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Mon December 15, 2003
Agnostic Country Christmas
Dr. David has hung his stockings by the chimney with decidedly secular care.
By David Hill
Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear David's commentary.]
Christmas is different for me now than when I was growing up. Some things are the same: the tree sparkling with lights, the wreath hung with sleigh bells, the cloying sweetness of virgin eggnog. But my children have something I never had: a cr?che.
My parents were fundamentalists ? fundamentalist agnostics actually. My father grew up suffocated by fire and brimstone, and my mother?s practice of Judaism stopped right at matzo balls. (To be fair, my Nana?s matzo balls were a religious experience). When they married my parents swore not to force-feed me dogma. Instead I would join the swelling ranks of freethinking elementary school students. I swelled our ranks to two, the other being Lori Olcott, who smelled like Patchouli and carried the Classics Illustrated version of Das Kapital.
Those who say we?ve taken the Christ out of Christmas were never agnostic third-graders. There are only like four secular Christmas songs, three if you agree Jingle Bell Rock is just too annoying. All the good ones ? Silent Night, We Three Kings, The Messiah ? are religious. I?m leaving out Blue Christmas, which is technically secular, but it?s sung by the King, so it?s borderline. And Christian symbols were everywhere, especially the public schools. To be fair there was always a bulletin board in the back corner with a Star of David and a Menorah.
But I couldn?t even take a stand as the class Jew. One year I was called on to explain Hanukah. My teacher had to gently remind me the thing with the unleavened bread and bitter herbs was more of a spring holiday. I still don?t know enough Hebrew to pronounce a simple blessing. It?s like, ?Baroque, guitar, adenoids, aloha, something something.? I never got a Hanukah present - unless Santa Clause is Jewish.
Television, the most secular of media, was awash in religion. I remember wondering why Linus had to interrupt an otherwise entertaining half hour with a reading from the Gospel of Luke. Not once did I turn on the TV and hear, ?Now, live from Nashville, here?s Andy Williams with An Agnostic Country Christmas!? Commercialized or not, Christmas is always brought to you by Christ.
None of this kept us from celebrating Christmas. The tradition of the Christmas tree dates back to ancient Egypt and was adopted by the Romans and Druids. Like we weren?t going to have one? And Santa Clause is just too useful to pass up. Even if you sneak something past your parents, Saint Nick is omniscient! That said I found his vengeance fickle. How else could the bully who stole my bike get a new go-cart?
Then there was food. Nana?s matzo balls were rivaled only by her Christmas cookies. Every year we had friends over for crab puffs, sausage balls, stuffed mushrooms, and pecan pie. In latter years we?d tease ourselves by going to church first, just so we?d be hungrier when the snacks finally came.
Unless you?re CS Lewis no one really wants to hear about your spiritual journey, but suffice to say I belong to a church, and we have a cr?che. It?s exactly like the one my wife grew up with, and she?s tutored me in where the pieces go. (Hint: even if the donkey looks really hungry, you have to put the baby in the hay.) Abby can rattle off the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus almost as well as Linus. I can?t help but envy my children having the same luxury as my parents: growing up with a religion to rebel against.
My folks, by the way, are no longer agnostic. This year they joined a sect of evangelical Unitarians. No matter what your faith, or lack thereof, I hope you have a lovely December 25th, and between now and then I hope you don?t have to hear Jingle Bell Rock.
Dr. David Hill is a Pediatrician and Internist who lives in Wilmington.