On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, I did some ruminating on faith, family, candles and cocoa

Even as a kid, perhaps especially as a kid, I found comfort in the liturgical calendar.  There were some big markers in my little kiddo life— from the time I was born until I was five, we lived in Oklahoma and attended an Episcopal church.  I remembered it as a structured place, with candles and incense and an Advent wreath, as the place of weddings and christenings.  We moved to Texas when I was five, where we attended a Southern Baptist church in a small town.  Even at a young age, my church vocabulary differed from my peers— a christening was now a baptism, and it wasn’t for babies.  Communion was the Lord’s Supper, and it happened once a month, not at every service. I didn’t know what the longest or the shortest books of the Bible were, or any Bible trivia for that matter, which put me at a real disadvantage when it came to winning ichthus-emblazoned pencils in Sunday School.

It was in this context that I found out from my parents that the person I’d thought of as my father wasn’t actually my biological father— something my family had been open about when I was a toddler but which had become slowly concealed and thus tremendously confused in my life.  Within this same conversation, I learned that my mom and stepfather/father/adoptive-father had married when I was two, and that I had served as the flower girl. I had previously dismissed my vague memories of of this as manufactured or misplaced.  At some point after we moved to Texas, the pictures of me at my parents’ wedding had been removed from the wedding album we flipped through often, and I had erased them or deemed them imagined.

When all of this came (back) to light, my mom brought back out the pictures of me at their wedding, taken during a time when we talked openly about my adoption by my step-father, a characteristic I shared with my much-adored grandfather Poppie.  The dress I wore, the scarlet carpet running down the aisle, the smell of the nave, the memories I’d held on the tip of my tongue were now validated as experiences. I could and should trust myself, I learned, and that revelation carried with it the smell of burning piñon, snippets of the Nicene Creed, the feel of embroidered kneelers beneath my tiny knees.  And so the background of the erasing of those memories— that is, the whole state of Texas and the entire Southern Baptist Convention— became interwoven with my feelings of unsteadiness.  Sorry, Texans and protestants— it wasn’t really your fault.

The liturgical calendar, the daily office, and the liturgy itself— the fact that this week of the year would signify the same thing the next year and the one after that and so on—felt safe to me.  I’ve grown my feelings of security enough that I don’t need to cling to that structure for safety now, and that has freed me to see it as a framework through which to celebrate, pause, reflect, and grow, regardless of where I am in my life.

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So Sundays in December mean Advent which means that Christmas is NEAR but not HERE, that it is a time for preparation and waiting and contemplating.  Culturally, of course, Christmas starts as soon as the jack o’lanterns start to curl in around the cut edges and ends at the stroke of midnight on December 26th.  That’s great if that’s your rhythm, but ours builds and finishes just a smidge later.

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Celebrating Christmas as adults and as our own family unit has pushed us to dig into the traditions we remember from our childhood, casting this one aside but reclaiming this other, and to add on our own markers of the season.  We’ve fully embraced Christmastide as beginning the 25th (or really, at Eucharist on the 24th) and ending with the Epiphany on January 6th, which wasn’t really something either Mike or I grew up with or really observed until we were married.  I wanted to use this space to document a few of the things we’ve done this year and in years past to serve as a record of the family culture we’re hoping to build through seasonal, rhythmic living, including holiday celebrations.

Of course, naptime is nearly over and I still have a punchbowl sticky from this weekend’s wassail, so we’ll see how far I get in coming posts, but I’m aiming for some tree! carols! recipes! lights! action in the next few posts, just in time, of course.

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Merry Christmas!