Christmas in Purdyville

Let’s travel back in time to the very origins of Purdyville. What my DH and I each found most attractive in the other was our desire to obey Christ in everything, no matter how inconvenient or unconventional. We both understood the New Testament to be authoritative in revealing the character and will of Christ to us. This common spiritual vision has been the foundation of our marriage and family life.

From the beginning we were ambivalent about the celebration of Christmas and its relationship to our faith. First of all, there is no command from God to celebrate the Lord’s birth in the New Testament. The date of December 25th is an arbitrary one, chosen by Bishop Liberius of Rome in 354 A.D.

Not only did we not feel any obligation to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, but we also did not see the culture around us celebrating it as a religious holiday. In fact, the celebration of Christmas as practiced in our culture seemed to us to sentimentalize and trivialize things that we believed important, and glorify things that we, as Christians, are exhorted to “put to death” by writers in the New Testament.

On the other hand, we did agree that celebration (having parties, making merry, etc.) of itself is not evil, giving gifts to show love is certainly not a sin, and honoring and glorifying God should be a daily activity.

So what to do with this holiday that made us so uncomfortable and yet so permeated our culture? A book I stumbled across in the library, Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Ann Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli, helped me clarify my thinking.

I looked at it this way. If I were living in a foreign country whose religion celebrated things which I in good conscience could not take part in, what would I do? If they had a religious holiday where basically the whole nation took the day off, I wouldn’t try to go to work and pretend that the day was just like any other day. No, I’d take advantage of the day off to spend time with my family. I’d want to relax and have fun with them, but in such a way that it was clear that we were NOT celebrating what the rest of the country was celebrating.

So, on Christmas Day you could say we celebrate our family. We try to make time for each other and enjoy each other with as few obligations and responsibilities interfering as possible. That is how our party food tradition got started–everything we eat on Christmas is prepared beforehand or comes straight out of a bag or jar, so that no one has to spend time cooking. Some of what we eat on that day would be considered traditional Christmas food, and other things, such as watermelon rind pickle, we have just because we like them.

I try to do things I normally don’t have time to do don’t make time for, like teach someone how to knead bread, read a lot of stories, or play board games. We even use paper plates, cups, and napkins that day to minimize dish washing.

And what about gift giving? I enjoy the whole process of choosing and giving gifts far more than my DH does, but even I could see that if we introduced gift giving into the tradition it would easily lead to the materialistic emphasis we were trying to avoid. So we don’t give Christmas presents. On the other hand, we didn’t feel right in forbidding other people from celebrating Christmas the way they want to, which, especially for grandparents, involves giving our children presents.

We have tried to explain our Christmas “philosophy” to anyone who expressed an intention to give our children gifts. We feel most comfortable with those who understand our beliefs but still want to give the kids gifts. It’s a difficult balance. We certainly don’t want anyone to feel obligated to give presents, but neither would we want to deny them a way of expressing their love.

I myself like to show people that I love them by giving gifts (I even daydream about it a lot), but I decided to focus my limited resources on celebrating my loved ones’ birthdays.

Reactions to our eccentric holiday tradition range from incredulity to horror. Most devotees of Christmas consider it a cruel and unusual punishment to inflict on our children. Yet our children look forward to our Christmas party (the younger ones call it, ahem, Food Christmas), and when given the opportunity to go to a relative’s house on Christmas day, politely (in public) and emphatically (in private) decline. We have done it this way since before most of them can remember, and since their parents don’t act deprived, why should they feel deprived?

Occasionally, when I see a particularly attractive tree ornament, or hear a Christmas carol rung out in the local village, I feel a twinge of nostalgia. But I realize that I’m usually pining after an emotional feeling, and not a certain way of celebrating a holiday.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone celebrating Christmas the way that seems best to them, and I hope I haven’t given that impression. I just thought you’d appreciate yet another peek at what goes on in Purdyville.

Originally published in This Week in Purdyville 12/15/98