When Christmas came that year, I was profoundly aware that it would henceforth take on a new meaning for me. For twenty years I had celebrated Christmas with my family according to secular custom: vaguely aware of its commemoration of the birth of Christ but primarily as a holiday about Santa Claus, family, and gift giving. But even as a child I'd always felt something special about Christmas, especially Christmas Eve. It seemed like a charmed night, a night where the wonder and magic of the old days lived and walked again.
After I had embraced Christ, I realized that, in a certain sense, that year would be my first "real" Christmas. It would be the first time observing the birth of Christ as a brother in Christ. This realization overwhelmed me with gratitude for the holy day I had grown up with but only then begun to understand. Knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He means enriched the celebration of His birth in ways I'd never appreciated. But how would this new realization change my celebration? How would I observe Christmas differently?
This was tricky. I was still living at home and thus how the day was observed was going to very much depend on my parents, who were secular. Furthermore, I had not yet revealed my conversion to them. They knew I was acting a bit differently, but I had not yet figured out how or when to tell them. My conversion was still very new, and I did not want to "cast my pearls before swine", as our Lord said. I believed if I told them of my conversion too soon they would not take me seriously or mock my sudden piety after years of heathenism. So I didn't feel like I could make any requests of them to celebrate any differently.
I again had that sense that this of newness...as is if this was the first night. The countryside draped in freshly fallen gave a feeling of purity, of cleansing, of freshness. The light of the moon streaming into the window seemed to me like the light of the Star of Bethlehem. I don't recall what I was praying about that Christmas Eve; but I remember vividly how I felt. I felt like that Christmas was the first Christmas. I felt like Christ was being born right then, as if I were a witness alongside the shepherds and animals of the stable. It was such a tender sentiment...I was so new in faith, and in a very real way, Christ was being born in me at the time as well. Everything I saw on the outside seemed to reflect the reality I recognized on the inside.
I've never had a Christmas quite like that one. It's been hard to recapture that. I had no worldly cares that year. I was just living at my parents, not married, no kids, no girlfriend, just a low maintenance gas station job. I was completely unencumbered. Then, gradually, year after year, life closed in on me. To some degree, there's a paradox where the busyness of preparing for a holiday can obstruct one from actually entering into the spirit of the holiday. Too many Christmases since have been marred this way. I suppose it's just part of dealing with holidays with a large family, kids, and so on.
But, ah, one day when I am old and my face is weathered and my hands are cracked with the rigors of age, and I am closer to my life's end than its beginning, I hope again to come to the feast of the birth of our Lord with nothing save my piety, kneeling in the moonlight of a midwinter's night.