I keep feeling like I should be buying a holiday present that my mother neither wants nor needs; first because we didn't celebrate Christmas, and second because she died last month. We had the most Christian of all reasons not to celebrate the holiday: a faction of Evangelicals took to heart the fact that Christmas was designed to merge a new religion with worship of the birthday of Nimrod, possible builder of Babel and grandson of Ham. Not the meat. Circa 300, Christianity added the tree, the presents, and voilà, the holiday most Americans know as Christmas.
Our Too-Religious-for-Christmas policy didn't always take. We lived on 40 acres with enough spare evergreens to drag one into the house and lean against a tree at some point mid-December. And you could certainly buy presents; you just weren't going to get any. To make up for the guilt trip that only a house full of non-celebrating kids can give you, we traveled the world. But it doesn't matter where I was; if at the ocean, I would kick the sand and curse Nimrod. If we were at home, my mom would fire up the four-wheeler, tie an inner tube to the hitch, and spin out as I hung on for dear life. You can't curse Nimrod when you're that dizzy.
In the meantime, my parents waited to shop the after-Christmas sales. As a child of the Depression, my dad couldn't imagine any other option. He had lied about his age, served in World War II, and sent money home to his family before he could vote or drink. That giving spirit didn't die. He bought the town roller rink, and an over-sized pony / casual horse. We caught bass from our pond, baked bread from our wheat, and grew vegetables in a quarter-acre garden. My mother dressed us in L.L. Bean sweaters guaranteed to outlive their recipient. I still have a red velour model, circa 1980. It was mortifying. I wanted nothing more than flammable clothing with butterfly sleeves and platters of fast food. But she held her ground.
Asked for any holiday wishes, all my mother would say is: "The health and happiness of my family." She had a deft hand with sarcasm, so I always wondered if it was a trick to make us even more of a non-gift household. My first holiday with my New Orleans boyfriend's family, I took the drama up to a Heidi of the Alps level. "And what do you call this, Grandfather, Tin-sill?" He bought me too many presents. I married him a year later. We have a holiday home.
But this year we're doing something different in honor of my late parents. No gifts. No cards. No tree. Just gathering with family and wishing for the health and happiness of friends and loved ones. If there's enough karma sailing behind me, I'll throw in a wish for peace on Earth, goodwill toward humans and other living things.
Because, really, who can stay mad at Nimrod her whole life?