How an Atheist Taught Me the True Meaning of Christmas

4 Dec

Before his second Christmas, my nephew was photographed on Santa’s lap. His mother, who shares my sense of humor, sent me the picture shortly afterward. Santa looked younger than me, and was wearing an obviously fake beard. My nephew was screaming and pointing at his mother off-camera. You could almost hear him say, “YOU! You over there! You’re the one who abandoned me! You get back here right now, you filthy strumpet, and soothe me!”

In my mind, all babies talk like Stewie on Family Guy.

Anyway, I knew how he felt. In the old days, I spent the holidays feeling like I was waiting at a bus stop for a bus that was never going to come. Or that worse yet, it would come, and it would be full of cranky people who’d been shopping all day; people without jobs but with laps full of parcels, and faces with permanent scowls. People who were thinking about credit card debt instead of egg nog, or maybe thinking about egg nog because of their credit card debt.

If there are two kinds of people — those who hate Christmas and those who love it — I was definitely on Team Christmas Hate.

Then I met Adam.

My friend and traveling companion Adam loves Christmas the way that kids love Christmas. He loves Christmas trees, so we got one for our very first Christmas. It was my first since high school. He loves presents, so we give them to each other, even this year when we have no money and everything we need. Adam taught me, all over again, that presents must be wrapped ahead of time and prominently displayed under the tree. We’ll bake cookies for our landlord and make champagne punch for our friends, and we’ll drink egg nog, despite the fact that I still find it a little weird, like the top of a dessert served in a cocktail glass.

My favorite part of all of this? Adam’s an atheist. Also, he’s not a big fan of social gatherings on a large scale. Put that together and you have a person who should hate Christmas. But he doesn’t.

The night we put up our first tree, we turned out all the lights and sat on the couch and look at it.

“What should we name it?” I asked him.

“It has a name?”

“I think it should.”

“OK.”

“Let’s call it Frasier,” I suggested, somewhat unimaginatively.

“OK. And next year, we can have Frasier Two.”

“Then Frasier the Third.”

“And so on. Exactly.”

It was very quiet in our little two-room apartment, even though we lived one block from a busy city avenue. With all the lights off, no TV, no computer, all I could hear was the rush of the air in my ears and the almost inaudible hum of electricity coursing through the building. If I listened long enough, I thought, I would start to hear the pulse of blood in my beloved’s veins as he took my hand.

“Thanks,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” I said. Although of course, I should have been thanking him.

This post appeared in slightly different form in another blog two years ago. Today, we put up Frasier the Third. He is quite stately.

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