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Letting Your Child Be Wild

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When I was a kid, maybe 8 or 9, my parents took my sisters and I with them when they went to visit a friend of my Dad’s. This friend lived way out in the middle of nowhere, on over 1,000 acres of woods and there was this awesome creek that ran through most of it, complete with a natural waterfall. Next to this waterfall the homeowner had built a gazebo. Even though it was fall when we went and kind of chilly, my sisters and I spent the entire day we were there playing in that gazebo next to that partially frozen creek. We had no toys except the leaves, sticks and dirt around that structure, no screen except our imaginations, no other friends but ourselves and we had so much fun that the memory of that day still sticks with me more than 20 years later.

When I turned 12 my Dad started taking me deer hunting with him. Every year when the air would start to turn crisp and the leaves would begin to turn colors and the days started to get shorter I would get so excited because I knew that hunting season would soon begin. That day would dawn bright and early and Dad and I would get up before dawn. I’d dress in so many layers that I’d feel like the Michelin Man, we’d load all of our gear in Dad’s rickety old truck and drive out to our hunting spot. Once we were there, we’d strap on bags holding our lunch, extra ammo and all those various disgusting smell liquids that my Dad was convinced would cover our scent and make our hunting more successful. Then we’d hike for miles through the pre-dawn woods, trying to be as sneaky as people wearing 50 pounds of clothes could be, stopping every few hours to listen with the breath steaming up in front of us in the chilly wind. Then we’d sit on the cold, damp ground for hours; barely moving, not making any noise, just listening to the woods around us. We rarely actually bagged anything but that wasn’t the point.

I had so many wonderful experiences out in the woods with my Dad. Probably my favorite was when we had a pair of chipmunks playing on the log we were hiding behind. The two little guys ran and played barely 5 feet from us for nearly 20 minutes before they ran off. Then there was the time that we watched a doe and her twins graze in the clearing down the hill from us. And the time we watched a coyote catch and kill a turkey. Those experiences, being that close to nature, helped to shape me into the person I am today.

When I was a child I just knew that I was going to be a veterinarian and one of my favorite things to do was to rescue animals, try to patch them up, and let them go. My Dad ran a glass lizard over with the lawnmower once and cut it in half. He brought it to me, I sewed it’s two pieces back together with cross-stitch floss and bandaged him with Kleenexes and, by God, he survived. I was never so proud as I was when that snakey little lizard slithered away after he healed. I had many more failures – I never could seem to keep injured birds alive – but I always tried nonetheless.

I remember going creek walking when I was a kid and staying behind while everyone else went ahead so I could bang rocks together and try to make arrowheads. I would collect animal bones that I found in the woods and try to identify the species. My sisters and I once spent hours digging a trench through a creek bed so tadpoles trapped in a small pool could swim down to the main creek. We went rock-hunting and mushroom hunting and rode our bikes around town for hours.

My sisters and I weren’t your “typical” girls. We loved to walk and swim in creeks, we were overjoyed at the thought of going creek walking and arrowhead hunting with our parents. We climbed trees and played in mud puddles and touched dead things just to see what we could see. And our parents encouraged our natural curiosity. They never discouraged us from getting dirty, from asking questions or from exploring our world.

People like to blame electronics for the fact that kids these days don’t do the things that I did when I was a kid. But I don’t blame the electronics. We own an PS3,  a Wii, three computers, and each of the kids have their own laptop and they would still rather go outside and play in the rain or ride their bikes through puddles or climb trees than play on the Playstation. The key is for we, as parents, to ignite in our kids the spark of imagination that will carry them throughout their lives. We need to be out there with them, in the dirt and the rain and the woods, learning, exploring, teaching. Making those memories that our children will never forget.

So remember, kids and clothes are washable. And those scrapes, bumps and bruises will heal. But the memories your child makes while getting them will last a lifetime.

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On Being the Perfect Parent

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What is our definition of a perfect parent? Is it the one who’s house is always clean? The one who’s kids are always wearing the latest fashions? Is it the mother who always follows the advice in the latest medical journals about feeding and sleeping and discipline?  Or maybe it’s the parent who makes sure that there are always homemade three-course meals on the table at dinner-time every night?

