What Christmas means to me

So, I started my Christmas section in December 2014. I'd been doing other holiday sections for years, most especially for my favorite holiday, Halloween. Coincidentally, it was also in 2014 that I started a "Halloween memories" page for my Halloween section, to talk about any vague memories I had of the holiday from all the years before I started keeping an annual journal. Well, now I think I should sort of do the same thing for my Christmas section. But I don't think there's a whole lot I can say that I won't have already said in some of my other Christmas pages, like for presents or decorations or whatever. (Incidentally, I just named two pages I haven't even created yet, as of the time I'm starting this page, on New Year's Eve... Yeah, I've fallen behind in all the stuff I wanted to do with this section. I've been busy, because, you know... Christmas.) So what this page will actually be for is just any random stuff that doesn't really fit on any of my more specific pages. It's not so much memories, as just... what Christmas means to me.

Well, not so much what Christmas means in and of itself, but, you know, what sort of stuff my family and I do at Christmastime. Of course it's about celebrating the anniversary of Jesus's birth, and all that. Although it's kind of awkward in that we don't really know when Jesus was actually born, and there is some debate about that, though I think it's agreed by many Biblical scholars that it probably wasn't anywhere near December 25. That date was first celebrated as Christmas at least a few centuries after Jesus's death. (In fact, we don't even know for sure what year he was born, but it was likely between 6 and 4 B.C., which makes the whole term "B.C." kind of ironic, I think.) Still, given that we don't know when he was born, and we kind of have to celebrate it sometime, we might as well stick with the tradition that was established many centuries before any of us were born.

So, part of what Christmas means to me is going to church. (My family, btw, is Baptist. Or at least we go to a Baptist church. Most of us. But denominations have never seemed to me to be of any great importance, within my family or our community. Christian is Christian, that's my view.) When I was a kid, I had no choice, I had to go to church pretty much every Sunday of the year, not just at Christmastime. And one thing I remember from those years is the four Sundays of Advent. If I recall correctly, every Sunday in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, one candle would be lit, so that by Christmas Eve, there would be four candles (though of course they wouldn't be kept burning all the time). And... I couldn't tell you much more than that. When I grew up, I stopped going to church on a regular basis, because I rarely if ever got anything out of the services. Partly that's because it seemed like I'd already heard every Bible story a million times, partly it's because I've always been uncomfortable being around lots of people, and partly... well, there may be any number of reasons. But I still usually go to my church's Christmas Eve candlelight service (or I have done so most of the years that I've lived in my hometown of New Sweden, Maine). I think the actual time of the service varies from year to year, but it's probably usually at 9pm. Most of the service doesn't involve candlelight, but there will be some talk from the pastor and possibly others, about the Biblical accounts of Jesus's birth, and whatnot. The congregation will sing a few Christmas hymns. The Advent candles will be relit and blown out. (There might be five of them this time, I guess, since one is for Christmas itself.) And for the last hymn we sing, the lights will be turned out and we'll all be holding small candles. Anyway, it's a pretty simple service, and it's not nearly as important to me as it is to others in my family, but it's kind of nice, I guess. And that is pretty much the extent of the holiday's religious association for me. Not that it doesn't come to mind at any other time, but it's not my main focus. Oh, I should also say that my church (and/or other churches in my town) will hold a Julotta service early on Christmas morning, probably about 7am. Some people in my family go to that some years, and I've probably gone at some point in the past, but I don't really remember anything about it. It's not something I've done for quite a while.

Another important thing about Christmas is family. Not just my immediate family (myself, my sister, and our parents), but my extended family. A lot of them still live either in New Sweden or in Caribou, which is the closest thing that passes for a city. Others live farther away, but still in Maine. And some live in other states, like Ohio and Montana. Some relatives may visit New Sweden at Christmastime, if they can, and it's always nice to see them. Especially my cousins from Ohio; their mother is my mom's sister, so she and her husband and kids would come back to her hometown most Christmases when the kids were younger, but now that most of their kids aren't really "kids" anymore, it's less common that they're all able to make the trip. Anyway, they'll stay at my grandmother's house (aka "the farm") when they're here in December. My immediate family will spend most of Christmas Eve at the farm, visiting everyone. And probably opening some presents. And there may be a big dinner at the farm, or some years at my Great Aunt Marilyn's house (my grandmother's sister). Wherever the dinner is, usually even more relatives will be there, including various aunts, uncles, more cousins and second cousins and whatever. It's a big family, and it keeps getting bigger, what with marriages and births outpacing deaths. And sometime after dinner, we go to the candlelight service. Some years we might go back to the farm for a while after that, but these days it's more likely to just go home for the night. And at some point on Christmas Day, my immediate family will go back to the farm for the day. And open more presents. There's always a real live Christmas tree at my parents' house, my grandmother's house, and Marilyn's house. We'll open some presents from under the tree at my parents' house and at the farm, as well as from stockings at both places. At least we usually have stockings, but not always. And when we do, there's usually some debate as to whether to do stockings Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Oh! And Santa Claus always comes to the farm on Christmas Eve, and hands out presents to some of us. Mostly the "kids," whether that means actual kids or those of us who were kids at some point within the last few decades. Also you should know, in case you've never met him, Santa likes telling incredibly lame jokes. It's hilarious.

Oh, also we sometimes have "cousin parties." At some point in December, people of my parents' generation would get together for their own party, and sometimes people of my sister's and my generation would get together with our cousins for a party. Though I don't think I've always attended. And neither generation has really kept up the tradition, in the last few years, because it's so hard for everyone to find either the free time (at the same time) or the energy. But I do remember 2001, since I had broken my ankle that November and was using a walker. As for the party itself, all I remember about it is that we watched A Knight's Tale.

Anyway. So that's three things Christmas is about: Jesus, family, and presents. Oh yeah, and food. And carols (preferably on CD/mp3/Spotify/whatever, performed by professionals with record contracts and everything). And... Christmas movies and TV specials. And for those with jobs or school, time off from those things. (Speaking of which, we must have had little classroom Christmas parties right before winter break started, when I was in grade school, but I have no real memories of that. Nor do I recall ever having any holiday parties at any job I've had. At some point in my life I may have attended friends' Christmas parties, or I may not, I'm not sure.) Yes, Christmas is about a lot of stuff, I guess. Mostly it's about being happy, for whatever reason. (As long as you don't get hit by a bout of depression, as I sometimes do.) And I'm not sure what else to say, except to reiterate that you should check out all the pages listed on the front page of the Christmas section, because I'll say more there.

Oh yeah, Boxing Day. Um... probably a day for spending more time with family, eating more food. Maybe going shopping, but not always. I think one year we went on a sleigh ride on Boxing Day, but I don't remember that very clearly. And... yeah, I really hope I'm not forgetting to say anything important about Christmas or any of the days surrounding it, but I probably am. Sigh.

Edit 2015: I remembered that I wanted to mention that for as long as I can remember, Caribou has had decorations on most of the phone poles throughout the city, during the holiday season. I think they're sort of made of tinsel and have lights in them. Some are shaped like Christmas trees, some like candles, some like stockings with candy canes in them, maybe some other things, I forget. In recent years I don't think I've been in Caribou when it's dark out, around the holidays, so it's been awhile since I've seen them lit. Also there would be lights strung overhead going across Sweden Street. And probably some trees have lights in them. And there used to be a big Christmas tree on one corner, and the lighting of it was a local event every year (though I probably didn't go to that often). I don't think they do that anymore, anyway. But at least they still have the phone pole decorations, which is kind of nostalgic, to me.

tek's Winter Holidays page