Living a Charlie Brown Christmas
December 22, 2015
Christmas has always been a difficult holiday for me to celebrate. This is true for many gay and lesbian people. I grew up in a home with two different religious and ethnic traditions, including two different dates on when to celebrate Christmas. While my Ukrainian Orthodox father insisted on raising us in his faith, my English, Anglican raised mother, wanted to keep a few of her traditions alive in our home. There seemed to be a constant battle in our home over when and how to celebrate the Christmas holidays. For my father, far from his homeland of Ukraine, Christmas was to be celebrated on January 7, and came replete with age old traditions that were not always very well adopted by his American children, who were very much influenced by the madness that is found around December 25 in this country. My mother, also far from her family and homeland in England, wanted to celebrate the holiday on December 25. Going to a church where she could sing Christmas carols she grew up with, having a tree and a festive meal, were all part of the holiday celebrations. Unfortunately, my father’s attitude in our home on December 25 can best be described as “Bah Humbug!” We celebrated a “second” Christmas in our family on January 7, full of Ukrainian traditions, including a 12 course meatless Christmas Eve dinner, caroling, and church services. My mother was much more gracious at these celebrations than my father had been on December 25. It was a rough two weeks in our family. Only years later did I wonder if my father felt that everything he held dear, the Ukrainian language, history, symbols, and most importantly, Ukrainian independence, was being destroyed by the Soviet Union in Ukraine, and so “giving in” to celebrating “American” traditions for Christmas, might have meant another death knell for everything he fought for.
When I became a priest, the parishes I served in celebrated Christmas according to the Julian calendar on January 7, and so I was able to visit my family for December 25. I tried everything I could do to embrace my mother’s traditions while reminding my father that the spirit of the holiday was just as important as the date on which it was celebrated or the traditions observed. Every so often I succeeded in both endeavors. At times I felt more like a referee and cheerleader than a son. Returning to my parish for Nativity celebrations in January was also difficult. The holy services were beautiful and meaningful and yet afterwards a deep sense of emptiness filled me. While I looked out into the congregation and saw couples and families, I was reminded over and over that my family was 1,000 miles away, and I was alone. Christmas and Easter celebrations can also be especially trying times for clergy for a different reason. People appear in church that you only see once or maybe twice a year and you wonder how you might reach them and make them want to come to Church more often, and not only when the church is decorated with Christmas Poinsettias or Easter Lilies.
For the past years my Christmas celebrations are centered around having dinner with my mother, who has suffered with the debilitating disease of Alzheimer’s for the past decade. She has no idea if it is the 4th of July, Christmas, or a Tuesday, but I know what day it is, and that is important. My husband and I celebrate with her, have a little dinner, sing a few carols, open a few presents, it is both very joyous and very sad. Christmas can be tough to celebrate.
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is watching the splendid TV show “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” After preaching on its content one year, the Sunday school teachers and children bought a video copy for me as a present. It was one of the best presents I ever received. For those who have never seen the program, you do not know what you are missing. The lovable Charlie Brown is convinced that the only way to properly celebrate Christmas is to go big and go commercial. This myth is blown away when he falls in love with a small and undesired Christmas tree, which quickly loses most of its pine needles after being purchased. He is crushed and cries out, wondering what is the true meaning of Christmas. Charlie Brown’s friends, and in particular, Linus, come to the rescue of the little tree and remind Charlie Brown that the message of Christmas is love, a love in action. Then Linus, tells Charlie Brown what the true meaning of Christmas is all about. In a quiet, angelic voice, Linus quotes the Biblical story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ [Luke 2:8-14 KJV]
Linus then turns to Charlie Brown and says: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
We all need a Linus in our lives, to remind us what Christmas is all about. My fervent prayer and hope for you is that no matter where you are, whom you are with, in what situation you are in, no matter what you have been through, no matter what hardships you are facing, no matter what evil or hatred you might hear from family or society, or even the church, that you will always remember that Christ and His love for you lives, and lives in you. If you can, be a Linus for someone. Let’s live and spread that message.
Merry Christmas! Christ is Born! Glorify Him!