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Soon, my essential-oil-loving father would be forced to face my bible-thumping aunt and uncle. Well, they don’t really thump the bible...the action is more closely related to a pat. He's a Methodist Reverend and she's a Midwestern Martha Stewart. Methodists are a cool bunch. Maybe that’s just my uncle, but I’m going to use him as the face for the religion. Uncle Bucky (yes, Bucky…everyone has weird names on that side of the family) is my mom’s older brother. That part of me comes from southern Illinois. The small town in which they are from is as country as it gets. The English language has been reverted to a pool of mumbles that only those from that specific region can understand. Church is attended regularly and when a person isn’t in church, they are listening to Billy Graham on the radio. The food is primarily made of butter, Crisco and white corn syrup. Arteries are clogged but mouths are happy. Minds might be small but hearts are as big as they come. Uncle Bucky attended seminary quickly after finishing high school. Considering the small town that he came from, he returned from his studies with big city ideas. Probably the proudest achievement of my family history is Bucky’s involvement in the civil rights movement. Shortly after the events in Selma, Alabama, he and a handful of other religious folks went to march with Martin Luther King, Jr. Especially coming from a town that wouldn’t know a black person if it fell over one, this move was pretty brave. Any concerns about my dad bumping heads with Jesus were hushed because my Uncle is a progressive guy. While the bible outlines a shit ton of rules for living ones life, there are many ways to interpret those rules. Nothing steams me more than people who take every word of that book seriously…but that’s a different rant, altogether. Uncle Bucky approaches things wearing an intellectual cap. How does the way of life in Jesus’ time compare with ours? What is the basic principal of that specific passage and how can we, if at all, learn from it? Everyone on Earth might not agree with certain aspects of his religion but Uncle Bucky knows that everyone can agree on the importance of love, family, respect and decency towards your fellow man. As long as we’re on the same page there, that’s all that matters. So when they decided to come to our home for Christmas, I totally cool with it. I knew that everything would be just dandy. My father’s new beliefs might have been a bit bizarre, but they were ultimately respectable and rooted in love. I was more worried about John, my ex-boyfriend, spending the holidays with us. Even though our three-year romantic relationship had ended, we were venturing into a new one of friendship. In the years in which we dated, he’d practically become a member of the King clan. It was only fitting to have the whole family together for the holidays, exes included. The presence of a former lover was not what concerned me, though. For some reason, that was perfectly acceptable. John’s blatant atheism was what had our stomachs in knots. In the beginning phases of John’s explorations in killing god, he could get pretty fiery. Rightly so. Yes, the various churches of the world do more harm than good, but faith is deeply engrained in the fabric of society; we need to make peace with it. Would a world with no religion be better? Maybe. But that’s not going to happen. The next best option would be to make the existing religions as healthy and intelligent as possible. Slowly, John realized that he couldn’t just blast scientific and historical facts in the faces of the devout, discounting every shred of faith in their programmed minds. To do so is ultimately unproductive and offensive. If a conversation needed to be had, it could be done with tact and sensitivity. In the privacy of his mind, he could judge them. In public, he could nod and smile.
So, I knew that both John and my father would be fine with a holy man in the house. That didn’t stop everyone from being extra conscious strange pagan idols on the mantel and whatever conspiracy theory book John happened to be reading.
As a result of dad’s enlightenment, our holiday season was a bit more Yule than the traditional American Christmas. The focus was shifted from mangers and angels to simply honoring the season- the process of death and rebirth, the power of nature and the effects of our position in the heavens. We’re in darkness for most of the winter months. How does that change the way we live? What can we discover about our loved ones and ourselves while the world is in a sort of forced meditation? These broader, non-religious issues and traditions were actually greeted warmly by my family and friends. I mean, I don’t know whom we thought we were fooling for so many years, parading around as people who actually knew anything about divine birth and saviors. We didn’t go to church. I’m surprised my sister even knows who Jesus is. Christ had practically always been removed from Christmas. We were left filtering out the stuff we didn’t identify with and trying to absorb what we found to be true about the season. Ugh, that took so much effort. Finally, we were free to say that on December 25th, we were going to celebrate life, the wonder of winter and one another. We certainly didn’t flaunt those ideas. We did, after all, still have guests in our house that valued the Christ-child’s supposed birth. We granted this theory with the utmost respect and the holidays were seemingly going off without a hitch. The funny thing was, dad wasn’t the only one worshipping strange idols. One would think that the witch in the house would be the only one investing inanimate objects with a certain value. Uncle Bucky’s wife, my wonderful Aunt Pauline, would show us a little witchiness of her own. My aunt is the ultimate family woman. She lives for joining the family together for activities and is wildly successful at recognizing each person’s individual talents and needs. She’s truly a lovely woman. Although sometimes, I will admit, her efforts at sentimentality can be humorous. On Christmas Eve, she had a "special" dessert planned. When she uses the term, “special,” it usually means that there’s story or important meaning assigned to whatever is about to follow. And because of the dessert’s special-ness, it was top secret. Fortunately, I had a slight idea as to what we were in store for. I helped do the shopping so I knew what ingredients were involved: yellow cake, peppermint stick ice cream and shaved coconut. Those are among my favorite things on Earth. I’d sit through any ten-page story as long as I got to eat that special dessert. But what emerged from the kitchen post-honey ham genuinely caught me off guard. It may have been one of the more terrifying things that I've ever laid these gay eyes on: Aunt Pauline walked through the French doors from the kitchen into the dining room, white mound in hand. Candles flickered from its highest point. "Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Jesus. Happy Birthday to you," she sang. After we'd blown out the candles on Jesus' oddly shaped third course, we realized just what she was going for: The ice cream had been spread over a small cake and rolled in coconut, resulting in something that slightly resembled a very famous babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. We cut open said babe and ate him. He was delicious. The whole incident was almost too bizarre for us to even address. My sister actually had to leave the table, for fear of laughing, crying or peeing her pants from both. John was speechless for about an hour afterward, as his ideas that Christians are truly the most fucked up people on the planet were confirmed. I didn’t look over at dad, but I’m sure he wore a shit-eating grin. That Christmas, he wouldn’t be the strange one. So whenever I'm having doubts about my father's maypoles and candles and alters or my personal lack of faith, I look back on when we for real-real worshipped the infant version of an alleged carpenter-turned-king...stuck candles in him...sang to him...sliced him open...devoured him...and a few hours later, flushed him down the toilet.