling pious about it, but I also don’t remember feeling rebellious about it. It was just a pretty performance.
I wasn’t some kind of thoughtful atheist child. Hell no. I was a daydreamer and fantasist, not a thinker. But…I was all the same a godless child. It just bounced off me somehow.