Last week, I questioned what people who don’t observe Christ’s birth are celebrating at Christmas. It’s no secret that we live in a largely secular culture. Here in Maine, we have among the lowest church attendance in the nation, with a mere 20 percent of folks plonking down on a pew each Sunday. So it stands to reason that some 80 percent of you might be wondering what exactly Christians are celebrating this time of year. I thought it’d be fun to consult the writers of our best-loved Christmas carols. No, not John Lennon, who hoped we’d have fun and forget our fears, but those early bastions of faith who penned lyrics based on Scripture. So this is Christmas:
“What do people who aren’t religious celebrate at Christmas?” a dear friend’s daughter recently asked her – or something along those lines. “Well, some people celebrate a religious Christmas and some people celebrate a secular Christmas,” she explained, describing a friend who celebrates the season by hosting friends and giving to others even though she doesn’t recognize the spiritual significance of the holiday.
Crisscrossing strands of white lights dangled from the 200-year-old rafters of my friend Jenny’s barn. In one corner, pinecone angel ornaments hung from a fresh-cut tree. A picnic table at the end of the room held paper cups of markers and scissors, ready for the children and parents who squashed up the rain-soaked hillside last weekend to celebrate the launch of my first children’s picture book, The Christmas Cradle. After nearly two decades of spending much of my free time alone, clacking computer keys in the fragile hope that what I wrote would someday be published, last week’s party was a true delight.
I’d been meaning to visit ever since she’d called early last fall with the news. A neighbor’s pear tree was ripe with unpicked fruit. Since she could no longer drive, did I want to pick the pears? If so, she’d give me directions. Also, she’d soon be moving from our former city of Bath to an assisted living facility in Manhattan. My heart sank. I knew she was in her early 80s, but I’d never once thought of her as elderly.
The perfect gift. For those who love Christmas, isn’t that what we hope to give? Something that communicates the depth of our love to the one who will receive it. A physical, tangible way of expressing the value of those we cherish. Finding such a gift is a challenge. The better we know the recipient – their hopes and needs and desires – the easier it is. Driving down our country road last week to visit his great-grandmother, I asked my 4-year-old son, “What do you think Grammy would like for Christmas?”