“What does Jesus have to do with Christmas?”
My older son asked me that question last December as I was reminding his younger brother that Christmas isn’t just about how many Legos we can get. It’s also about Jesus.
After cleaning up the coffee I had spit out upon hearing this sacrilege, I looked at my boy. “Really, you really don’t know the Jesus/Christmas connection?” He did not.
I waited a few minutes and after the house wasn’t struck down by lightening I started to tell him the story of Christmas.
Days later, I was still reeling from the question. I’m Mexican American and was raised Catholic. I was in religious education from kindergarten until I was a senior in high school, along with all of my friends. I was so used to seeing Jesus’s image in all of my relatives’ households that when I was little I thought we were somehow related to this white guy with hippy hair. How was it that my son’s only knowledge of Jesus Christ was that it’s what mommy yells when someone cuts in front of her in traffic?
It’s because of me, of course. I stopped going to Catholic church decades ago after I realized that my gay sister wasn’t welcome there, and after attending a mass at a Texas church where the priest said that birth control was equivalent to abortion.
But even though I have my problems with the Catholic Church, I felt that my kids deserved the chance to form their own opinions. I loved our church growing up and always felt accepted (except for the time my Catechism teacher told my friends and I we were going to hell for talking too much).
This seemed like a good time to introduce my boys, who were then 6 and 7, to Catholicism. I know there are Catholic churches in my Los Angeles neighborhood because Mark Wahlberg and his family go to one of them. There is a special place in hell for people who pick a church based on what celebrity attends it, so we picked the one closest to our house.
Unfortunately, I chose the day they had canceled the children’s mass. Instead of sitting in another room listening to an age-appropriate retelling of the bible, the boys had to sit with me in the quiet church standing, sitting, kneeling and not talking. We sat behind a family from my kids’ school who looked adorable in their Sunday best. They must have known that the mass was canceled because the kids had workbooks and colored pencils.
“iPhone?” my younger son asked loudly. I thought back to the Sundays I spent in mass. We couldn’t chew gum, eat or drink, read anything but the bible, or talk to each other. “Sit still and listen. No phone.”
“What? WHAT? WHAT!?!” he said louder and louder. “I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
“SHHHHHHHH,” I said. We struggled through the rest of the mass. I really wanted to get communion and took the boys with me. They felt robbed that they couldn’t have a cracker.
I would like to say that the sermon was inspiring and we all felt true meaning of the holiday season, but sadly I couldn’t make out what the priest was saying and my boys weren’t listening.
After mass, we ran into the cute family and I told them how it was our first time at church. The dad looked puzzled, “Ever?”
When I got home I told my husband that church wasn’t quite the spiritual experience I had hoped for.
He questioned my motivation for taking them. “Did you go because you wanted them to understand Christmas or did you go because you feel guilty that you’ve never taken them to church?”
Jesus Christ! That’s it. Once again, I sat my boys down and told them the story of Christmas, but I also told them the story of a man who lived long, long ago and preached about peace, who gave food to the poor, and was compassionate to people who made mistakes and asked for forgiveness.
I told them that Christmas is not just about Legos or making it to church once a year. It’s about appreciating your family, doing kind things for people in need, and being reminded that spirituality lives inside of you. We have not been back to church since and although I think about it often, we likely won’t go back until my boys decide that they want to go.
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