The Christmas story: Bah! Humbug? Not at all.

have a conflicted relationship with Christmas. While I enjoy the gift-giving, the family get-togethers, the decorations, and the memories,  I can’t quite embrace the elaborate religious packaging, or even a portion of it.

So I winced last Sunday in church, as I listened to the gospel reading, Matthew 1:18-25, which purported to explain the strange circumstances of how Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit, gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God, all the while remaining a virgin.

Strange indeed. Joseph, an average bloke and carpenter by trade, was engaged to Mary, and  understandably apprehensive by her unexpected pregnancy and ready to quietly call off the engagement.

Then an angel of the Lord arrived to calm his nerves: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” And so Joseph married Mary, but refrained from having marital relations until after Jesus was born.

On any other day, I would write off this far-fetched Christmas fable as just that.

A fairy tale it may be, but one too beautiful for me to abandon. 

But not on Christmas Day, when the days are short, the memories long, and people the world over hope and pray for peace and understanding, no matter how long the odds. Improbable as such stories may seem any other time, on this day somehow they ring true. Or at least we fervently hope so. 

It’s a day to suspend judgment on the abracadabras of Scripture and instead concentrate on the teachings of the prophet Jesus, which two thousand years later, still stand as an exhortation for people to lead decent, moral lives, no matter what their specific religious or denominational beliefs may be.

The celebration of His birth, whenever it was, exactly, is cause enough for me to celebrate, to rekindle ties to friends and family, and to experience the joy of giving to others who may be less fortunate than I—while trying to ignore the commercialized pandemonium that envelops Christmas today.

One of my fondest Christmas memories is visiting my maternal grandmother, Herminia, and my spinster aunt Estela, who lived with her, to partake on Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena as it called in Cuba, of one of the grandest meals imaginable.

The two of them cooked on an unpredictable charcoal stove, which had to be stoked and coddled constantly, to reach perfect temperature, a skill hard to fathom in this age of microwaves and convection ovens.

The Nochebuena feast she and my aunt created under such primitive circumstances then became a  yearly Christmas miracle in itself.

The meal went on for a couple of hours at least, and closed with various types of dessert, and a ceremonial sip from a dusty bottle of Domecq Viña 25, a sweet Spanish sherry, that appeared out of nowhere, and went back into secret storage for the rest of the year.

The day after I would laboriously write a letter to the Three Wise Men, extolling my own virtuous behavior during the year which merited receiving a long-shot but essential list of  toys. I would hand the letter, addressed to the Orient where the Wise Men lived, to my parents to mail.

To buttress the reality of this story, on the eve of January 6, my parents would leave three glasses of milk and some cookies on the kitchen counter to refresh the weary visitors from the Orient, when they came bearing gifts. 

Miraculously, the milk and cookies would be gone the morning after.

I would then dash to check under the Christmas tree to see how much of my fantasy list of gifts had actually materialized. Most of them usually did, confirming for me that the miracle of Christmas was real indeed.

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