Strong memories have attached to how I see holidays, so perhaps this is why Christmas means the very most to me. Growing up, with a Dad in the military, we moved all the time. I learned early to root nowhere outside myself, just root inside, because everything would change again in a year or so. But, if we were ever going to go see my paternal kin back in Michigan, it would be near Christmas. That was sort of like home to me, at least it was a place I returned to a few times, and had friends who lived next door to see periodically.
The house would be full of people, everything was a bit chaotic and friendly, and Grandma knew how to cook solid German-American fare. Big ears could hear stories of the family, jokes, and once in a while, you might get hugged. This meant a great deal to an only child till I was almost at my teens. The hugs were few, as if we had to ration that sort of thing, but noise and fun we did have then.
It meant that to me, family, belonging somewhere, refreshing relationships with relatives I rarely saw otherwise. It meant a break from the routine, a trip, a bit of fun. Gran would always, if we were really good, let us each have one of her closely guarded lebkuchen cookies, which we always ate as if it was a great prize, though the truth was, I didn't really care for them. If I could, I would slip it to my Dad to finish off.
Presents? I never focused on that aspect as I never got fun things there. Once, I got a big Winnie the Pooh animal, but, nothing else sticks out in memory. We usually got one toy and some clothes or something. Sometimes, just the toy. We always went to church and heard the story about Jesus, of course, but that was a social thing for me.
Once I grew up and was on my own, I didn't celebrate it at all, though I did enjoy the trappings of it and the music. I certainly did not disdain it when cookies came my way, and I was happy greeting anyone for the season. Later, when family came, we evolved our own celebration and it centers on what we think matters about it. Relationships, family, and love, time spent together. This year we have made up large baggies full of candy and wrapped cakes to give out to the elderly neighbors who have become friends with my Mother in their small complex. We have extras to gift one each to our garbage men and the mail woman. Do surprise your sanitation crew, having driven a garbage truck for two years, I can tell you nobody ever does that. They just gripe if you do not get there early the 26th to haul off the overflowing dumpsters and discarded trees. You will astonish them to the ground to be remembered with some candy or a card with a 5 dollar coupon to McDonalds and live on as a rare person in their memory.
The religious aspect of it is personal. We have taught our daughter what the Bible says happened. We have taught her what the holiday was before that happened and was instituted. We have taught her about other places and celebrations of the season to include Hanukah and Kwanzaa. She knows about the legends around the whole Saint Nicholas story. We have a tree up but I do not get into the outdoor light show thing. Last Christmas, Dad had just died so a Florida holiday was out of the question. This year that house is sold and Mom is here at an apartment complex for elderly, so we will have it nearby at her house. I am happy to not take that drive again, and daughter NAR is happy planning what to put in the presents for the folks at the complex and seems fine to skip the trip as well. She is not brooding over the absence of her Grandfather, it seems, so I am glad of that. He would not want that.
I think of Thanksgiving as the celebration of Gratitude. I think of Christmas as the celebration of Relationships, in the family and with others who touch our lives. Both have huge spiritual aspects to them in my inner world, gratitude and relationships, to include our own with Other, but this is personal and perhaps as diverse as all the people looking up at the stars on Christmas Eve night and thinking their own thoughts wherever they are, with the burdens and wounds we all carry. I like to set all of that down then and just enjoy the night, and focus on family and friends and send out my best hopes for everyone willing to receive it.
That is what it all means to me and why I love it so much.