The Yuletide Crèche

Christmas was my favourite time of year as a young Catholic girl. It was really the only part of the year I actually liked attending mass. Our church would be decorated with swags of evergreens, filling the air with a smell of frankincense and forests. I sang in the church choir one year too, accompanied by a grand piano and violin for midnight mass. The intimate ritual of family Advent, with the candle lighting and quiet prayers, was always accompanied by some kind of dessert or treat made by my mother. The best part, in my secret pagan heart, was stories of the Nativity. All these wonderful and magickal characters captured my imagination: the Virgin, the miraculous Baby, an Angel, the Star, the traveling Magi... all waiting in anticipation. It was also very confusing as a naturally inquisitive person: where does Santa come in? How did Joseph feel about his new betrothed already being pregnant with child? And by an ANGEL, no less? Pretty heavy stuff, even for a 9 year old. I would sit under the glowing Christmas tree, we always had a real one, and look deeply at this little crèche my mother had purchased before I was born. The little stable held within some animals and all the participants of the winter mystery, including a cute little baby Jesus in a manger; sometimes us girls would use our finger to 'rock' the infant God, soothe and console Him. It was rustic looking and realistic, not at all like some of these garish things made in China these days. There was a wind-up music box in the back which played “Silent Night”. Of all the Christmas things, all three of us girls loved this Nativity scene the most.

Over the years the holidays changed, as it always does when we grow older. The hardest part wasn't letting Santa go (I was actually told VERY early on the truth of this devil), it was the complete discovery that my parents were fallible humans. They split up on Christmas Day, my youngest sister's birthday too. Right there at the dinner table, my mother told my Dad she was done. Now, I knew this was coming...she had said something a few days earlier whilst folding laundry together. But she promised to wait until after the holidays. I wasn't sad, in fact I fully supported my mother's decision. Even at the ripe old age of 12 I knew my parents weren't good for each other. Mom got drunk (they both rarely drink, still) and fell asleep in my bed. Which meant I shared a bed with Dad, who cried all night. It was the first and last time I ever saw my Dad cry, all 6'4” of him. When he finally was quietly snoring, I lay there and prayed to God. I was thinking about how my parents told me divorce was a sin, and the church did not allow it. Would I still be allowed to go to church? My Confirmation was coming up too, did I even believe in God? Then all those questions and doubts I had hidden away in my heart, that I dared not consider, came rushing up. I questioned all religion afterwards and my spiritual search officially began.

But every Christmas, even as an adult, I got out that crèche to ponder these mysterious questions. I remember the early joys of Christmas and try to recapture the spirit of the season. Unfortunately, a slacker ex-boyfriend allowed a storage unit's fees to lapse whilst I was abroad, and the crèche was lost. A lot of my childhood collections of books and toys were lost too, but nothing hurt so much as that old, breaking Christmas scene my mother had trusted to my care. Then 10 years ago I moved in with my boyfriend; his mom loaded me down with all his Christmas stuff from childhood too... low and behold, he had the exact same crèche! Yes, one of the animals was missing, but I didn't care. When I wound up the music and heard those familiar metal notes, tears came streaming down my cheeks. It is only now, when our daughter enjoys looking at and playing with it every year, does my husband understand why I wept that day.

Our family creche. Princess Merida is our daughter's addition to the nativity scene.
Our family creche: Princess Merida is our daughter's addition to the nativity scene.

 

PBP: “X” is for Xmas

I loathe the holiday season. The commercialism, sudden surge of goodwill, and the “put the Christ back in Christmas” bullshit all gets on my last nerve. I go into social hibernation shortly after Halloween, hoping not to see anyone until the New Year. It's like those folks who think it is sacrilegious in using 'X' to shorten the holiday's name: a short-hand version used primarily by advertisers in early 20th century America... it might actually have a more sacred meaning if the followers of Jesus looked more closely.

A few years back, some Christians decided to wage a war against secularists or others who don't take the “Christ” so seriously around this time of year.

But for us as Christians, this is one of the most holy of the holidays, the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. And for people to take Christ out of Christmas. They're happy to say merry Xmas. Let's just take Jesus out. And really, I think, a war against the name of Jesus Christ” - quote from evangelist Franklin Graham on CNN (2005).

There are so many things wrong with this statement and attitude surrounding the issue, but they have failed to actually do any sort of research;  even Christian preachers should be able to use wikipedia. If so, they would know the use of 'X' goes back to the beginning of the religious movement. X is actually the Greek uppercase letter of Chi, adding the letter P as Rho and we get the labarum ( ), an ancient symbol representing the Christos, or Christ. So literally, when people are using the abbreviated version these evangelicals loathe and take offense of so much... they are giving MORE spiritual and historical relevance in modern 'christmas' by  putting the Χριστος where it belongs.

Since having a family I am now forced to create some kind of traditional thing or carry on those I had growing up with. Since I was Catholic, my mother, sisters and I participated in Advent a few times and the beauty of midnight mass. I remember being bored to tears with the baby Jesus story and waiting for the magickal moment when we lit the candles... I can see why the Jews started doing Hanukkah. This ancient symbol of a light in the darkness of winter heralds back to even further through my genes and my mother's intention of re-building it after she took German in high school. On December 6th we would receive a visit from Saint Nicholas, a tradition held mainly by Catholics in Germanic countries. A lot like Santa (whom I was terrified of... come on: big red guy, scrambled Satan letters, sneaks in after dark whilst all the adults are asleep; more like a nightmare than some sugar plumb fairies), except being Old School he brought hard candies, nuts and fruit... yippee.

The treats of St. Nick were still better than the alternative: rocks and twigs. It was only later when  researching these traditions  that I re-discovered the Krampus! Now that was something to truly be terrified of! Hairy beasts roaming the city streets and countryside on the night before Saint Nicholas' feast, being invited into homes by parents for beer and snacks only to judge the wicked children from the good. If they were the former, they would be dragged off by the Krampus, usually thrown in a sack to be beaten with twigs and carried off to their lair. What happens at that point, I don't wish to find out... but I think it would be awesome if we resurrected this fearsome character!

The winter months used to be a time of darkness, hope and family as we rarely went out, conserved the foodstuff and counted our blessings. This is the tradition I have always hung onto and try to share with my daughter...