Santa was not a part of our Christmas celebration when I married Mr. P.
We didn’t put up a Christmas tree and felt like we could only put up a few scant decorations and a nativity scene.
At this time, we attended a church that believed you shouldn’t put up Christmas trees, own a TV, listen to secular music, read secular books, or own a new car.
Every aspect of your life was under the microscopic view of a self-appointed few. If you breached their man-made rules you were subject to “exhortation.”
We were young and in love, as newlyweds and new Christians, so it didn’t matter at the time. Our childhood Christmas ornaments remained packed up and we got rid of our albums and books to keep peace and to keep from being chastised in the coatroom or furnace room.
We kept peace with the few because the rest of the church was filled with beautiful people we’re still close to today. And since my husband’s mentor and best friend, John Dabill, attended the church, we had more reasons to stay than to leave.
When my husband graduated from college we moved to Kansas for his new job. We faced a completely different mindset in our new church home.
These Christians were “liberal.”
As in they owned TVs. And went to movies. They listened to secular music and *GASP* they put up Christmas trees.
I’ll never forget my shock when I walked into our church the first Sunday in December. There was a Christmas tree in the foyer of the church!
We were torn. These lovely Christians were so different in how they practiced Christianity.
We heard the voices of scrutiny and judgment we’d been accustomed to hearing. How could you be a Christian and drive a new Camero? How could you be a Christian and celebrate Christmas?
The beliefs of two Christian groups we respected pulled us in different directions. We had to re-evaluate how we’d been raised as new Christians.
We were forced to choose a side when an anonymous Christian generously dropped off a Christmas tree at the front door of our apartment.
We pulled the fresh tree into our house with extreme guilt. If we didn’t put it up we would deny the blessing from our new Christian friends and they might be offended. If we put it up and anybody found out, our old Christian friends would be offended.
Thus began the Christmas vortex in which we put up a Christmas tree every other year to appease both sides of the equation.
Finally, we grew some spiritual gumption. We decided that we liked, no loved, Christmas, and we would celebrate our way, even if we created enough gossip fodder for a few decades.
We’d been living under the guilt poured on us by other Christians, not by our personal beliefs. There’s a difference between spiritual conviction and guilt. A personal conviction is for YOU and YOU only. You have no right to demand that other believers act according to your belief.
We began decorating our house with lights and having a Christmas tree every year. A decade later, our celebration got even more dramatic.
Mr. P and I were at a thrift store perusing the Christmas decorations. He stopped in the aisle with a candle in his hands. In rare form, he didn’t talk for minutes.
He just stared.
Finally, he turned and said with boyish wonder, “My Grandma Peltier had a candle just like this.” He held an adorable vintage Santa candle, complete with the chubby red cheeks and nose.
The candle transported my husband to a rare happy childhood memory. It had to come home with us.
In the ’70s when his parents divorced, there were no rights for the father or the children. My husband wasn’t allowed to see his dad, Warren Peltier, for years after the divorce, even though they lived in the same town. And when his dad was cut out of his life, so were his aunt, uncle, and grandparents.
My husband lost every Peltier relative when his parents divorced.
No more sitting on Grandpa Vern’s lap. There were no hugs from Grandma Dorothy greeting them at the door and no presents under the tinsel-laden tree in the corner.
The candle sparked a beautiful memory from when he was still allowed to participate in the Peltier family traditions. It also represents something else for my husband. He grew up in an abusive home and Christmas was the rare time when the feuding was set aside and the family was happy. And Santa was the only person Mr. P could count on staying in his life year after year.
To Mr. P, Santa represents the longing of a little boy for love and peace.
That one candle became ten. Then twenty. Then thirty. Then fifty. The candles are so famous a child has already asked for them in our will.
But Mr. P eventually understood the true meaning of Christmas.
When he was twelve, his mom sent him to a free Bible camp to get him out of the house for two weeks. He learned about the real fulfillment of all longing, Jesus. At the age of fifteen, he believed that Jesus died for Him and became a Christian. He reads the Bible every day because he finally found a Man he could pattern his life after.
Our Christmas celebrates the two seasons of my husband’s life, Santa and Jesus.
We know Jesus wasn’t born during December and we know the majority of the traditions have nothing to do with His birth. But, we love celebrating, because if He wasn’t born He couldn’t die for us. Christmas is a time of enjoying our family and creating new memories.
The majority of the Peltier relatives have since died and there were only a few brief contacts since the divorce. My husband was finally allowed to visit his dad several years later, but there were only a few short visits before Warren died in a tragic accident.
If we ever find the only living aunt, we’ll celebrate by giving her a Santa candle.
And we’ll tell her the story of why Mr. P believes in Santa.