A Quaker Christmas
December 9, 2016
by Molly Wingate
When I became interested in worshiping with Quakers, I was moved by the lack of folderol. Simple buildings, plain pews, unadorned windows, and silence. I had been absolutely furious with the theatrical trappings that were creeping into the church where I had worshiped for years with my family. On top of the usual changing the color of the vestments and candles based on the liturgical calendar, we had moved on to dimming the lights for the sermon and having a spotlight on the minister.
Then there was the time the minister reprimanded my younger sister for holding the chalice incorrectly as she practiced for her communion. He smacked her hand. I could hardly sit still in the back pew where I was waiting to drive her home. I was in high school and just a tad judgmental; my sister was unfazed, but I was furious. What had all this to do with faith and God?!
Simplicity in all things was clearly the better way, at least for me. So I began attending Quaker meeting regularly, and my parents were gracious about letting me take a car. These lovely, welcoming people who lived their beliefs inspired me. I learned about the other testimonies for Friends: peace, integrity, community, and equality. Since Friends assured me that it was fine to struggle with the testimonies and that my job was to find my own way, I felt very much at home.
And then came Christmas. That is when I learned that previous Quakers had not celebrated it – or any holiday. They believed that every day is as holy as the next, and no single day is to be held out as special. In fact, Quakers didn’t make a fuss about any event. I struggled. I like Christmas – a lot. Did this mean no tree? No lights? No stockings? No presents? No baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by kids playing wise men and shepherds? No carols? So it seemed.
While I lived with my parents, there wasn’t really too much to struggle over. They were going to decorate the house and do all the trappings no matter what I said. As I had my own place to live, I would grab the branches other people cut off the bottoms of their trees and make a “Charlie Brown” tree on which I put pictures of people and art that I loved. It was easy to be plain-ish. I was broke.
But eventually I had a real house and a young family of my own. I ached to be part of the season. My little mountain town home is so very cute, and my house would be so adorable with decorations. I just sort of stepped into making Christmas special, not plain.
With the testimonies in my heart, I mindfully decorate and celebrate Christmas. I put up lights (solar powered) and evergreen rope (made of recycled paper) on the porch. Reused bows and ribbons add some color. We have assembled the same “tree” for years (made of recycled paper). The lights on the tree are LED, and I decorate it with ornaments we have collected through the years from preschool projects, vacations we took, gifts, and then there are my many, many bird ornaments that I pick up all the time. It is a weakness; I admit it.
We read the Christmas story aloud and the stories in the Gospels. Everyone puts up with my Christmas Eve crackers with paper hats, stupid jokes, and tiny plastic toys. Often our meeting holds a Christmas Eve silent worship in the evening with a little caroling afterward. On Christmas morning, we exchange gifts, usually useful ones but some just for beauty, too. I cook something sumptuous for dinner. We have our rituals, our trappings, and just a little theater.
And so I have done what Friends urged me to do when I was a teenager. I found my own way of living as a Quaker in this world. Other Friends celebrate or not according to their beliefs and paths. How will my children celebrate when they have their own homes? Will they have any of my struggles? Will they dispense with the paper hats? I urge them, and you, to find the path that suits.
Photo by Jorge Barrios – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3169426