I sit in the stillness of the empty church, the only audible sound the soft flow of my breathing, a quiet buzzing in my ears, my heartbeat vibrating low under the surface of my skin. It’s that odd time between sermons, mid-afternoon on a weekday, and not a soul is in sight to interrupt my melancholy reflection. The Advent wreaths, lush pots of poinsettia, and garlands of evergreen all shout from the rooftops the season that we are in, but it all seems so muted to me. It has been this way for over a decade; each passing year, the excitement and wonder of the holiday season dimming and dimming until it feels like a routine you must make the movements of simply to get through. You see the sheer joy in children’s wide eyes as they wander through the last months of the year in utter amazement, but the time when you were able to do the same seems like a memory lost in the abyss of your past.
They think about a baby being born in a little wooden manger, a child who doesn’t yet know he’ll be the salvation of humankind. Or the jolly fat man who they’ve written letters to, sending it ExpressPost to the North Pole with a list of each and every toy they want to find under their tree on Christmas morning. They’ll leave milk and cookies that their parents will eat after they go to sleep, dream of sugarplum faeries that never existed, and wake up in the morning to participate in a lie that they don’t even know they are falling for.
The cool dimly lit church, devoid of its congregation, houses me as I sit on the end of a pew and contemplate all of this. I think of that Faith Hill song asking if Christmas has changed, or if it’s just me; I wonder: Could we both have changed, maybe? Have we drifted apart? Perhaps it was over ten years of emotional hardening. Each death, each heartbreak, each friendship that slowly drifted apart. Each science textbook I read, making the idea of some omniscient bearded man in the clouds granting wishes and smiting the fornicators and the non-Christians and the gays and the slanderers and the envious seem more absurd by the minute. A deity who commands us to spend a whole day every week doing nothing but worshipping Him. A baby who gets his own statutory holiday over two thousand years after his birth.
It’s a mix of all of these little fables told to children, combined with a child-like credence of sorts that nothing bad can happen to you or the people that you hold most dear, that all combine themselves to manifesting that wonder of the Christmas season. Though it is possible to live in awe over little things that happen in my day-to-day life throughout the year, there is something about the Christmas season that feels like a sham — and as I sit here in the church thinking about all of this, standing up in defeat and readying to leave, my heart sinks a little at the thought that I have lost yet another friend, unearthed another fabrication, and experienced another heartbreak… the loss of my childhood innocence.