As a new mother this year, I have started my own quest for tradition. My partner and I are raising a child who has Hindu, Sikh, and Christian heritage. We want to pass down some aspects of our experiences as South Asian Americans. … We’ve decided to call our tree a ‘family tree’ and, instead of lights and store-bought ornaments, we put photos of relatives, loved ones, ancestors, and small items that represent our families on the branches. But we have plenty of ‘living’ and other images — my newborn nephew’s photo, an ornament made in grade school by my brother, and a set of handmade paper mâché stars bought on a family trip to Goa when I was eight years old.
Merry Christmas to all celebrating! For a holiday treat, Neil Gaiman reads ”A Christmas Carol” from Charles Dickens's only surviving “prompt copy” – a special performance script, which Dickens created by taking apart the existing novella, cutting and pasting select sections into a blank-leaf book, then filleting the text by highlighting the most dramatic scenes and annotating them with reading cues and stage directions. This, in other words, is “A Christmas Carol” read exactly as Dickens wanted it read – and it’s one of the greatest writers of our time reading one of the greatest writers of all time.
Backstory on the unusual artifact here.
This Lego nativity scene with a kataluma by Jacob Hosanna pictures the space in which Jesus was born rather than the traditional manger in a stable story.
Pádraig Ó Tuama notes in "Plenty of Room at the Inn: The Nativity Scene Resurrected" that the misinterpretation of the Christmas story, as is commonly told, may miss the point of Luke’s gospel and that Christians might miss the more important message within.
"We must always be attentive to the edges of our own storytelling. Attractive as it may be to children, and lodged as it may be upon the portrayed scenes of religious Christmas cards, it is simply incorrect to think that Mary and Joseph were forced into a stable.”
The Three Christmases of the Holy Land
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.
Making Room for Both Traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah
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.
"Magnum Mysterium" by Chanticleer
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Fred Child and the producers of Performance Today have created a substantial repository of free music from the live concerts and in-studio performances they broadcast on public radio. This year, three ensembles — Calmus, New York Polyphony, and Chanticleer — are offering free downloads of some of these performances.
I’ll post one track from each group during the course of the day, but I recommend you head over to PT’s website and download them for yourself.
A Polish Grandmother’s Christmas Story
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:
Hallelujah from Quinhagak, Alaska
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Rachel Naomi Remen, a former guest at On Being, passed on this delightful video made by the residents of Quinhagak, Alaska, a small village of less than 600 people near the Bering Sea. Enjoy!