It’s Christmas Night, and after a quick trip back home to hear my sister sing for the late night service and enjoy a brunch with my family, I’m back here with the cat, watching the football game. Less than 24 hours, and aside from a lack of a whole lot of time with the family, running from work to catch an early ride back home and changing into acceptable church clothes in the tiny bathroom in the back of the bus, I had my quality time.

I don’t go to church. I may not be religious, at least in the concept of listening to a pastor preach the same platitudes week after week. I have great respect, but severe questions for those in the church as I liken a Sermon a week to presenting a collegiate paper in front of a conference panel  every Sunday. It’s impossible to do well, and there are many who speak with a lackluster passion. Pastors, when speaking about the scripture, are by the book. The excitement, or introspection, questioning, leaves me often sitting in the pews, drawing on the program and writing things like “Ten Lepers Lepping”.

That said, as I write, it’s difficult. It’s difficult, when I sit down, to write when I feel inspired, so I don’t. Finding time once a week to write something of substance is pressing and tiring for me, and if I can’t grasp the scope, I just don’t write. For those who must come up with something, I have great admiration.

For them, Christmas is their Super Bowl. It’s one of the big days of the year for them. It’s where, for those who show up week after week, they speak to the members of the congregation with words that serve to inspire and get their regular churchgoers to think about what Christmas means to them.

As with last Christmas, I went to be with my family. I went to hear my sister sing. In a quartet out of the choir loft, she sang, and as I sang from the hymnal with the bass from my dad in one ear and the soprano from my mom in the other, I picked out her voice  singing the descant over the congregation below, and I smiled.

So what does Christmas mean to me? Well, our holidays aren’t punctuated by the Christmas Ham. Our family’s traditions are simple. When I was younger, we would go to the family homestead in Illinois, read some bible verses, enjoy an evening with my mother’s brothers, sisters and family, and have a meal punctuated with either Lamb and Yorkshire Pudding or Swedish Meatballs and a Scandinavian potato sausage which was known for its everpresence rather than flavor. (For those in the family who read this, we all look fondly upon our beloved Korv)

If we had our Christmas at home, there were only two constants, both of which have remained intact up to and including the Christmas of this morning.  The first tradition is that we would not come down the stairs to the tree until the vinyl recording of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Joy To the World” was put on the turntable at Maximum Volume.

That fanfare. What child would not immediately leap out of bed and rush down the stairs to the tree? I still love it. When I haven’t been able to get home for the holidays, I’ve been called early in the morning, and this song has blasted through the earpiece, punctuated with excited giggles on both ends of the receiver.

The second tradition is a simple one. Leading up to the holidays, we had a variety of things that we’d do to get in the spirit of the season. We would pull out our ornaments and bake cookies, sprinkle cloves and cinnamon in all things about the house, and open our advent calendars every day.

On Christmas Morning, we sat around the tree, opening our presents sometimes silly (dad on more than one occasion received a rubber chicken, which was promptly thrown in the rafters above the fireplace) and sometimes exactly what we wanted. When I was three, the only word I could spell was DILL. I wrote it on my Christmas list, and I received a giant bunch that morning. I cradled it, almost as tall as I was, and looking back, I think that my footie pajamas must have smelled delightful. It remains one of my most cherished gifts.

Just like that one story,  our stockings, they were hung by the chimney with care. When we opened them, there would be little treats, (there were this year), tiny joke gifts (this year, I got World Wrestling Mad Libs- sweet), maybe a deck of cards, but in the toe of the handknit stockings, the last thing we would pull out, would be an orange.

That’s it. An orange. I don’t know if I got excited because I love oranges. I don’t think that’s it at all. I got excited because I loved THAT orange. I knew it was there. It was simple, and it was just an orange, but it was my orange.

As I sit here writing after a brief yet successful Christmas, and you may still be sitting around the fire playing Scrabble with your family and friends, I am peeling and enjoying my orange. This holiday season, in all things, find your happiness in the little joys that this time of year can bring.

May you all have a happy and safe holiday, and if I don’t see you, a most excellent new year.