by Taline Voskeritchian, guest contributor
In the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, the first of three Christmas celebrations was on December 24, the Christmas of the English, or so we thought of it then in the years of my adolescence. My family — ethnic Armenians, Christians by subscription more than piety — had settled in Jordan, a largely Muslim country, where I grew into adulthood, pulled this way and that by the three Christmases of the Holy Land. Of course it was a misnomer to call it the Christmas of the English because December 24 was celebrated by Catholic and Protestant Arabs as well.
In those days, in the 1950s and 1960s, the Middle East was a very different place from what it has become of late. Unlike the Christians of Iraq today, we had little fear, did not hide our religious affiliation but did not brag about it either. In the Holy Land of those times, celebrations of Christmas were for us and Muslims, at least at our post-colonial school which had been run for many years by English missionaries; it had a mixed student body of Christians and Muslims.
For me, the home of the English Christmas was the Ahliyyah School for Girls, which I attended after third grade and all the way to the end. The Ahliyyah, which is still a thriving school, was the successor to the Christian Missionary School, whose British headmistress was whisked away in the wake of the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis. The school’s name was changed, as well as the board. The Christmas celebrations persisted.
by Meg Smith, guest contributor
Although I was born on Christmas, I feel like I’m slightly part Hanukkah now. Each year since I remarried — an event which brought two Jewish stepchildren into my life — I have anticipated the Festival of Lights with almost as much excitement as my hybrid celebration of the Winter Solstice/Yule and Christmas.
My stepchildren are actually half-Hanukkah and half-Christmas; their mother is Jewish, their father is not. Their parents long ago agreed the children would be raised Jewish, so they are attending the several years of Hebrew school that prepare them to become a bar and bat mitzvah. Having grown up with Christian and Jewish extended families, however, they have honored their heritage from both sides by celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas from the time they were born. As each year draws to a close, they look forward to lighting Hanukkah candles as well as decorating the Christmas tree with their doting, out-of-town Presbyterian grandparents.
by Paul Clement Czaja, guest contributor
A Christmas scene from Syria. (Charles Roffey/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
As a Polish family, the real celebration of Christ’s birth for us took place on Christmas Eve with the singing of carols before sharing together a festive dinner. And then, finally, when the night outside was deep and decorated with a billion stars, all the family would sit around the Christmas tree, and our dad would give out the presents to each and every one of us. But my story takes place on that Christmas Eve afternoon so many years ago when I was still a kid growing up in the Bronx.
After my mother had prepared the big dining room table with a large, lovely white linen tablecloth, Grandma would come down from her apartment upstairs and place a white plate piled high with brown dates in the middle of the still empty table. My brother Peter and I would get up and begin eating some of these unusually sweet and sticky exotic fruits. We did so every Christmas, but on this particular time I was puzzled enough to ask Grandma how come we only got dates on that one day of the year. We never had dates on any other day — only on Christmas Eve. Why? She smiled at Peter and me and invited us to come and sit down and told us this story:Comments
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
There’s an internet site called The Nicest Place on the Internet that I came across the other day. I’m not sure how I saw it — a link from a tweet, or something somebody wrote.
When you open the site, an acoustic version of “I Have Never Loved Someone” by My Brightest Diamond begins playing. While it’s playing, short videos of people hugging a camera are played. There seems to be an unending slew of people who have sent in these YouTube videos of themselves approaching the camera. That’s all it is: the song on repeat and these videos of people hugging the camera that’s filming them.
My first time meeting Protestants from the north was at a church camp in August 1987. I was eleven years old. I spent my camp asking the poor Protestants if they were Irish or English, with a curiosity I usually reserved for asking whether certain characters in Wonder Woman were goodies or baddies. At the end of the church camp, one of the Protestant women, a woman with blonde hair called Annette, said “Give me a hug.”
I didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t know what hugs were to give her one. I didn’t know that I had one to give.
by Judith Dupré, guest contributor
Photo by Shandi-lee (Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)
How many times have you heard someone say — I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t dance — with the case-closed authority of Solomon? Probably dozens of times, more if you yourself happen to be an artist blessed with the painting, flamenco, or woodworking gene. But have you ever heard anyone sheepishly confess, as they backed away palms up from an evergreen tree, Oh, not me — I can’t decorate Christmas trees?
Most of us dive into holiday tree trimming with gusto. We’ve got our methods, materials, and secret techniques down pat — from anchoring the tree so it stands straight to untangling strings of lights with a finesse that Houdini would have admired. Charlie Parker could have learned something from our daring as we coax familiar ornaments into different compositions each year, sentimental riffs made anew as a crystal angel is paired with a Santa made of plastic gumdrops or a tacky beaded lobster, to name some of my family’s favorites. Could Jackson Pollock outdo any of us tinsel-lobbers as we throw sparkling handfuls with random abandon? Or perhaps you prefer the single-strand-at-a-time method, placed with the en pointe precision of a Russian ballerina. I’m working the tree metaphor here, but feel free to substitute holiday crafts, baking, decorating, caroling, or gift-wrapping.
It’s your thing!
More good news! Remember Charlie Brown’s scraggly Douglas fir? The one with three spindly branches and a single bulb that weighed it down like a lead onion? Was there anything more pathetic or endearing? Pathetic attempts are not only okay at Christmas, they’re entirely fashionable. Call it folk art. Unlike the rest of the over-achieving calendar year, trying, if not actually succeeding, is acceptable during this season. Because, really, it’s not a question of what you are doing, it’s how you are doing it. The smallest of art projects becomes luminous with awareness and love.
For centuries, until recently, art was a concrete and widespread way of expressing one’s faith. Artists and artisans conveyed their devotion to God through painting, verse, and music. With the advent of the industrial age, abetted by myriad other factors, making art became the impractical pursuit of a chosen few. This is the great, unspoken loss of contemporary life. Creativity at its most transcendent — the moment when the work of art takes on its own life, when there is no separation between maker and object, when the artist is being re-formed by the very thing he or she is making — is comparable to the pure, blissful connection achieved in prayer or meditation.
We cherish Christmas because it presents us with weeks (months!) of artistic expression that is usually kept under wraps during the rest of the year. Christmas is a time when everyone has the opportunity to create — an act of transformation that mirrors what is most sacred in each of us. The works of our hands give glory to our Creator as they reveal us at our most human and most holy. Each of us was created with the same inexhaustible delight and diversity found in nature, and we are free to create with similar abandon. Perhaps this is the true magic of the season: We don’t question whether we should, or judge whether we can, we just create! I’d venture that we’d be more fully ourselves, as human beings and as spiritual beings, if we allowed ourselves that freedom more often.
This season let your spirit shine forth in the tree you trim, the candles you light, the songs you sing, and the cookies you bake. Let every ribbon you tie tie you more closely to your loved ones and to your own beautiful creative soul. While you’re in the Christmas spirit, why not consider giving yourself the gift of creativity, surely the gift that keeps on giving, all year round.
Judith Dupré is a fellow of Yale University’s Saybrook College and the author of several books. Her latest book is Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art and Life, a collection of stories about everyday spirituality and the nature of personal transformation.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication for the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.Comments