Health · Lifestyle

Molly Fisk: Christmas Day #1

As many of you have guessed, I’m not a religious person. This is not entirely my fault. I grew up in a family that didn’t go to church, not even on Christmas. I am the child of a lapsed Congregationalist and a fair-weather Unitarian. Plus, we lived in California and it was the 60s. We knew all the carols and sang them, but we did this in the car on the way to the annual Christmas Day showing of “Help and A Hard Day’s Night” out at the Surf Theater near Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

This was our tradition: Open stockings at the ungodly hour kids wake up on Xmas morning. Eat breakfast, which included those little Jones sausages Mom used in her stuffing. Then, and only then, tear open the wrapping on our presents. Usually we interacted with the presents for a while, read or played with them, but eventually the fun wore off and the dreaded miasma of post-Xmas ennui began to descend. You know, that feeling of not being wholly satisfied and wanting something more but not knowing what it is, resenting your siblings’ happiness, and getting ready to indulge in some first-class bickering. Not helped, of course, by having eaten all the chocolate from our stockings before six a.m.

My father was a great one for distraction as a child-rearing technique, so I’m sure he dreamed up the idea that a double feature of Beatles movies would push all thoughts of fratricide out of our heads. Mom rolled her eyes, but she came with us.

By the time we laughed our way through three hours of British humor and sang along to all the songs we were way too happy to bicker, and by then the turkey was almost ready and it was time to rush home and set the table. Eating Xmas dinner made us comatose and affectionate again.

Thus it was with some astonishment that I found myself attending Catholic Mass last week, voluntarily. I was in Paris with a friend who always goes to mass, and the place we went was Notre Dame Cathedral. Most of the pews in France aren’t those hard New England benches that kill your back after ten minutes. They’re little chairs with rush seats that interlock so they stay in tidy rows. Very comfortable. But the cold kept us alert. The place is made of stone — you have to keep your mittens on.

My French isn’t good enough to follow a mass, but I kept hearing the word “inquietude” — un-quiet-ness, or disquiet. It’s got a great sound, and in a foreign land one loves the words one can actually understand, so I became very fond of it. My mind drifted around, noticing how much I hate seeing Jesus on the cross but how much I like representations of Mary. I vowed to look up how long it took the French to build this cathedral and what year they started. I watched people take communion and thought about metaphor for a while and then — sorry — gullibility. What the theater world likes to call “a willing suspension of disbelief.” I came, by the end, to the same conclusion I always come to. I think people who have religious faith are lucky. I think believing in something strongly and bringing the rituals and the community surrounding that belief into your daily life makes life easier to bear. I envy that enormously, but I’ve never felt it. It’s just not my bent. This causes me sadness sometimes, but not disquiet. I am who I am.

On Christmas, I don’t think of Christ. On Christmas, I think of my family singing “Good King Wenceslas” in the car. And then I think of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

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  • hillsmom December 18, 2016 at 10:19 am

    A bit late catching up with this, but remember, “Good King Sauerkraut looked out on his feets uneven…” by Walt Kelly. Having grown up in Chicago, I remember well Jones sausages, and yes, we had them in the stuffing, too. (fortunately, one can find them here in S.E. PA, too.) When I was very young, I saw a drowned Robin in the church fountain. I reached in to remove it, but it was too late. That started my slide away from religion. Let me second Andrea’s post below about a wonderful year of your writings. Merry, merry & Happy, happy. 2017 just has to be better doesn’t it…please, please, please, or have we lost all hope and turned (ugh) orange?

  • Molly Fisk December 10, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Love to you all, and whatever your traditions were, are, or will be. xo

  • Andrea December 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for a wonderful year of your writings Molly. Happy new year!

  • Andrea December 10, 2016 at 10:59 am

    I had to laugh about seeing Beatles movies. Hard Days Night was our family ritual also. No religious anything- just great Chinese food and the Beatles!!

  • Deb Lundstrom December 10, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Happy Holidays, Molly! Aside from your family celebration being way more fun (and cool) than mine in Milwaukee, WI, everything else you said is true for me, too. I didn’t get the religion gene – the ability to believe has always evaded me. I tried a few times, for the sake of relatives who thought I needed it, but nothing came of it. I, too, feel that those who believe are lucky, as they can surrender their problems and share with like-minded individuals. I can’t do abstract, though, being too much of a realist. Thanks for another year of wonderful reading! Merry & Happy Everything!

  • Shirley December 10, 2016 at 9:24 am

    We never recover from childhood Christmas traditions. For better or worse. Women usually bear the brunt of the stress on Christmas Day. So I don’t get into that anymore.

  • Julia December 10, 2016 at 8:09 am

    My father took us to feed the ducks on Lake Washington while our mother slaved away in the kitchen.