Christmas Just isn’t the Same

christmas present

“Christmas just isn’t the same.” That’s what my mom told me Christmas Eve when I talked to her.  I remember growing up in upstate NY.  We always seemed to have snow for Christmas.  Every Christmas Eve my family would get together with all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents from my mom’s side of the family.  We’d have food and drinks and open presents and just have so much fun.  Afterwards my family would go home and we would do the same.  I never grew up believing in Santa Clause.  We opened all our gifts on Christmas Eve so there really wasn’t any reason to believe in him.

Between 1986 and 1989 my mom’s parents passed away.  No longer did we get together with the rest of the family.  It was just us.  Still we had good times.  We would be singing silly to my parents, having that special family time and always goodies to eat.

I moved away for good in 1999 and have spent my Christmas’ in Indiana and Ohio since then.  People tried to help me fit in by inviting me to their family parties, but I felt that I was simply an outsider, trying to fit in with their traditions which were not mine.  I do appreciate those families reaching out to me, but it was never the same.

Since being married, we have tried to include my wife’s family into Christmas.  Maybe not on Christmas day but we would at least try to meet them somewhere for dinner to exchange gifts.  In the past couple years those have all died and my wife’s one nephew is in foster care, with little contact with us so far.  The past two years we have not even put up decorations.  Last year because we moved two days after Christmas and didn’t want to take everything down and pack it up and this year because since our car accident on November 1st my wife has had Bronchitis, MRSA, and now some rash caused by some virus.  My back was injured in the car accident, so I couldn’t lift anything for a while.  When I started getting better I got strep along with that rash that my wife now has.  We just have not had the energy or desire to be in the Christmas mood this year.

Even when I do go home, it’s just not the same.  The area has changed, people have changed, and I have changed.  That should be expected; after all it’s been 15-20 years since I have lived there.  Life moves on with or without me.   In some ways I feel like an outsider there too.  Longing for the days when we were all together and life didn’t seem so hard.   I also think that goes both ways and that sometimes even my family expects me to be the same as I was when I lived there, but I’m not and never will be.  Equally they will never be the same.

The Gospel of Luke according to the traditional view portrays Mary and Joseph as outsiders.  Luke says they were from Nazareth and that they could not find any room to stay in so tradition tells us they had to settle for a barn or cave.  The story brings shepherds to the manger.  People who were often poor and certainly not ranking high in society’s idea of important people.

I wonder sometimes if they felt alone.  Did their family and friends talk about them?  Did they wonder how they could be so different?  After all they had a baby out-of-wedlock.  According to the Torah it was a sin that could have killed them both.  I wonder what the priests in their hometown said about that?  However once that baby was born, nothing was ever going to be the same.   They followed the path that God had given them even though others may not have understood it.  This often puts people by themselves.  Maybe that’s why Jesus grew up challenging authority and reaching out to those in need.  If he had been the cause of rumors and the ostracizing of his parents and probably himself, he would have been well aware of how that feels.  He would have known the hurt that his parents felt.  He would have wanted to help those that society did not think was important because they were like his mom and dad.   He would have also challenged those who thought otherwise because they were the ones who hurt his mom and dad.

I feel Jesus was about accepting others, because he was not accepted.  I also feel that Jesus had little patience for those who thought that was ok.  My wish for this Christmas is that people will accept that people change.  That it is not that they have developed some skewed view of the world; but that life has taught those lessons that they don’t feel they can go back on.  These lessons were meant for them and not you, because either you didn’t need it or quite possibly you’re not ready.   If they are not harming people, simply let them walk their path and accept that God has given you a different path.  May God bring you peace and joy this Christmas.

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Are we different yet?

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

December 7th 1941, a day that shall live in infamy. This attack was a start of Americans being scared of Americans. Because the Japanese attacked the U.S., Americans assumed all Japanese must somehow be evil and placed them into internment camps for the length of the war. What if today a small group of individuals did something horribly wrong and we blamed the entire race or group? We took their property and rights away and jailed them for simply being themselves. They couldn’t help being that way.  It was nothing they could change and no matter how long they had lived in America they were treated as if they were the enemy.   If something like that happened today, would we stand up for those oppressed, agree with the oppressors or keep silent?

History is full of people being oppressed because of a few people doing something wrong.  In the past decade Americans have learned to hate all Muslims because of 9-11.  Americans throw out hate towards those on welfare because of a few that abuse it.  We spew out hated words against illegal aliens because they don’t come here legally but the government sure doesn’t make it easy to come here.  By the way our ancestors may not have been invited either.  If you are like me and your ancestors came from Europe then it is quite possible that your ancestors and mine conquered the land, driving the Native Americans away and killing many in the process.  I bet if you were to talk to many illegal aliens they would tell you they are here to find a better life.

Americans are not always the nicest in the world.  We had to have a war to end slavery; we rounded up all the Cherokees and marched them off their land because white people wanted it.  We haven’t given equal rights to African-Americans and women until the last 100 years.  And I still think we have a long way to go with that.  We ignore atrocities in some countries because they have no oil, global positioning, or usefulness to us but invade others to “protect our interests.”

I believe that this bigotry or prejudice comes because of fear.  Fear of people who are different.  And we all know that “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Yoda)  We look different, act different, worship different, have different customs etc…  Abraham Lincoln once said “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”  What if we took that approach instead of the hate/fear approach?  It is easier to sit back and condemn others.  It is much harder to get to know people and to learn where they come from so that you understand why they believe what they do.

I grew up in upstate New York.  If I had continued to live there I would not have learned this because I would not have had to learn a lot.  From my birth I was taught what people living in my area believed.  There was no big culture difference from family to family.  But then I moved to Indiana and then to Ohio. I moved from the country to the suburbs.  To different cultures to people who were different.  Not because one was better than another, but simply different.

Today I have friends that are white, black, Jewish, Christian, agnostic, Atheist, homosexual, heterosexual, young and old.  Some have money and some do not.  I also have many female friends but that may be because I teach and there are certainly more females in that profession.   Wherever I have gone I have been able to make friends.  I think mostly because I have learned to listen to them.  In college, people I barely knew would ask to talk to me about their problems and I always took time to listen to them.  Most of the time I felt like I had no idea how to help them, but they always thanked me for listening.  Think about what kind of difference we could make in this world by taking time out of our day to get to know those who are different from us.  What if we were to listen to their problems, not to fix them but just to be there for that person?  I bet we would find that no matter what religion we followed, what race we were, what areas we grew up in that we would not be that much different.  Try it, you might actually like it.  And others.