I cannot in good conscience tell the Christian story of Christmas to my children and face them calling me a “liar” on down the line. I already have to face the whole “Santa Claus” quandary once they realize delivering toys to every child on Earth in one night is as impossible as one man keeping track of the same kids’ Right and Wrongs since the North Pole obviously doesn’t get good internet coverage. Since the major books of the bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Ringo) can’t get their stories straight, no sense me putting more questions than answers in their still-developing brains.
Oh, and elves are only real to those midget-Americans out of work the rest of the year.
Growing up in a broken home and fractured childhood, my family memories are few and far between. Multiple viewings of Star Wars. Multiple houses in the same town. Multiple toys to cover the guilt. But Christmas was a constant.
The breakfasts’ on Christmas morning were at my grandparents’ house, scrambled eggs and various Portuguese concoctions wafting in the air. Their flocked Christmas tree confused me since we were in Hawaii and no snow anywhere near that part of the Equator. Grandma and Grandpa’s inevitable fights while flocking said tree were tradition. But more than that Christmas meant curling up in front of the T.V., searching CBS for the show that would come to define my feeling of Christmas: A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Nothing during the holidays makes me more emotional than hearing Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here”, both the instrumental and children choir-backed versions. My love of jazz was born right there and not in a manger (though Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme on my favorite cartoon may have barely preceded it). The unbridled joy of the kids dancing to “Linus and Lucy” before being admonished for neglecting practice for the school play is one of my favorite scenes of all time in any movie or television show. Yes, they represented the commercialization of the Christmas that Charlie Brown abhors but I’m always up for a great musical number.
And they called it a Christmas play. Not a “Holiday Festival” or whatever other bullshit politically correct euphemism these stick-up-their-asses parents have forced upon us.
Before you start nailing me to a cross because “How the hell do you call yourself an Atheist and still like Christmas?!?!”. Well, one of the many advantages of being an Atheist is that we’re open-minded and can see the Nativity Story as just that, a story. You don’t have to believe in a wise man’s frankincense, a GPS star guiding the way or a baby being born without doing the Bethlehem Backseat Boogie to enjoy the feeling of Christmas.
When I say “feeling of Christmas” I’m not talking about the pressure to get her the right gift or she’ll talk crap about you in the lunch room the next day. I’m talking about the tradition, the reminder that, even for a little while, we’re supposed to just be good to one another even for just one day. Bring a little joy to other people that wouldn’t otherwise be smiling during that time of year.
Charlie Brown epitomizes this perfectly. He sees the good in the not-so-good: a tree that no one else wants. He gives meaning and love to something that would have been forgotten during the Season of Joy by making it the centerpiece of their Christmas play.
Even though I’ve heard it over 40 times, I still don’t find Linus’ recitation of the Gospel of Luke’s passage of the birth of Jesus heavy-handed or preachy. Because it’s sincere. He truly believes that regardless of religion, the message is what counts.
And it’s that message that spurs the other kids to help Charlie realize his vision of what the tree can be; of what we can be. When the kids hum “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and Charlie Brown sees that they have also embraced that sad, little tree, I get a lump in my throat and my heart swells. Every. Single. Time.
That’s the message I want my kids to have. Not the mythology of a deity being born of virgin. They can see Charlie Brown caring. They can hear the music of the other kid’s harmony and joy. They can feel what I feel: Christmas.
And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.