Friday, December 26, 2008

Non-religiosity. With mashed potatoes.

I really believe that if you want Jesus in your kids' lives, you have to get him in there early.

Because otherwise you grow up thinking that Jesus is really just this handsome man in a white robe, and not necessarily someone special. This sounds terrible, I know, and to the religious among you. But I totally believe it.

And I absolutely love Christmas. And I was thinking yesterday morning, as we were lounging around in my parents' living room, how glad I was we didn't have to get dressed and go to church.

I immediately felt guilty (my dad is Catholic, after all). I mean, it's Christmas. Christ is even in the name, you know? But if we did have to make it about religion, I wouldn't enjoy the holiday half as much.

For me it's about time with family and dear friends, and the tree, and familiar old decorations, and twinkly lights, and food.

Maybe if we'd grown up going to church and having that as part of the ritual, I'd associate church and religion with the day. As it was, the couple of years that they dragged us to Mass just didn't do it. Maybe if it were motivated by religious fervor on their parts, rather than by the fear that if we continued to know nothing about religion, we'd go seeking it in later years and join the Moonies, maybe then it would have felt more important.

As it is and has always been, I'm much more likely to run off and join the circus than the Moonies.

So last night my parents hosted us for dinner. Nick's parents were there, as was my friend Matt, who is Jewish but really an Atheist, and anyway, grew up with a Christmas tree because his family enjoyed Christmas stuff. His family is off on what has become an annual Christmas trip to Lebanon (it's nice this time of year - I'm not kidding), so he was going to be alone for his non-holiday.

Alone for Christmas! Whether you celebrate it or not! No turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, desserts desserts and more desserts?!? I immediately invited him to join us.

So there we were, a table full of not-remotely-about-Christ Christmas celebrators. We asked Matt a couple questions about Judaism, and he responded, but added, "You must realize that if I'm your authority on the religion, you're really in trouble."

I didn't have time to tell him that I'd just learned the night before that Jesus actually had a brother - James. Unless you're Catholic. Then he didn't.

And you know, I wonder, and maybe the Bible even covers it - did Mary supposedly never have sex, ever, even though she was married to Joseph? Or was she just not fertile? And in those days, wouldn't Joseph have ditched her? Or maybe he did, and the Bible talks about that as well?

So Matt and I were seated next to each other, and conversation our turned to a guy I don't know, but feel like I do, as he used to be married to a close friend of mine. They got divorced before I met her, but I've heard so much about him.

Matt said, "You know, I just got a Christmas card from him."

"I didn't know you were at the Christmas card level."

"We're friends, even though I don't see him that often. We went to college together. Last Christmas he and several other Jews and I went to the movies and out for Chinese food together."

That's right! He's Jewish! And so is Matt (technically, and sort of)!

"Wait! 'Merry Christmas, from one Jew to another!'?"

He laughed. "That's exactly what it is."


  1. I think the point of most religions is sharing, caring and treating everyone well - so no conflict there.

    Merry Christmas Lisa and Nick.
    Hope the sticky buns were perfectly gooey

  2. I am right there with you on this. Christmas will forever be family, friends, food, booze, and traditions (both silly and sacred) for me. Sorry, baby Jesus! Merry merry, my dear.

  3. Jesus had a brother??? Actually, since I'm Catholic, I guess that IS why I didn't know that.

    Every day is a school day, I guess . . .

    Merry Christmas!

  4. You know, that sounds about right. Or at least familiar.

  5. Yeah, I think according to Catholicism, Mary was supposedly a virgin until the day she died. I think they explain the fact that the Bible says Jesus had brothers by saying they were actually cousins, not sibilings. I don't know where that leaves Joseph, probably committing a LOT of Onan's sin. Not terribly realistic, huh?

  6. I grew up going to church, with Jesus being "the reason for the season" and all that. But I haven't been to church in years, so going to church just because it's technically a religious holiday doesn't cross my mind in the slightest. :)

  7. I too am a "cultural Christian" who loves Christmas but is agnostic. I don't see a problem with celebrating Christmas but not going to church (though I'm sure several of my fundamentalist relatives do . . . )

  8. Christmas has always been about spending time with family (and as I get older, friends too) for me, even though I was brought up in church.

    And just because I actually know the answer for once, Mary and Joseph were betrothed when they found out she was pregnant. He planned to leave her, but an angel came to him in a dream (because that is how they communicated back then) and told him that the baby was a child of God and he was to stay with Mary and name the baby Jesus. So he did. Mary remained a virgin until Jesus was born.

  9. When I was growing up, my Dad used to drag one of my sisters and me to church for noon mass on Christmas Day. This lasted from the time I was a baby until I was about 12 or 13. I hated it because my mom never went because she had to "get dinner ready" which of course meant "I don't believe in this Jesus stuff." My dad wanted us to be raised Catholic because he had been. What I can say about being raised Catholic is that the bible stories make for pretty fun folklore.

    And now, I can't tell you how nice it is to lay around on my behind on Christmas morning after we all open our gifts instead of getting ready for Church. What's familial and together-like about sitting in silence, being preached to when you can be with your family, at your parents' house getting toasted on Christmas mimosa's at 10am?

    Agnostic Christmas all the way!

  10. I was also raised without an organized religion. We are raising my daughter Catholic. I have to admit that quite a bit of it gives me the willies. She's 3 and is learning the nativity story in preschool. The best was her telling me that she was the baby Jesus, I was Mary, and my hubby was Jofess. (Yes, Jofess). As long as she learns to think for herself, I guess I'm OK with it!

    Merry Merry to you and yours!

  11. I frequently say that I do the commercialism Christmas: the twinkly lights, the peppermint stuff, the gifts, but not the Church-ey-ness of it all. Because although I was born Christian, I no longer consider myself Christian. Still finding my spiritual path, but loving Christmas with all its traditions just the same.

  12. Lisa, check out this article: it talks all about Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Kinda interesting.

    Over the past 10 or so years, Christmas has lost a lot of the family aspect for me, mainly due to geography. Now that I'm living closer to family, I'm working on trying to get that spirit back. We'll see.


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