By Jodi, an Ex-Christian Scientist group contributor.
“The Manual of The Mother Church” written by Mary Baker Eddy, has a guideline about not celebrating Easter. As far as I remember, it has no such thing about Christmas.
I think each Christian Science family does their own thing about Christmas. Some folks celebrate with meals, family and gifts. Some do a gift exchange, some parents (like my dad) teach their kids that “Santa isn’t real.” My family also did lots of Christmas Cookies, because one of my grandfathers was German, and Christmas cookies are a German tradition.
Every year, my grandmother showed up with at least 5 large tins of Christmas cookies, fudge, sweet squares and candies that she made. Everyone had their favorite cookies. I loved the “Cathedral Window” cookies. They were made with colored marshmallows, chocolate and coconut on the top. Cut in squares to look like pretty glass windows. (Later in this blog, I share my Christmas Cookie recipes link.)
I was still an active Christian Scientist when I became a mom. We chose to continue the tradition of having a Christmas tree, ornaments, presents on Christmas morning with our kids. I made cinnamon rolls and put them on a Hallmark Christmas tray. Dinner would be a special meal with family coming over or us going to their house, complete with present opening.
Every year, we went to our local Washington, DC area Principia Chapter for the Christmas Sing. (This was usually the weekend preceding Christmas.) People made Christmas cookies and brought savory appetizers for everyone to enjoy. A lot of years, this sing took place at the local Christian Science “nursing” home – called Lynn House of Potomac Valley. The residents there were welcome to come in and sign with us too. I’m not sure that any did. Though the Christmas music was probably piped into their rooms for them to listen to.
Many years, I did the children’s activity, or played violin for a song during the Sing. Or I was master of ceremonies for it, too. It was always a fun time. I enjoyed the Principia Christmas Sing. The best year was one of the last that I went – my entire family all played a musical instrument and led the group in the song, “Let there be Peace on Earth.” 2 of my family members played piano, I played violin, my dad played harmonica, my step-mom played guitar and I think one of my brothers played ukulele and another may have played recorder. We’d never done any family music performances like that before, and it was fun.
One year, my dad (who had just been placed on hospice) slipped into a coma on Christmas Eve and died on New Years Eve. The next year, I left Christian Science. I was heart-broken over losing my dad. Christmas time was coming, and I was so deep in grief, I just couldn’t imagine finding Christmas spirit at all. I didn’t want my boys to miss out, though, so I worked hard to find something that would work for me and also for them.
After leaving Christian Science, I came to terms with the fact that Christian Science isn’t actually Christian. While I had been taught that Christian Science “is the highest form of Christianity,” I had to make peace with the fact that I had never actually been Christian. Eddy, the creator of Christian Science, had taken words like “Christ,” “Holy Ghost,” and other Christian terms and changed their meaning to suit her own interest. I didn’t understand Christianity at that point, but I did know I wasn’t one. I was in an In-Between with my faith, trying to figure out what my next belief system would be. My Sundays had a huge void in them – I was so used to going to church every Sunday morning. I felt like I was flailing about, with no focus, no guidepost.
I decided to figure out what I actually believed in. After a week or a month of paying attention, I realized I believed in Mother Nature. I loved trees and flowers and rocks and bodies of water and mountains. I decided to honor what I believed in. It was the only truth about my beliefs that I could come up with.
I tried to see if there was a name for my beliefs. The closest I found was “Pagan,” which, in early days of the word, meant simply, “not Christian.” There are scads of ways people can express being Pagan these days. For me, though, it’s a love of Mother Nature.
Extending my love of nature, I decided to celebrate the solstice. I learned there is a holiday called “Yule.” Yule is a holiday that dates way back in time. It’s a time that’s after the last harvest (that time is around Halloween. Think: pumpkins and apple cider and corn and warm fresh baked bread). And it’s before Spring, when plantings and sunshine happen. Yule is when the sun is up in the sky the least amount of time. It’s when the nights are longest. The cold weather is here. In ancient times (and even in current times), people knew that the elderly among us may not survive the winter. It’s dark, cold, and can feel very lonely. So people gather together for Yule to share a last big meal with each other, share their warmth, their fire, the company of all the people together, laughing and enjoying, sharing memories and camaraderie. It’s a lovely holiday, steeped in tradition.
Now the first year I did Yule, I only had about 2 weeks before it happened to cobble together any kind of ritual. It worked out very nicely, though.
On December 21, Yule, my boys and spouse (at the time I was still married) all went to watch the sunset. I have had a long time passion of collecting pine cones. It reminds me of being a little girl with my grandmother, collecting pine cones by the side of the road. She put these in flower arrangements and even made little table top conical trees with red ribbons from them. So, my family and I each took some tracing paper and wrote our wishes on the paper and rolled them up into the pine cones.
Then, we went inside to our fire place and put the pine cones stuffed with wishes into the fire. We watched as they burned and carried our wishes up into the air. It felt calming and serene.