If you can do all the things I listed and stay sane, my hats off to you. But if these are the marks of a perfect parent than I am striking out on all counts. My house is always messy and never spotless. I’m the stay-at-home Mom who sometimes just doesn’t feel like doing anything but watching TV or playing video games during the day while her kids are in school. I’m the Mom who occasionally just doesn’t have the energy to stand over a stove for hours and make a big meal so we have peanut butter and jelly for dinner. I’m the Mom who spends all her time at home in her pajamas because what’s the point of getting dressed if you’re not going anywhere? My kids wear hand-me-downs and they sometimes have holes in their shoes.

My son is circumcised, we didn’t co-sleep, I bottle-fed all three of my kids without a single thought to breast-feeding, we let our kids cry it out, I don’t spank them, they’re up to date on all their vaccines and have been since they were born and we eat a lot of processed food. In short, I don’t meet a lot of people’s definition of a perfect parent and I’m okay with that. You know why? Because my kids are happy and they are healthy and the decisions that I’ve made for my kids were the right ones for us.

So often these days we parents are hit with advice from well-meaning relatives and complete strangers alike. Everyone has an opinion on how you should be raising your kids and other parents are our worst critics. There is so much pressure on us right out of the gate to meet societies standards for “perfect parenting.”

Is breast-feeding best for babies? Probably but it’s not an option for everyone so cut out the blame and laying of guilt. Are fresh foods better than processed? Undoubtedly but sometimes we just don’t feel like whipping up a masterpiece. Is natural medicine better for kids than over the counter stuff? Perhaps but a lot of people (like me) are okay with their chemicals. Are organic foods better for you and your kids? Maybe but I can tell you that organic’s a lot more expensive and therefore not always a viable option.

There are so many ways to be a perfect parent and, in the end, I think that the perfect parent is one that takes all that outside advice with a grain of salt and does what’s best for their family. Because nobody knows your family the way you do and nobody is better equipped to make those choices than you. None of us got an instruction manual when our kids were born. We’re all just trying to do the best we can with the information we’re given. So instead of tearing each other down because we don’t agree with the decisions others are making let’s try to build each other up.

Let’s stop being each other’s biggest critics and start being each other’s biggest supporters.

 

 

 

 

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Unequally Yoked: A Love Story

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Everyone who has been raised in faith has heard 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” 

For most of us this means that we are to grow to a good age (in my case that age was 17), find another God-fearing, church-going person of faith and yoke ourselves with that person. We’re to spend our days worshiping God together and helping each other to build our faith through Bible study and church attendance. We are to avoid at all costs the darkness and unrighteousness presented by those who don’t believe the same way we do or who don’t believe at all. We are to keep that stain away from ourselves and our families.

Back in the by-gone era of my misspent youth, I was a dewy 13-year-old girl sitting in an art class next to a slightly older boy. As teenage girls are wont to do, I found myself flirting with this boy quite a lot. Eventually he asked me to be his girlfriend and I said yes. Our short romance ended after about two weeks when my Mom found out that he was an atheist. We professed to be Mormons but we were mostly lapsed but one thing that my Mom was very sure about was that there was a God and those who didn’t believe in Him were bad. So I went to school and broke up with him and that was that.

Fast-forward to May of 2012, 6 months after a disastrous split from my own God-fearing, church-going husband of 11 years, I was at work at a large retail outlet, doing what I did and minding my own business when I noticed a man who was leaving the register and getting ready to leave the store. I knew this man. Had, in fact, been his girlfriend for a brief time when I was 13. I flagged him down and he was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. We made a date to get together for a catching-up dinner the following Friday. I showed up, butterflies in my stomach because this was the first time I’d ever been out with a man who wasn’t my husband – and we went to dinner.

