Christmas is a chameleon.
Some lay claim to the holiday as theirs alone, a marking of the birth of Christ. Any other interpretation, or the respectful recognition of the others’ beliefs marked with a “Happy Holidays,” is seen as an oppression. Indignation is a full-time job.
But the Christmas story touches us, including those who don’t call themselves Christian, or anything else for that matter, because the story centers on something every human has experienced — searching and finding.
As a dear friend who is Jewish but honors the holiday as part of her husband’s upbringing said, “Christmas is about the birth of a baby and all its possibilities – what’s not to love about that?”
I don’t understand the Christmas story as theological play-by-play. But there is power, and can be beauty, in the celebrations we create. In the music, candlelight and solace that ritual and familiarity can provide.
The community created in moments of soaring song, the expression translated across the years in a note that’s a touch flat just as surely as one that rings true, isn’t the province of the self-decided chosen.
The holiday can bring, for many of us, an existential angst that descends at first like a mosquito net.
As autumn turns into winter and everything is Christmas-sale-this and tinsel-that, the net floats with the weight of expectations and memories.
Those who are far from loved ones geographically or metaphysically feel the absences grow. Christmas is a time when everything is amplified with the expectations of what we wish would come, what we hope will come, and what we know, in time, will come, for good or bad.
We’re never alone. We carry everyone we care for with us — just as they carry us with them. But the weight of absence can become heavy.
And so I would like to introduce Sparkle Pig. He was advertised as a lawn ornament but proved too small to be recognized from the curb. He’s pink and made of metal wire, and when you plug him in, his little curly tail blinky-blinks first. He sports a jaunty blue scarf and beams his smile as he stands in for the Christmas tree at our house.
Sparkle Pig exudes twinkling porcine magnificence.
He is accompanied by plastic Christmas Bear, who greets the world from the front window with his maniacally sweet smile illuminated from within by a tiny bulb. He glows and is sometimes set asunder by enthusiastic wienerdogs clamoring for their share of window real estate.
It is impossible to see Christmas Bear and Sparkle Pig, to fully take them in, and not smile. They shine most brightly in the company of loved ones and laughter. They are powerful.
And that phenomenon is a reminder that we’re not simply born into a family: We find them and they find us. Human, animal, Sparkle Pig, Christmas Bear and the rest. This is the Christmas story that speaks to everyone — the religious, secular, agnostic — because we all search.
And, if we’re fortunate, we find a way and a reason to smile.
We find grace.