The Christmas season brought a fair amount of confusion for me. I grew up in a Christian home and I went to Christian schools, but it wasn’t until my early to mid-teenage years that we kept Christmas.
The denomination of Christianity that I grew up in rejected Christmas and saw it as a pagan festival; it’s not that the church that I grew up in didn’t believe in the incarnation, it just didn’t agree with the way in which it was celebrated, as they did not believe it was very biblical.
We stuck to the Jewish holidays and festivals with the only crossover into the Christian tradition being the day of Pentecost. As a child I found it all very confusing, I didn’t quite understand why I wasn’t allowed to keep this Christian holiday if I was supposed to be a Christian. I can remember making a schoolboy error and revealing this scandalous information once – and only once – in primary school when a friend of mine asked me what I got for Christmas. I replied: “Nothing, I don’t keep Christmas,” which was met with roars of: “WHAT!” and: “BEN DOESN’T KEEP CHRISTMAS!”
We finally started keeping Christmas when the church I grew up in went through doctrinal changes. We were allowed to celebrate Christmas, but we did not adopt the advent traditions of the church. My parents finally allowed us to partake in the traditions of putting up a tree and having a celebration on Christmas day, but my favourite and by far the most amusing family tradition was trying to keep the fact that we now kept Christmas a secret from my Dad’s parents. The fact that we didn’t keep Christmas for so long was something of a sore point between my Dad and his parents, and when we finally started keeping it we weren’t quite sure how to tell them – so we didn’t. It may not be a widely accepted tradition, but it was ours.
One of my most meaningful Christmas experiences was during a period of my life when I had stopped going to church. I was in my early 20s and my faith unfortunately had fallen by the wayside, but because of a recent family tradition to attend the midnight communion service at All Souls in London, I found myself back in church – somewhere I hadn’t been for a while. I felt powerfully moved by the service and became very emotional. Looking back I realise that the Holy Spirit was touching me.
I think I definitely view Christmas differently now. When I first started keeping it in my early teens I wanted Christmas in all its tree-decorating, present-fondling, face-stuffing, naff-jumper-wearing ways, because I felt I was deprived of all those traditions when I was a child. Most of all I wanted presents. I dare say I felt cheated out of just over a decade of worth of gifts and I wanted a little recompense. But now as the gift envy has well and truly ended, Christmas has settled into its proper place in my heart: that is, a chance for me to serve my family by cooking them the best feast I can, and most importantly to marvel at the mystery of the incarnation and to celebrate the first coming of the king, my fondest tradition being midnight communion on the eve of Christmas.