I think the seeds of my odd relationship with Christmas were planted when I was very young. As a kid, I loved Christmas. Thanksgiving would get here, and I would be so excited that I could hardly sleep for the next month. I don’t really remember ever believing in Santa Claus. Generally speaking, my parents were academics who pushed their love of nostalgia and memory-making moments aside to ensure that I was well versed in the truth about most of the big things that kids typically grapple with early in life. This applied to things like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Of course, it also made me “that kid” in elementary school who would blurt out things like “urine,” “epidermis,” or “vagina” with the edified righteousness that only a six-year-old can muster. It made sense, though. My parents were educated people who valued knowledge and truth. Dad was a journalist and a PhD. Mom was primarily a math teacher. That alone might have been enough to inspire fact-filled explanations of things like Santa. Afterward, they would swear me to secrecy where my friends at school were concerned.
There were lots of things that I was allowed to talk about at home but not anywhere else. They weren’t teaching me to keep secrets or lie, exactly. They were teaching restraint and prudence where others were concerned. They were teaching me to consider other people’s feelings, beliefs, and customs. They were also training me to go with the flow in the face of horrible deception and treachery so as to not be an outcast. I have to admit that this skill stuck with me and has played a significant role throughout my entire life. But mostly, I think they took that tack with me to spare me from the inevitable and relentless teasing that I would endure from my older brother if I didn’t know the truth ahead of time. (My brother is seven years older than I am and spent most of my early life swinging back and forth between intense sibling comradery and equally intense sibling torment.)
Despite their efforts to unmask Santa Claus and dash any belief I might have had in a flying herd of caribou or a happily enslaved race of cold-tolerant little people, my parents worked hard to hold onto the magic of Christmas for me. They were, after all, the children of very devout Appalachian Christians. Even though their personal religious practices and beliefs had mellowed by the time I came along, the family Nativity set was front and center in our holiday decorations. I had learned the basic story of Christmas early, but my parents did what they could to enhance my experience of Jesus with what I like to think of as the “Annual Holiday Jesus Abduction Mystery Extravaganza.” Each year over Thanksgiving weekend, we would haul out the Christmas storage boxes and decorate the house. One of us would dutifully arrange the Nativity set on the top of our upright piano, and then sometime over the next 24 hours, the ceramic effigy of Baby Jesus in his hay-crib would go missing.
The weeks that followed were a nerve-wracking hunt for Baby Jesus. There were no clues to His whereabouts. There was never a ransom note. (I think my parents realized that the whole thing could spiral out of control if any physical evidence of the annual Jesus-napping ever got out. Come to think of it, every year they suggested that I keep our annual tradition inside the house. I never really gave it much thought until now.) Eventually, Ceramic Baby Jesus would be found nestled inside a random drawer or cabinet or decorative vase and the lucky person who found it would be deemed the winner. It wasn’t long before I was the only one playing along. After I got better at hunting down The Son of God, I think my parents hid Him someplace I wasn’t allowed to look until they wanted me to find Him. Then they would slip Him into an easily uncovered spot before musing aloud things like, “I wonder what happened to Baby Jesus?” or “I hope we find Jesus before it’s too late!” It was all in good fun and had no bearing on my burgeoning pediatric anxiety issues, I’m sure. Our Annual Holiday Jesus Abduction Mystery Extravaganza continued for several years and only ended after the year no one remembered to look for Ceramic Baby Jesus, and my parents forgot where they hid Him. I found him the next Spring in the back of our kitchen junk drawer. It wasn’t a wordless statement about my family’s religious beliefs. We all just got busy and moved on.
To this day, I still have a bizarre sense that I am supposed to search for something that is lost every December. I also have moments when I regret that I don’t get to pass the traditional abduction of Our Lod and Savior to a child of my own. I think any child of mine would have enjoyed it, and of course, I would have been sure to include a ransom note.
Images creating using a Photo by Jeswin Thomas from Pexel www.pexels.com/photo/jesus-christ-figurine-1652555/