Being a Christian doesn’t exactly earn you cool points in the workplace – especially around Christmas. If a colleague asks, ‘What are you doing over the break?’ responding enthusiastically with something like ‘CELEBRATING THE BIRTH OF MY LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST!’ can result in the loss of invitations to Friday night drinks at best. Of course, there are far more interesting FAQs to be asked, like ‘can you be a feminist and a Christian?’ or ‘have you had stigmata?’. But the Christmas question can be a little more complicated – despite having a simple answer – ‘cause it’s the question to which no-one actually expects a religious response.
This is of course because while many people celebrate Christmas, most traditions around Christmas are not about mangers, frankincense, or three wise guys – even for Christians. My schedule for December 25th contains many activities that are probably undertaken by about half of my secularist friends: I open presents; I eat chicken stuffing; I get chocolate coins, undies and socks in my Santa stocking. I avoid looking at my neighbour’s ‘Santa’s Workshop’ light and sound extravaganza in order to prevent epilepsy.
Despite the fact that Christmas is a religious holiday, many people are surprised when I tell them I’m going to church Christmas morning. And that I’ll play drums in the church band. And letter-box drop invitations to the church carol services, and laugh at the Sunday School rendition of Jesus’ birth (I never get to be in the rendition: the closest I got one year was being awarded the part of ‘the tomb’ for an Easter service – yes, I performed as a stone cavity). Friends have explained that they’re surprised because they don’t expect me to be a Christian: apparently I don’t look like one (not sure what a ‘Christian’ looks like, but I’m guessing it involves socks under Reef sandals) nor seem like one because I’m not like Mitt Romney. Mostly I think my mates haven’t met many Christians before or are only familiar with the fundamentalists who make the media, and so don’t know what to expect.
But being a Christian at Christmas means more than overdosing on the left-over communion bread and wine after church. What I hope to achieve each Christmas is a time of reflection (and celebration) about what it actually means to believe in a God who is good and loves us all. Because the significance of Jesus’ birth for Christians is not just that Jesus was some dude, but that he was God’s son and came to die for everyone, so we could be put right with God. So in thankful response to this, I ask: how can I be more loving, kind, and generous? How can I better care for people – particularly people who don’t seem to deserve it, or who are hard to even like? How can I share what I believe with others, in a respectful and caring way? I wish I thought more carefully about these questions 365 days a year. So thankfully, I have a giant pine tree in my living room at the moment which, although it’s from a pagan tradition, reminds me that now, the day on which Christians remember when Jesus was born, is a good time to truly consider what my actual purpose is as human being. In addition to running around in my brand spankin’ new jocks.
Julia Tulloh was a 2012 Killings columnist and works as freelance writer.