In my unorthodox childhood, Christmas was as an oasis of normalcy. It was the one day of the year I could count on some sort of harmony in my divided family.
At age five, my parents divorced and established two outposts in my life, from which I shuttled back and forth. One home was headed by my sophisticated, East Coast-born, feminist mother; the other by my down-to-earth, Idaho-bred father, who held fast to his traditionalist views.
The Christmas season was a magical time, made all the more special because I got to experience the magic twice. I helped pick out and decorate two Christmas trees, one at my mother’s house and one at my father’s. Wherever we woke up on Christmas morning, my brother and I were greeted by mountains of presents piled under the tree. We would spend hours plowing through them and then look at each other with delight as we realized we would get to do it all over again just a few hours later at the other house. Christmas meant two of everything.
Or rather, almost everything: Church we only did once. My mother was a lapsed Catholic who had no discernable faith; my father was an Episcopalian who took us to church every Sunday. Going to the Christmas Eve service with him was a high point of the holiday season. We lit candles and sang carols, and all felt right with the world. I suppose we talked some about Jesus, but truth be told, my mind was primarily occupied with counting down the hours until the commencement of presents.
Looking back now, I see that Christmas in my family—like it is in lots of families—was really a cultural event focused on the exchange of gifts. It had next to nothing to do with the birth of Christ Jesus.1