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An uneasy Christmas

Christmas in the Bruinsma home

“Let’s pack this Christmas issue, our last of the year, with uplifting content” (Angela Reitsma Bick, CC Editor, in her pre-Christmas email to columnists).

I have always had an uneasy relationship with Christmas. Perhaps that stems from my childhood upbringing in a conservative Dutch Canadian Reformed family. We went out of our way to distance ourselves from the “worldly” celebration of consumeristic pagan excess that typifies North American Christmas celebrations. There was no Christmas tree in our house and therefore also no Christmas presents under the tree. We attended church on Christmas day only once (twice if Christmas fell on a Sunday). My Canadian friends were amazed that I could come out and play shinny on Christmas Day as if it were any other day. They knew that on Sundays the level of activity in which I could participate was severely restricted. They were confused by my dad’s explanation that Christmas was a man-made day like any other, not the Sabbath, and because Christmas was often the only day they went to church at all. No, for me Christmas was a day to commemorate Christ’s birth and that was it. My best friend’s mother felt so sorry for me that, when I dropped by his house on Christmas afternoon, she always had a small present for me under their Christmas tree.

Wooden shoes & poems

We did celebrate Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) Day at our house on December 5. (Which, on reflection, was odd since this was a Catholic holiday in Holland celebrating a Catholic Saint.) While not virulently anti-Catholic, my parents certainly made it clear to me in other ways that Roman Catholics were, in all probability, not part of the true Kingdom of God. Be that as it may, we put a carrot in a shoe outside the door on the eve of December 5, in anticipation of the visit of St Nick riding his snow-white horse over rooftops. In appreciation for the carrot for his horse, St Nick would leave a small gift of candy in the shoe. On the evening of December 5 there would be a family party with delicious food and gift giving accompanied by doggerel poems made by the gift-giver who had drawn the name of another family member. A good time was had by all.

Festival of Carols

For reasons that I won’t go into here, my parents left the Canadian Reformed Church and became Christian Reformed. I remember my father’s unhappiness with the presence of a Christmas tree in the sanctuary; but, one Christmas, my middle sister bought a small tree with electric lights and set it up in the house, which was grudgingly accepted by my father at my mother’s urging.

So, perhaps, dear reader, given my background, you’ll understand why this column is not filled to the brim with “uplifting content.” We now enjoy an IKEA Christmas tree in our house with a few presents underneath, and we usually have a wonderful family dinner with the whole clan in attendance (though not this pandemic year). And, of course, there is wonderful Christmas music to enjoy, both recorded and sung at the Festival of Lessons and Carols at Edmonton’s Winspear Concert Hall. Nevertheless, Christmas in the Bruinsma house is a decidedly muted affair by contemporary standards. And I’m OK with that. Especially since, after Christmas, I can look forward to the truly uplifting season of Easter with its celebration of our Saviour’s victory over sin and death, and the promise of resurrection life.

Merry Christmas to all.

  • Bob is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton.

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