Christmas Thoughts

The other day while I was grocery shopping, I encountered a woman in a parking lot outside the store. She was walking with a cane and she asked if I would like for her to take my cart back. She said it would help her. I turned the cart around in the right direction, thanked her, smiled, and wished her a joyful Christmas. She returned the good wishes.

As I was driving to Trader Joes to do more shopping, I was thinking about whether I should have wished her joyful holidays instead of Christmas. I had said what first came to mind, but I realized that it was making an assumption — that she celebrates Christmas.

Then I walked into Trader Joes and the commercial song, “You better watch out!” was playing loudly on the indoor/outdoor speakers. And I wondered: Why is it considered politically incorrect to wish someone a “Merry Christmas” and yet stores play the commercial, yucky songs, designed to get you and me to buy more goods. What makes this politically correct?

I am keenly aware how much of our economy is devoted to tracking our buying habits and bombarding us with ads to buy, buy, and buy: things we need and things we don’t need — it doesn’t matter, so long as we keep buying. We have to keep that capitalist machine running. It becomes the religion of the day. And it becomes incredibly distracting to what I consider important in my life.

Sometimes I need to pull back from all this and really center on what I am grateful for in my life. Money cannot buy most of the things I find myself being grateful for. Sure, having a warm house to live in and food to eat are essentials that money can buy. But the feeling of sitting next to David on the sofa on a wintery night, with nothing but the Christmas lights on, talking about this and that, or just feeling and hearing his and my heartbeat synchronize in a quiet moment — this is Christmas bliss. I would not trade David’s presence in my life for all the commercial presents in the world.

In my Amish days, we celebrated Christmas with gifts and large extended family gatherings and so much food, we were guilty of gluttony. The gifts provided anticipation and fun, but when I think back, the real gift was that of community. This strong sense of community is not found in the mainstream culture — we have way too many electronic devices distracting us from having meaningful interaction with those around us.

One of the things I always wanted while I was growing up, was a Christmas tree. In the Amish way of thinking, they are too fancy. When I left, I began decorating and enjoyed a Christmas tree each year. I find it a joyful celebration of light in the darkest time of the year. And the ornaments that I unwrap to hang on the tree are such great reminders of Christmases past: the homemade ones from Paul’s and Tim’s grade school years; the ones we bought at craft shows; the wooden ones David made; the ones we received as gifts from friends; the ones we had given to David’s parents and then later inherited; and the garlands of popcorn and cranberries that I string each year.

Two weeks ago, when I was stringing the popcorn and cranberries, my thoughts went to Anna, who was with us a year ago. She and I did this together last year and it was the first Christmas tree she was ever able to help cut, put up, decorate, and enjoy. As I was stringing the garlands and listening to Handel’s Messiah, I wondered how it is for Anna to celebrate a Plain Christmas after enjoying a “fancy” one last year. I remembered how much she enjoyed music, and now she is no longer allowed to listen to any. When she returned to her community, she lost her personal freedom to make such choices.

Anna a year ago

Then I realized what Anna has gained by returning. She has community. She is surrounded by her brothers and sisters and their families, including her forty (or more) nieces and nephews, all of whom she loves very much. Most of all, this is where she felt she belonged and living the only life in which she feels she has a chance of gaining her place in heaven someday.

For all of those who leave the Amish, we have to come to terms with the question of our salvation. We were taught that to leave the community was the same as giving up our chance of achieving salvation. Before we can thrive, we have to change this belief. The fear of the consequences otherwise is just too debilitating.

Anna could not reconcile this. She still held a firm belief that if she died while “out in the world” she would miss her chance of making it into heaven. She had to return to regain the hope that she could.

I had to question this belief before I could leave even the first time. Now I no longer believe this. Even my concept of heaven has changed over the years. I don’t imagine when I die I will go to a place with gold streets and where milk and honey flow. But I do believe my spirit will live on and find its true home. And I believe my sojourn on this earth will determine my place on that other shore and beyond the sunset.

I had time to think about all this when I was stringing popcorn and cranberries. I cannot judge which choice would have been better for Anna — to stay out of her community or to go back. I could only make that choice for myself. But I am keenly aware of the differences in our two worlds. I sacrificed my community for my freedom. Anna sacrificed her freedom for her community. I am constantly bombarded with commercials to get me to buy more material goods. Anna’s world is insulated from this because she is not allowed to buy devices that bombards her with these messages.

