Saturday, November 19, 2011

What once was magical

I've been looking for the YouTube vid of this ad for over a year: it was on last year, and I was delighted to see it again. There's just something about the jingly, festive music (which is, by the way, written by Frederick Delius: Three Small Tone Poems, with this movement usually called Sleigh Ride, sometimes Winter Night: I looked it up!). The cookies and ornaments coming to life (and the snowman!) are enchanting, though, surprisingly to me, some people find them creepy.

I have trouble with Christmas, specifically what the culture has done with it. It's shark-infested waters now, one massive greed-driven buy-a-thon, and often not much else. We are really trying to pare it down, in part because Bill is retiring in the spring and we won't have much money, and it's going to happen in stages. We want to buy gifts ONLY for the grandchildren, with perhaps the adults getting a charitable donation in their name (which is something I would love to "get" - imagine giving someone the opportunity to give for Christmas!). Even with the grandkids, we want to start paying for things they can do, activities like horseback riding and crafts, rather than "stuff" that they will soon get tired of, leaving their parents to try to Craigslist it so there's room to turn around.

I remember, and this gave me a chill, someone going on the radio, an expert on traditions, and the interviewer said, "So! How did this Christmas thing get started?" At the time I was quite a devout Christian, and my jaw dropped. No longer do we celebrate "Christ" - mas, unless we're fanatics of some sort, those nuts who go to church on Christmas Eve. No one seems to remember that - traditionally, at least - a baby was born of Mary in
Bethlehem, and THAT is how it all got started: the gift-giving originates with the Magi from the East (Magi being the root word for "magic").

When I was a kid, everyone seemed to have what we called a "manger scene", and we had one imported from
Europe that was the talk of the neighborhood: the figures were 8 or 9 inches tall, the manger was backlit, and the camel so scrumptious I craved it to play with. Yes, there was and is lots of phony/superficial Christianity (I call it "Christian-ism"), in which church is mainly a gabfest and an opportunity for frantic baking and other jolly fundraisers so the church can have a brand new plush carpet. People stand around and eat things loaded with fat and sugar and starch and yak about their new car or whatever. Talking about your faith is awkward and seldom done. It's somehow an embarrassment. Church for the most part has become an old pair of shoes, or perhaps tattered slippers we can slip our feet into with total comfort because we know exactly what to expect.

I miss the feeling of wonder, I mean the wonder beyond cookies coming to life: the sense of holiness, which now makes me feel like a schmuck who didn't know how to do it right. I used to shed tears while taking communion, and I know that people gossiped about me and called me names that weren't very flattering (because I overheard it more than once, though they pretended they weren't doing it). At the same time, we were encouraged to "feel" the service, to have some sort of numinous experience.

People washed up on shore, usually people in the midst of personal crisis, and they almost always disappeared as soon as the crisis was averted. For them, the church was a safe, comforting womb. For me, it slowly became a tomb, a dry hole where I could no longer seek the living water that was too far below surface to access.

I needed water from the rock, but somehow or other I was considered a bit of a nut case to actually pursue it. I didn't want to make brownies or Nanaimo bars or serve on committies, which was the "proper" was to contribute to "worship" (a term I now associate with a kind of idolatry, throwing yourself on the ground and begging for mercy - and believe me, no one did THAT in that place). The few times I did try to serve on "teams" (which was the new, hip name for committees), I was pretty much told what to believe.

Anyway. . . I started with Christmas, didn't I? And I ended up here. I didn't decide one day, "gee, I think I will walk away from everything meaningful in my life after 15 years". It was more like, "I think I've had enough." There was no one, not ONE person I could talk to about this, as it just made me look like a traitor. I scrambled around with it for several years, alone and despairing, and one day (I didn't even realize it at the time!), I walked.