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."