During our dinner conversation it came up that he was, indeed, still an atheist and I was, indeed, still not. At the time I wasn’t sure how I felt about that information since I’d been fully immersed in the fundamentalist Baptist faith for the last 11 years and I was still very much a believer, albeit a confused one. But over the course of that dinner and during the movie and long conversation that followed it, I realized that the childish attraction we’d felt for each other was still there – tempered by age, distance and experience. Neither of us were the kids we’d been so long ago and we both wanted to see what our relationship could be so we kept seeing each other.

Over the course of the next couple of years we dated and something completely unprecedented (for me anyway) happened; I was challenged in my faith. Not in a “your God doesn’t exist and you’re stupid for believing he does” way but in a “why do you believe the way you do?” way. This man, we’ll call him Tom, would ask me questions about my faith and I was dismayed at how often I didn’t even know the answers. I quickly realized that Tom knew more Bible passages than me, knew more about Jesus’ story than I did. Atheist or not, he knew more about the faith I had professed to follow my entire life than I did.

So I stopped just following the line I’d been led along my entire life. I took the lens of organized religion away from my eyes and began to venture outside my spiritual comfort zone and I realized that I didn’t believe – at all – in God the way I’d always been told he was. I didn’t believe in a cruel and vindictive God; a petty and jealous God. I believed in the God of love, of acceptance, of gentle joy. My God loved everyone equally as I did my own kids. He wasn’t some omnipotent, untouchable deity. He was my friend, my confidant, my Father.

Through the whole spiritual reawakening that I went through, through all my exploring and questioning and redefining of my faith, Tom stayed by me. He listened to me talk about my God, he questioned me and encouraged me and supported me. Not once did he ever tell me I should abandon my faith altogether and “come to the dark side” of unbelief. He knew that my faith was a part of me that he wasn’t going to change and he accepted and loved that about me.

My family – especially my Mom – were not happy that I was dating an atheist but being in a relationship with him had opened my eyes to so many things. Tom was one of the best people I knew, even without faith, and maybe because of his lack of belief. He did the good things he did because he knew it was the right thing to do, not because he feared some eternal retribution or hoped for Heaven when he died. He taught me to do good for the sake of the good, not to impress a Higher Power. He taught me that religion doesn’t necessarily give you morals and that faith doesn’t necessarily make you a better person.  Being with Tom, seeing faith from his side of things, didn’t push me away from God. It helped bring me closer to Him.

Tom and I have been together for nearly four years and are planning on getting married in the summer. If the last four years of being a Christian in a serious relationship with an atheist has taught me anything it’s that the term “unequally yoked” has been wildly misused.

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” 

Why do we religious people assume that only the religious own all that is righteous in the world? Why do we assume that the light is our sole property? Being equally yoked means being tied to someone who shares your morals, your ideals and your goals in life. It means being with someone who supports you and lift you up. It means being with someone who shares the load of life’s burdens and who’s there for you no matter what. It means being with someone who is going to pick up their side of that yoke and make their way with you, step by step, through life. And your partner doesn’t have to worship God – or the same God as you – to do that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To Give Without Receiving

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It’s a cold, cloudy day in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. You’re sitting in a booth at your local Chik-fil-A, enjoying a nice warm meal when the door opens and in walks a man who is obviously homeless – over-filled backpack on his back, holey shoes, dirty, ratty clothes, matted hair. The man walks to the counter and asks if they have any extra food that they’d be willing to give him. Out comes a manager and the homeless man asks his question again. The manager says “Sure! But first you’re going to have to let me pray with you.” The man agrees and they two bow their heads right there in the middle of the restaurant after which the manager gives the man some food and they both go their separate ways. What would you think about this if it were actually you sitting in this resturaunt? Would you think it was a beautiful gesture of kindness on the part of the manager?

This exact scenario played out two days ago. A homeless man was told by a Chik-fil-A manager that the manager would give him food but only if they prayed together first. The manager is having praise heaped on him for his gracious act of kindness. But was it really a gracious act of kindness? What would the manager have done if the homeless man had refused to pray with him? Would he have turned him out into the cold with an empty stomach? And wouldn’t it have been more of an act of kindness if the manager had just given the homeless man some food without the attached caveat?

