I grew up in a cult. Not an animal-sacrificing or snake-handling type cult, but a cult (according to books on the subject and most mainstream Christians at the time) nonetheless. This had a lot of effects on my life- too many to really get into here in this post. But one of the times when we felt it most as children, and when I feel the freedom from it most as an adult is at Christmas time.
Christmas 1992 (and pretty much every Christmas before and several after). I was a member of the school choir. Participation in the Christmas Concert was required and my grade in the class depended on it. But, I was not allowed by my church to sing Christmas songs. So I sat quietly in practice for the songs deemed too-Christmasy. At the concert, I stayed backstage until we got to a song like "Winter Wonderland" which didn't actually mention Christmas, when I darted out and stood on the end of the row to sing, returning backstage at the end of the song.
When holiday parties were had at school, we had to go home early instead of participating. This was also true for Valentine's Day parties and Halloween parties. When we were out shopping in November and December, cashiers would ask my brother and I what Santa was bringing us, and we'd say "nothing, we don't celebrate Christmas". Then I would feel superior to all the other people around us, because we knew the truth about what a pagan holiday Christmas was and they did not. We never said anything about Santa to other kids though, we were too well trained for that.
My grandmothers were not allowed to give us presents for Christmas or for our birthdays. We did get presents from our parents in the fall, when our church celebrated a week-long Jewish festival. Yes, we celebrated all of the Old Testament Jewish holidays. Not Hanukkah though, as that was traditional rather than Biblical. Although now as an adult, I realize that even Jesus likely celebrated Hanukkah. But I digress.
Christmas 2013. I woke to the sounds of my kids kicking each other. The cat had peed on Vivian's bed the day before, so she was sleeping at the end of Ethan's bed. And they were kicking each other and fighting over blankets before realizing that it was Christmas! The night before they'd happily gone to bed saying "we have to go right to sleep! Santa is going to come!" And after getting a few kicks in in the morning, they popped out of bed yelling "Mommy! Daddy! Did Santa come?"
Daniel and I blearily dragged ourselves out of bed, made coffee and stumbled upstairs where the children were quivering with excitement in front of our little tree. We don't do a whole lot of presents, but everyone had a decent little pile to open. Soon the kids were surrounded with wrapping paper from the presents that Mommy and Daddy and Santa had brought. They had huge smiles on their faces and were very patient while we wrestled with the slightly evil packaging that surrounded the new toys.
I hadn't actually planned to have Santa as part of our Christmas celebration, but Vivian latched on to the idea. And it was really fun this year. They tracked Santa on the NORAD site. They were convinced to behave slightly better than usual on the days before Christmas so that Santa would bring them gifts. They believed in the magic and wonder of it all.
Santa and gifts are not and never will be the main focus of Christmas in our home. Going to church on Christmas Eve and reading the Christmas story from the Bible and lots of conversations about Jesus's birth and what Christmas means are the main focus.
But still. I sat on the couch on Christmas morning, watching my kids and looking at our Christmas tree and lights, and all I could think was "it's awfully nice to be normal now." I guarantee that if I had posted that on Facebook, I would have had a huge response from the many Facebook friends that I have who also grew up in the same church I did. We bear a lot of emotional scars from our experience. It was not all bad by any means, and good things did come out of it, for sure. But I'm still glad that I'm out of that and that my kids are growing up "normal" (in this respect at least).