Christmas rituals

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(Host) Commentator David Moats reflects on how rituals and personal stories enrich the holidays.

(Moats) This is about the shepherd and the cat. It’s also about the Christmas bobcat and the Christmas cow. And it’s about the time my brother ran away from home.

Most of us probably have an ideal Christmas lurking in the back of our minds. It’s part St. Nick and part Dickens, part memory and part yearning for an ideal of tenderness and warmth. And so we have rituals repeated every year to summon up the old magic and to rekindle it in the eyes of our children.

We have the tree and the ornaments. We have our ritual gifts, our ritual stories and our ritual meals. In my family we like to have a bowl of raspberries on the table at breakfast, partly to remember the time when I was seven and I threw up into the raspberry bowl. It’s a good story.

Our rituals are signposts pointing to our hopes for togetherness. They stay the same while everything around us changes. One of our rituals is the Christmas pageant that we make our kids perform every year. Kids are supposed to learn the Christmas story this way, and they do. This is where the shepherd comes in. And the cat.

I was the shepherd. It was first grade, and my costume consisted of my bathrobe and a cowboy belt. The belt didn’t trouble me. What troubled me was the pocket on the bathrobe, which was made to look like the face of a cat. Now even as a six-year-old, I knew no shepherd would have a robe with a cat-face pocket. I was mortified by it, so as I stood in front of the class with the other shepherds, I carefully held my hand at my side so it covered up the cat. What traumas kids suffer that no one knows about.

When it came time for my son to be part of the Christmas pageant, he was told he would be a barnyard animal. It was his idea that he would be a bobcat. We weren’t sure there were bobcats in Bethlehem, but he wore a little bobcat suit and I think he was happy. A few years later my daughter played the role of the traditional Christmas cow, wearing floppy ears and pajamas with big spots.

We go through these rituals, and we see each year where we are in our lives. We can’t get away from our lives, and most of us probably have Christmases that were not so happy. The year my brother decided to run away at Christmas was not so happy. He was 16 and fed up, and he hitchhiked to Los Angeles. The holidays put a lens on our lives so we see them all too clearly. Our rituals give us that lens, let us look at the present in light of a past that stretches back generations. I got over my ordeal of the bathrobe. And my brother made it home safely. And now we have another holiday season, our tree is up, and our kids are coming home. I think it’s going to be a good Christmas, and I hope it is for you.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

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