Requiring the homeless man to pray before being offered food may seem like such a small thing but, if you really think about it, it’s not small at all. Essentially what this manager was doing was withholding food from a cold, starving man until the man agreed to participate in this very public, very unnecessary display of religion. Did the homeless man take anything away from this prayer session or was he doing it because he felt he had no other choice if he wanted food? What the manager essentially did was bribe this man so he could feel better about himself.

This kind of thing is not what Jesus preached. Jesus didn’t say to the leper “I will heal you but you have to bow your head and pray first.” He didn’t say to his disciples who were worried about having enough food to feed the masses “I’ll feed them but only if they prove their faith to me.” No, he just separated the loaves and fishes and fed everyone.

In a statement, Chik-fil-A said that the restaurant’s values are based on “Christian beliefs” and that the manager was acting on those beliefs but how “Christian” is this behavior? How Christ-like is this man being by forcing this homeless man to preform a public prayer before giving him something to eat?

We Christians are not called upon to preform overt gestures of our faith. We’re not called upon to prove how pious and devout we are by public displays of our piety. In fact, in Mathew 6:1, Jesus says “Beware of practicing your righteousness in front of other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in Heaven.”

It is my opinion that this manager would better have shown how Christ-like he was if he’d taken the homeless man in and given him the food without thought or question. He would have better showed the spirit of Christ in himself if he hadn’t made a public display of his piety and forced the homeless man to participate. He can’t say that his actions are based on Christ when he so obviously had an ulterior motive – to prove his faith to the people gathered at his restaurant.  Because Christ never made those he healed or fed prove their faith before preforming his miracles and neither should we.

                          You received without paying, give without pay. ~Mathew 10:8

Original story:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/12124084/Chick-fil-A-manager-gives-homeless-man-a-meal-in-exchange-for-a-prayer.html

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Finding My Faith

Old swing on sunny day - AKB

This blog has been many things since I started it. It was, for a time, a way to promote my novel. It’s been for fact-checking, for political informing and for random musing. And lately it’s been about religion and it’s impact on the world at large.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the part that religion has played in my life. I was raised by parents who claimed Mormonism as their own but who rarely attended  a service. When I was eight, I was baptized into the Mormon church by my paternal grandfather. After my baptism a group of missionaries from our local temple began coming to the house to do studies with my sisters and I. They would teach us out of the Book of Mormon, take us to church and talk about what it meant to be a Mormon. I learned few things from them that stuck with me over the years but that was my first real experience with religion.

Many years later – when I was still in high school – I met and started dating the man who would become my husband. He was raised in a strict fundamentalist Southern Baptist family and, when we became serious, it was just assumed that I would renounce my Mormon upbringing and join their faith. I did it without a single look back.

In hindsight I realize that so many of the things that I was taught during the 11 years I was married to my ex-husband were harmful to my spiritual health. In the church we attended for the first several years we were married, women weren’t allowed to pray out loud. They weren’t allowed to hold high position in the church. Children were expected to be seen, not heard and there was Hell to pay if you were a child and acted up in church. In our personal lives, my ex-husband would get angry if I expressed strong opinions (women were supposed to be quiet and bow down to their husband’s wishes and opinions). He strongly believed that it was a woman’s place to take care of the kids and the house and that a man’s sole purpose in the family unit was to be the financial provider.

I was taught by the church that gays, unbelievers and anyone who wasn’t Baptist were going to Hell and that the only way to get to Heaven was to pray constantly, read your Bible and attend church three times a week. Works didn’t mean as much to these people as how many Bible quotes you could memorize. Men were revered, women were invisible, children were to obey, completely and without question.

My ex-husband and I separated four years ago and, for the first time, I found myself able to make my own spiritual choices. It was overwhelming and I found myself faced with a crisis of faith. I knew that the things I’d been taught my whole life didn’t sit well with me. I knew that I didn’t believe that only Mormons or only Baptists were going to Heaven. I didn’t believe that all non-believers were going to Hell or that being gay is an abomination. There weren’t things I’d been taught. They were things I knew, deep down in my heart, weren’t right. And so I floundered around for awhile, trying to find my own faith. Trying to discover what it meant to me to be a Christian.

