When I was growing up I always knew that Christmas was the best time of the year. My mom went all out, baking, cooking, decorating the house, and, of course, buying and wrapping gifts. My sister and I waited anxiously for Christmas Eve, when Santa would come visit [first it was my dad, but when we got a little older, he and a friend visited each other's house]. On Christmas day there were all those new toys to play with and a wonderful dinner to be shared with loved ones. It was clearly the biggest thing we did as a family.
When I became an adult I knew all of that was true, but for a while I was puzzled: how could this be such a big deal when my family wasn't particularly "religious"? It didn't make sense that this holiday would be the most important day of the year if we weren't celebrating the religious aspect of the event. What I came to recognize is that, indeed, it wasn't a 'religious' holiday in my parents home; it was a celebration of joy, love, and appreciation for all that was good in our lives. To this day, Christmas is a wonderful time for me, but it's still about giving gifts to people I care about, celebrating with people I love, and sharing the joy of being alive.
I've shared celebrations of Chanukah with friends who are Jewish and Kwanzaa with friends who have African-American roots and I've found that same joy, love, and giving expressed there too. What I now know is that no matter what we may believe culturally or theologically, there is a holiday or holy day that will invite us into the connections with one another we can experience through giving and the joy that is possible simply because we are alive.
I also know that while I am blessed to have wonderful holiday memories of this time of year, not everyone does. This can be a very painful time, either because of memories that still have the power to wound us, because we are missing the company of someone who has been central to our life, some tragedy has occurred at this time of year, or we just feel alone in the present. I wish everyone could have a feeling of joy as we go through December into the next year and that no one would feel alone, but I know that's not possible. So the next best thing I can do is to urge all of us to reach out to each other ‹ to share joy if that's possible, and if not, to be there through the struggle or sorrow that is part of another's life. Especially this is true for our church community ‹ we always need to be there for each other, but never more so than at this emotional, powerful time of year, when so much sadness invades our attempts to experience the joy of life.
I want to be there for each and every one of you, and my fervent wish is that you do too. Whatever is true for you at this season, let's share it with one another and move toward a new year together.