Then, we had some warm apple cider and each of us opened a gift. I got my boys each a nature-themed gift. I gave my one son some clay. He loves to sculpt and make things. And I gave my other son a locally artisan made glass kaleidoscope. (I love that glass is made from sand, a natural element.)
This small tradition has become only a slightly larger tradition for us in these years hence. We still go out and watch the sunset. One year, it rained, and we watched from our living room window instead of being outside watching it. We got to see a Rainbow that I dubbed a #YuleBow. That was pretty cool. I love rainbows!
Over the years, we have evaluated to find out what is right for our family, and we keep deciding this Yule ritual we do is perfect for us. I also make everyone’s favorite Christmas cookies – I still make the cathedral window cookies because they are so pretty, and I make the green corn flake Holly Berry Drops with red cinnamon candies, and I make a cookie we call “Bird’s Nests.” It’s chow mein noodles with melted chocolate and butterscotch and chopped nuts. That’s my boys’ favorite cookie. And I also love to make gingerbread this time of year too. It’s warm and comforting and full of flavor. You can see my Christmas Cookie Recipes on a blog I used to write – here – http://jodis-recipes.blogspot.com/search/label/christmas%20cookies
Our ritual still includes writing our wishes, things we want more of, things we want to let go of, on tracing paper and rolling it up to put in pine cones. We still have a Yule fire we put the pine cones into. And I still give my boys nature themed gifts. I also give each of them a sketchbook every year for Yule. My older son loves the sketchbooks. My younger son told me last year that he doesn’t like them. I had no idea! So this year I am going to have to figure something else out for him. Maybe I will give him clay again. He really does love to make little figurines and other things out of clay.
One year, my sons gave me a moonstone necklace. It’s such a beautiful necklace. I wore it every day for years, until it broke.
There have been years we have added in smoke cleansing to the ritual. (Some people might call this “smudging,” but I am not a Native American and I have not been invited by the Native American people to be able to practice smudging.) I use whatever herbs I find in Mother Nature around me to do smoke cleansing. It’s a way to wash off the previous year and welcome in the new year. This is how we view Yule – it’s our version of a new year, since it’s based on the Solstice.
One year, I got together with another friend who celebrates Yule, and we made dried orange slices on a string to decorate the windows. They were beautiful!
These last few years, we haven’t really celebrated Christmas in addition to Yule, because we don’t really feel like we need it. I love the idea of doing what’s right for OUR family, not what we think everyone else does. I love that we talk with each other and figure out what is right for us, from year to year, and are open to changing. I don’t have to make 15 kinds of cookies and decorate the house with things I have to store all year. I don’t have to spend oodles of money I don’t really have, to buy a ton of expensive gifts for my kids that they won’t really play with, that will junk up the house and turn into clutter.
I do personally love lights on a house, so I have a set of rainbow lights I put up sometime in the Fall and leave up until about Valentine’s Day. They are not Christmas lights to me, but they probably are to my neighborhood. I just like the pretty rainbow lights lighting up my house.
I love the time after the sunset – it embodies the perfect family bonding time for me. We get time with each other out in the cold, watching the sunset, and going inside where it’s warm and we have a fire and something warm to drink, and gifts to open – to me this is the perfect kind of low key, low stress holiday.
We usually watch the classic movie, “White Christmas” together while the Yule fire burns, sipping our hot, spiced apple cider.
I also want to add one other detail: we had a fake Christmas Tree for years that we would decorate and then put away / store for a year, and bring it out every year. One year, we fostered some kittens and their exuberant antics broke our tree. I have done various things to create a Yule tree since then. One time we were at Walt Disney World, so I used hotel towels and draped them from the dresser in such a way as to create an evergreen triangle shape. Another year, I hung ribbons up to make the triangle shape. Several years I have used green construction paper to tape a triangle shape on the wall. My boys have said this is their favorite Christmas tree. We also like that it’s recyclable! We can tape the lighter weight ornaments to the tree and put the heavier ornaments down on the floor in front of the tree.
A friend of mine has a wooden Christmas tree that she and her family made. I hope to be handy and organized enough to make one of those for my family some year. I love the idea of not doing a traditional Christmas tree, but rather doing something that fits into your own space and fills your own needs. Two years ago, I bought a small, live, table top tree. Last year, we had a foot tall ceramic tree. This year, I bought a small potted rosemary plant, because I am now living in a very small home and have less space than ever. I love to make rosemary bread, and look forward to using fresh rosemary in it this winter. You can see my rosemary bread recipe here – http://jodis-recipes.blogspot.com/2019/12/rosemary-bread-machine-recipe.html
More than anything, I hope this blog post has given some ideas for any reader(s) having thoughts about what to do with this upcoming season. Also, there are so many other Winter holidays to choose from. You can also create your own, basing it on things that have meaning to you inside your own heart.
Whatever holiday(s) you choose to celebrate this winter season, I wish you a lovely and love-filled one. I send you the Season’s Greetings and Warm Wishes.
Admin note: this is the last post of 2021. We at the ExCS Team wish everyone a wonderful holiday season.