A couple of months after my husband left, I heard a sermon by Bishop John Shelby Spong on youtube. Listening to his words, hearing him speak, it was like he was looking into my heart and speaking the words that I hadn’t even figured out how to speak to myself and that sermon set me on the path to finding my faith.

I realized that I don’t believe any one specific religion had all the answers. I don’t believe that any one specific religion had dibs on Heaven, that Heaven is an exclusive club that only certain people can get into. I believe that the way you treat others is more important to God than the way you pray, or the holy book you read or how many verses you have memorized. I believe that God is bigger than any dogma, any religion, any belief system can comprehend and that we need to look to every faith to find the truth because every faith contains a kernel of that truth. I don’t believe that being gay is a one-way ticket to Hell because God is love and love is beautiful, no matter what skin it wears. I don’t believe that you have to go to church and sit in a pew and listen to a man preach for an hour in order to be a good Christian and that fellowship means much more than going to that brick building on Wednesdays and Sundays and being with people who think the same way you do.

I believe that in order for us to grow in our faith, we have to reach out to those who don’t believe the same way we do. We have to be willing to look for the answers, to look for God, everywhere, in every face, in every faith and in everyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or background. We all have a place in the kingdom of Heaven and nobody is more worthy of that grace than anyone else.

If I have to label myself as something, I will label myself as a progressive Christian but separating myself from organized religion has opened me up to a whole new world of spirituality that transcends labels. Religion, to me, has become a way to get to know my fellow man – and through them, my God – in a way that I never have before. I now look at God as my friend more than a benevolent being that I can’t begin to understand. I see God as someone that I go to for advice, someone that I know will listen to me in my joy and my sorrow, in my good times and my bad.

I’ve been many things, spiritually, over the years and I’ve done much exploring of my faith. That exploration has led me here and here I have finally found my peace. It’s been a long journey and one that I’m grateful for because it has helped to shape me into the faithful person I am today. Hate has no place in faith. Neither does bigotry or exclusion. We are all children of God and we all have a place with our creator. We just have to cast off the chains that bind us and open ourselves up to God, no matter what form he may take in your life.

 

 

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When You Lose Someone You Love

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I lost my mom on May 27th, 2014. Her death was sudden, unexpected and staggering. People talk about loss and the pain you feel when you lose someone but you will never really know, you’ll never really understand, until the loss is your own.

It’s been a year and a half since my Mom passed away; since her heart ripped apart and she was snatched from us in between one breath and the next. And there are still times when the pain is so enormous that it steals my breath. There are still times when something good will happen to me, or something bad, and my first instinct is to call her and tell her. I don’t know if that’s ever going to go away. There are still days that I miss her so much that I can’t fathom how I’ve been able to go on.

One night, about a month after my Mom passed away, I sat at my computer, completely overcome by my grief. I sat here, sobbing, trying not to wake everyone up because I didn’t want to share my grief, I just wanted to let it out. And I wrote this:

When you lose someone you love, it leaves a hole inside you. A gaping, weeping wound in your heart where that person once was.  There’s sadness and there’s grief and you don’t feel like that hole is ever going to heal. When you lose someone you love, it feels like the whole foundation of your life is shaken, like your world is cracked and there’s no repairing it. When you lose someone you love, it feels like you are a boat whose mooring has been cut; a boat that’s being tossed around on stormy waves with no land and no help in sight. When you lose someone you love, a piece of you dies as well.

            In the weeks after Mom passed away, there was so much to do. There was going to the hospital to see her and feeling the ice pick in my heart all over again seeing her lying there, cold and still and never again to kiss me on the cheek and tell me she loved me. There were funeral arrangements and long talks with case workers and social workers and lawyers (Mom was my nephew’s sole guardian and now we had no idea what was going to happen to him).  There was going to the house to pack up all her things and move them to my sister’s house until the family could go through them because Dad just couldn’t look at her stuff anymore. There were calls from well-wishers that I had no interest in taking and messages from people I had no desire to talk to giving us condolences we didn’t want. No amount of condolences in the world were going to bring my mother back and that’s all I wanted.

