Feeling Merry

Is it hokey to say that Christmas is a “feeling”?

After my last post where I reacted to those who try to control how others describe the season, I realized that I didn’t even know how to describe it.

When I was a kid, the most exciting thing in the world was being allowed to stay up to go to the midnight candlelight service at church, where my older sister would often sing “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” like an angel from high on the darkened balcony. My younger sister and I would have to agree to try to take a nap beforehand but it was impossible. In fact, we hardly slept at all during the holidays and it had nothing to do with the anticipation of presents, for there weren’t many. Our family of 10, several scattered away at college, would draw names out of a hat and choose one person to give a present to when we gathered together on Christmas day after what seemed like an endless period of separation. We each got one present from Mom and Dad which was simply a different color of the same thing everyone else got. If you received the same color as one of the other siblings, you felt a special closeness to them that day.

Over the years, without a family or church of my own, the “feeling” of Christmas has faded for me. When I hear people arguing about the true meaning of Christmas, that tenderness is diminished even more. I know the season is ostensibly about the birth of Jesus, but I’m not even sure that was such a great thing when I watch “Christians” tear at his arms and legs like a coveted doll that only one child was lucky enough to receive as a gift. That’s not Christmas to me.

Though I rarely use the expression myself, maybe “X-mas” is appropriate. I don’t use it as a way to diminish Jesus but rather as a way to diminish this false Christianity, this idea that there is one true Jesus and he only belongs to some.

But yesterday, after years of searching for that lost feeling of the meaning of Christmas, I found it again.

A couple of my little kid friends came over to help me paint some houses I’d built out of recycled boxes. We called ourselves Santa’s elves. I’d never seen these two sit still with such intensity of effort, and for a moment I felt the spirit of my dad, who would cloister himself in the basement at night for weeks leading up to Christmas. Mom would tell us “Daddy is working on a special project. Don’t peek.” The year he presented us with wooden boxes decorated inside to look like the surroundings of Beatrix Potter’s characters (I got a kitchen motif from Squirrel Nutkin), we were amazed and overwhelmed. Though Dad was hardly the carpenter that Jesus was nor the jolly fat man that Santa is (except after a glass of holiday cheer when his cheeks would get red and his eyes all twinkly), and the hours Mom put in to hand-sewing dolls from stockings and yarn dressed up to look like us went less appreciated than she might have hoped, I carry those two gifts around with me to this day.

There is no question that Christmas has become commercially exploited in many ways, but the real Christmas to me is not about gifts — it’s about feelings. As I listened to a recording of my sister singing with her church choir in NYC while we toiled over our decorations, I experienced that childhood rush of the spirit of Christmas surge through me and I felt again surrounded by the love of family and the joy of tradition.

Call it what you will….. Christmas will always be a feeling to me.


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  1. Ted
    December 6, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I enjoyed your story, as I enjoy all of your writings. Thanks for putting my feelings in the Christmas spirit mode. Merry Christmas to you, Ellen.

  2. Syrene
    December 6, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    I so enjoyed reading this, it actually brought a tear to my eye, I think many times as adults we loose “the feeling” that we had as a child, but what a way to bring it back and the memories now you have given two children as well! Love it Ellen!

  3. Deb
    December 6, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    You are so right Ellen. Christmas is a feeling. As time goes on this is what we remember, not the “things” but how we felt. You’ve given these children a wonderful gift.

  4. Peg
    December 7, 2010 at 3:12 am

    I miss your Dad so much. I don’t know if you knew but he married Jim and I and he baptized our first child in our flower garden.I remember like it was yesterday sitting with your dad on your little glassed in porch talking to us about our lives together. I Loved him so much. I can only imagine how much love was in your home for Christmas. That is what you need to keep in your heart and pass it on,which you doing with your little friends, that is something they will keep in their memories forever.
    It’s when people give up and turn a warm heart to a cold one that hurts us all the most. You and I have been blessed with wonderful family and friends. I wish everyone could be so blessed♥

  5. Ellen Secrest
    December 7, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Hi Ellen! What a great post! Reading it brought back memories of my own – and I agree – Christmas IS about feelings! My wonderful “niece-in-law” Tina posted your post on FB. I’m her mother-in-law’s sister-in-law…sorry about that – I just should have said I’m David’s Aunt Ellen. Met you when Betty and I babysat for those two awesome little Breede’s last year. Have a happy and blessed Christmas and I’m looking forward to more of your blog posts!

  6. December 8, 2010 at 2:43 am

    How wonderful to hear from you all. I’m glad we can find a common place at this time of year when we are all just ready for it to be over! Much to be thankful for and even more to be hopeful about. We all get through it together….

  7. Anonymous
    December 25, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I love your description of your childhood Christmases…so filled with love, gratitude, acceptance, faith, joy…Christmas.

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