64. ‘Twas the Season (post 2)

DSCN1839 Yesterday, I left you shivering, but I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I didn’t hate my childhood on the farm – I loved it.

But I wouldn’t do it again for a billion dollars.

Our Christmas was not typical because we worked every day, and because my parents were committed Southern Baptists. So was I, except at the end, and even then I was a closet unbeliever. They never asked, and I never told, so even during my last two years at home I went to church three times a week, sang the hymns, prayed aloud when called upon (that was particularly hard) and lived a Godly life.

My parents appreciated Christmas, but not as the secular holiday it has become. They saw it as a celebration of the birth of Christ.

There was no Santa in our house, although no one was offended when someone sent a Christmas card with the old fellow flying his sleigh. From my first memory, I knew Santa was only a myth that other parents told their children about. It was fun to hear about Rudolph in the song on the radio, but at home we sang Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem.

We had a tree, decorations, Chiristmas cookies, presents, lights, ornaments, and all the rest. But nobody came down the chimney, and the presents were labeled from Mom and Dad, or from Grandpa, but never from Santa.

We didn’t do Christmas morning anyway. We opened our presents on Christmas Eve after the evening milking and supper were over. That was a matter of practicality. Christmas morning, like every morning, began with three hours in the dairy barn.

It was still fun. One year Hallmark came out with lick and stick ribbon, and taught classes in how to use them. My mother took the class and taught me. That year all the presents I wrapped were decorated with ribbon snails and ribbon roses.

It was fun, but it wasn’t jolly. My parents were quiet people, and since I had no brothers or sisters to bounce off of, I never learned to be boisterous. Even today, when I see people cheering on their favorite sports team, I have no real understanding of why they act that way.

There was no Christmas service at church unless Christmas happened to fall on a Sunday. The business of the church, we were reminded often, was not fun and games or helping our neighbors with their troubles. A good Christian might help a neighbor in need, but the church did not. The church was in the business of saving souls, and nothing else.

If Christmas fell on Sunday, the sermon would begin with the story of Christ’s birth, but somewhere around the middle it would morph into hellfire. The only reason the birth of Jesus means anything, we were told, is because of the crucifixion and resurrection at the other end of his life.

Still, I enjoyed my life and I enjoyed Christmas. If it looks a bit grim in hindsight, at the time it just seemed normal.

Recently, PBS did a special on the Pilgrims. They were the no-fun champions of the world, ranking right up there with jehadis. As I watched, I was amused by the knowledge that it only took a couple of generations for their offspring to kick over the traces and become Baptists, because even that seemed like more fun.

Eventually, I left home for college in Michigan. The first year I was there we got the snowstorm of the century, 24 inches in 24 hours. The campus was snowed in for a week and I loved every minute of it.

The summer after, I met the girl who would become my wife. She was filled with a massive and infectious sense of joy. We were married in 1969 (post 27.  That Was My Childhood) and that first Christmas was wonderful beyond anything I could have imagined. So were the next forty-four. Likewise the forty-sixth, when it comes next week.

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