                At her funeral, I refused to let the preacher from the funeral home speak. He didn’t know my mom and I wouldn’t let him stand there and pretend like he did. So my sisters and I, while my dad sat on the front row and cried, stood in front of Mom’s coffin where she lay in her jeans and the “I love someone with autism” t-shirt that my sister had gotten her for Mother’s Day just two weeks before, and we gave her eulogy. That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, standing up there and trying to sum up my mom in just a few short sentences. I almost didn’t get through it, but somehow I did.

                That became my motto in life in the days and weeks and months following Mom’s death. I almost didn’t get through it, but somehow I did. And then the things that I didn’t think I could get through started to come faster and faster and faster and I didn’t have time to dig myself out of one crisis before the next one hit. 

                And suddenly, everyone was looking to me to be the strong one, to make the right decisions, to be there if they needed anyone to talk to. Suddenly, I was expected to step into the role that Mom had always played. The role of peace-keeper and shoulder when someone needed to cry and ear when someone needed to vent. I was so busy being strong for everyone else that I didn’t have time to grieve. And when things calmed down a little, I had so much grief pent up in me that I was afraid that if I let it out, if I started the flood, that I would never be able to dam it up again. So I held it inside just a little longer and just a little longer until keeping it inside was the only thing I knew how to do. And then it turned to anger.

             It was huge, this anger, and it was uncontrollable and it was just looking for an outlet. As the anger grew larger, so did my sense of free-fall. I knew that if I let this take over, this thing that was trying to eat me alive from the inside out, that I would never be able to rein it in again and so I fought it. I fought it so hard that I felt like I had nothing left to fight it with and then I hit another reserve of strength I didn’t even know I had and I fought it a little harder.

                But no matter what I put into the battle, I felt the anger taking over and it started to leak out. I had no choice; it was so huge I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I began to lash out at those who I cared about most – my kids and my fiance. I yelled at the kids for no reason and I made them cry. I was so easily irritated that even the slightest thing would set me off. The anger was so huge that the sound of them laughing – the wonderful, amazing sound  of my children laughing – made me angry. Why should they be happy when I was so incredibly miserable?

We know from a young age that we’re going to outlive our parents. That eventually the time’s going to come that we have to stand over them as they’re lowered into the ground but you can never prepare for it. And I was completely blind-sided by the anger I felt. Anger at the world, at the universe, at God, at everyone around me. Why was she taken from us? From me? It was so unfair, I wasn’t ready, I would never be ready.

It took me many long months to put my anger aside, to wrestle it into a place in my mind where it wouldn’t destroy me and everyone around me. I still struggle with it, with the pain and the sadness and the depression and some days are better than others. I still dream about my Mom almost nightly but it mostly doesn’t cause me pain anymore. Now I look at it as a way to talk to her, to laugh with her, to BE with her, even if it is only in dreams.

I know the pain will eventually fade. That sooner or later I’m going to have more good days than bad and I don’t know whether I look forward to those days or not. But for now I guess I’ll get up in the morning and I’ll pull up my big girl panties and I’ll slog through the grief to get to the other side. Because I know there is an other side. I just have to find it.

             Those we love never go away. They walk beside us every day. 

 

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The Origins of Christmas

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Well, it’s that time of year again. The time of year where we put trees up in our living rooms and decorate them with pretty baubles and sparkly lights. The time of year where we wrap boxes in garish paper, top them with bows or wrap them in ribbons and put them under that tree. It’s the time of year when children wait in breathless anticipation to hear a tinkle of a sleigh bell or a whisper of merry laughter as Santa makes his visit while, downstairs, Mom and Dad sneak a kiss under the mistletoe while they put all those presents out for the kids.  It’s a time for happiness and cheer, a time when all of humankind can come together in peace. That’s right. It’s Christmas.

But why do we have these traditions? Where did they come from? How did they come to be so ingrained in our holiday celebrations?