When I sit in my place of contemplation this time of the year — in the light of my Christmas tree — I hope and pray that Anna finds peace and joy in the life path she choses for herself.

Yes, sure, I have the choice of whether I buy into the commercialism or focus on the simple gifts this season. But that still does not make up for the sense of community that I miss from the Plain Christmases of my Amish past. A closely-knit community is a gift that money cannot buy. I hope this is one of the gifts Anna enjoys this season.

I would extend warm holiday wishes to everyone reading this post. However you celebrate, I hope you experience love, peace, joy, warmth, and light.

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8 thoughts on “Christmas Thoughts”

  1. I find it sad that people would even stop to question that it might be wrong to wish someone a joyful Christmas.

    Firstly, you are making an honest and positive wish. Whether or not the recipient shares your beliefs, they can still accept good wishes in the spirit in which they were clearly intended, without choosing to get affronted.

    Secondly, our culture and its traditions are rooted in Christianity, like it or not. Without Christmas there would be no holidays to celebrate, so hiding the fact feels deeply dishonest to me, and a shameful denial of our own heritage.

    BTW – I do not hold religious beliefs, but I have no qualms about wishing people a merry Christmas, and I despair at the efforts of small-minded people to edit Christmas out of this season. I don’t know of any other culture that twists itself into such knots trying to water down its heritage for fear of offending people. The attitude elsewhere – rightly IMHO – is “This is our heritage and we’re proud of it.”

    1. Ian, it is so good to hear from you. I share your opinions. I find it especially shameful that it’s only okay in a commercial way to sing all the schmultzy “Merry Christmas” songs. It takes the deeper meaning away from Christmas to commercialize it so.

      To be fair, the Amish in my community also didn’t wish one another a “Merry Christmas.” They were opposed to the word “merry.” It was like condoning “drinking and being merry” in their way of thinking.

      Even if someone does not believe in Jesus as a savior or a messiah, there is still the more universal way of looking at Christmas… the birth of a new baby. Anyone who is a parent knows that every birth is a miracle. And there is also the renewal of life in the darkest time of the year. We need a celebration of light and joy when our spirits have little to give.

      Thank you, Ian, and may you have a joyful Christmas with the ones you love.

      Saloma

  2. Christmas is my favorite time of the year; the darkness of the Winter Solstice is overcome by the light of family, friends and faith. Saloma, I wish you and your loved ones a Christmas of peace and light. The darkness of this time can indeed be overcome if we all let our light shine. Your friend Tom The Backroads Traveller

  3. Saloma,
    Forgive me for not being more attentive to your blog. I always enjoy reading what you have to say. And I can’t wait to read your new book!
    I often reminisce about my childhood Christmases with my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. The holidays were joyful with good food and fun. All the grown-ups were happy and bustling about. We children had fun playing with one another and getting attention from the adults. My world was carefree and I felt safe and warm inside. Mostly, though, I couldn’t wait for Santa to come. I thought he was real until I was in the 4th grade! A mean girl at school told me otherwise and ruined everything. She was shocked I still believed. Hmph. Really, I knew nothing about the true meaning of Christmas.
    These days, as an adult, I treasure Christmas in my heart instead of in my head. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the bling-bling everywhere. I thank God for every beautiful color strung on the bushes and trees and rooftops of every festive dwelling I pass. I ohhh and ahhh as if it were, well….Christmas. I adore the song “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee and “Run Rudolph Run” by Chuck Berry. I dig the 3 foot plastic Santas and reindeer displayed on the front lawns in my neighborhood. And the 10 foot blow-up nylon balloons dancing in the wind also in peoples’ yards. These things are all fun and I’m all for fun! But these things aren’t Christmas. Jesus is Christmas. His love for me and for all people. Even those who despise Him and want nothing to do with Him. There is always hope, however, and I think Christmas is the time when we are strongly reminded of that.
    Saloma, I wish you a very merry, happy, wonderful, rockin’ Christmas. Have a blast! Oh, I’m so happy for you and your new book. Weeeee!

    1. Fran, it is always a pleasure to receive comments from you. I love the joy that comes through all your descriptions of how much you love Christmas. And you are right, Jesus’ birth and his love for all people is what Christmas is about. It is a wonderful time of renewal… new life, love, faith, hope, joy, and gratitude.

      May you and your family’s Christmas be joyful and fun.

      Saloma

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