I was raised as a Catholic, but my religious beliefs have always been a little…squishy. A pastor at one of the non-Catholic churches I attended said technically, I was still a Catholic and a heretical one at that. He said it kindly and with humor, at least that’s how I remember it. These days, most would consider me to be an agnostic. I can’t put God in one tidy box. I prefer to call my particular brand of faith Episcobudditarianism.
My very Catholic mother rocked Christmas. We had two trees; the fancy tree, color-coordinated with our green and gold living room, and the kids tree, which had everything we could load on it. My siblings and I would sing along to classic Goodyear/Firestone holiday albums while we made ornaments for the Carols and Candles service using the eggs from L’eggs pantyhose (drilling the hole in those suckers was hard. They were also quite resistant to glue.)
Over the years, while I wandered through literal and spiritual homes, my Christmas spirit remained firmly in place. When the Dude was little, we used to cover the house with lights, inside and out. The more garish the better. My husband maintained some sense of reason, otherwise we would have had a blow up snow globe in the front yard that projected a Mannheim Steamroller laser show.
With the dude getting older, he’s not really interested in much beyond eating butter cookies, so it was up to me to bring on the Christmas. I was more than up to the task. And when my mother-in-law, in the grip of advanced Parkinson’s, began to fail, I promised my husband I would keep bringing the Christmas. I baked more, decorated more, sang “Sleigh Ride” until he begged me to stop.
Early in my marriage, my mother-in-law and I didn’t connect the way either of us wanted to. We both held on to our resentment and let it get in the way. As her memory faded in more recent years, our relationship shifted into something more loving and open. Her illness was awful, but it gave us a do-over. I wish we’d done it sooner. As she entered hospice care, I thought about my own parents, who I didn’t get to see this Thanksgiving due to the weather, and my siblings, with whom I share so many of those happy holiday memories, the ones I can still page through on demand, and wanted to have them all with me–even my brother who always woke us all up at the crack of dawn.
The hospice nurse said my mother-in-law could hear everything around her, so I played the Pandora holiday channel on my IPhone while I sat with her. A week before Christmas, she passed away.
On Christmas Eve, my husband, my father-in-law, the Dude, and I, went to service at the National Cathedral. Since one has to buy a ticket, it’s the only place I don’t feel like we’re taking someone else’s pew. It’s an impressive space, built for contemplation and anonymity. So there I was, in the nation’s church on one of the most important days in Christian faith, and I’d been “bringing it on” by playing with cookie dough and glitter. I needed to do something to honor the woman who raised my wonderful husband since it took us far longer than it should have to reach a level of mutual respect and affection.
I looked at the cross and wondered what the heck I actually believed in. I wasn’t looking for a religious awakening, just something absolute that wasn’t bound into any one -ism. They gave us all candles to hold as we sang Silent Night. I lit my taper from my father-in-law’s candle and thought. “Let love win, and the rest will take care of itself.”
I may never be able to categorize my religion, any more than I can describe my career plans or my actual hair color. I do, however, know what I believe in. And there’s nothing wrong with a little glitter and cookie dough, too. Just saying.
Happy New Years to you are yours.