Let’s first look at the origin of the word “Christmas”. The word “Christmas” comes from the Old English word Crīstesmæsse, which translates to “Christ’s Mass”. The earliest recorded use of the word “Christmas” in relation to the winter celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth was in Rome in the mid-4th century. And until the 4th century there was no set date for celebrating Christmas. It wasn’t until Pope Julius I set the date for December 25th in 350 AD that it became common practice around the world to celebrate Christmas on this day (1). In modern times, the practice of using Xmas instead of Christmas has popped up. While some people have decided to become offended by this – saying that this is akin to taking the “Christ” out of Christmas – this is actually a proper way to keep Christ in Christmas. A little-known fact is that the letter (chi) is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ (2).

One of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas is the tree. And whether you put up a fake tree or a real one, most of us engage in the time-honored tradition of putting one up and decorating it. But where did this tradition originate? People have been putting leafy green vegetation in their homes on the winter solstice (the shortest day and longest night of the year) for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes to symbolize the triumph of life over death (3). Early Romans marked the solstice with a festival called Saturnalia. Part of this celebration was to decorate their homes and temples with evergreen boughs to symbolize the return of their crops and fields (3). And in Northern Europe the Druids decorated their temples with evergreens as a symbol of everlasting life (3).

The first appearance of the Christmas tree as we know it is in Germany in the 16th century when Christians began bringing decorated trees into their homes. And when German settlers came to Pennsylvania in the 1830’s they brought that tradition with them. Christmas trees were seen as a pagan symbol in the United States and not considered an acceptable decoration for Christmas until the 1840’s due to the influence of Puritan religious leaders who forbade anything “pagan” from entering the sacred celebration of Jesus’ birth (3). In 1846, Queen Victoria and her German husband were drawn standing around a Christmas tree. Because of Victoria’s popularity among her people, the tradition soon caught on in England (3).

And what would a Christmas tree be without all those wonderful presents underneath? Pagans in Rome exchanged gifts during Saturnalia, most often toys, edible treats or candles. In the 4th century, after Pope Julius I declared that Christmas was the day Jesus was born and made it a holiday, Christians adopted the tradition of gift-giving and used the story of the Magi who brought gifts to Jesus on the day of his birth to separate the tradition from it’s pagan roots (4).

And, of course, there’s the jolly fat man in the red suit who brings all those presents. As most of us already know, the Santa legend is based on a real person. St. Nicholas was a Turkish monk who was born sometime around 280 AD. It is said that Nicholas gave away all his inherited wealth and traveled around the country helping the poor and sick (5). In fact, the name “Santa Claus” comes from St. Nicholas’ Dutch nickname  “Sinter Klaas” (5).

Every year we Christians begin our annual litany of the War on Christmas. We rail against anyone saying Merry Xmas or Happy Holidays, claiming that the secular world is trying to push Jesus out of Christmas. But if we look back at the history of many of the traditions we hold so near and dear to us we see that Jesus had nothing to do with any of them – in fact most of these tradition were around for thousands of years before Jesus was even born – and that most of our most sacred traditions are pagan in origin. In fact, in Jeremiah 10:3-4 Jesus warns against the cutting and decorating of trees. And it’s probably not a coincidence that Pope Julius I chose to make the official Christian Christmas celebration on December 25th, a time when most pagan civilizations traditionally celebrated their solstice holidays. The month of Jesus’ actual birth is widely debated, with most scholars torn between summer and fall (6).

The bottom line is this – whether you celebrate Christmas or Saturnalia or Yule we can all agree that Christmas is a time of joy. A time for families and friends to come together and make merry. A time to reflect on the year past and make plans for the one that is coming. So instead of trying so hard to deny the historic roots of some of our favorite traditions, let’s drop the argument and take Christmas for what it is – a time of love, joy and the hope for peace on Earth.

Sources:

(1) http://www.dluk.info/christmas-gift-sending-tradition-history-origin.html

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas

(3) http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees

(4) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey/2013/12/christmas-traditions-pagan-or-christian/

(5) http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/santa-claus

(6) http://www.livescience.com/42976-when-was-jesus-born.html