Discovering Christmas After Leaving my Faith


Ringing through the sky shepard boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea


December 3, 2013

I was born and raised a 5th generation mormon.   My ancestors gave their lives to the faith, crossed the plains pushing hand carts to seek religious freedom, and wrapped their posterity tightly in mormonlore, tradition and fierce faith.  Mormonism is a form of christianity… they worship Christ, and celebrate his birth.  We celebrated with Santa and the reindeer, but gave much weight into Jesus Christ being the Lord, Savior and King.

I remember one year when I was about 15, I innocently asked my close friend why they celebrated Christmas when it was a christian holiday to mark the birth of Jesus Christ, and she was not christian.  She was unable to answer my question, only stammered a bit and I backed off, sensing her discomfort.  This memory bubbles up for me every single year because eight years ago,  my husband and I scooped up our young girls when they were still babies in diapers and walked out of our mormon life.

I have often used the word “uprooted” to help verbalize the action of leaving our faith… and I often still feel the effects of our drastic decision in my every day life.


On sunday, Rick and I drove our girls out to a Christmas tree farm in an adorable neighboring New England town.  We rolled down the window and they gave us a sharp saw and some twine, we drove up to a space in the dirt parking lot, and traipsed into the lot among the Frasier firs and Blue Spruce, picked one out, and cut it down.  An hour later it was sitting in water in our living room.

Not uprooted.

Cut down.

Sometimes, leaving your faith feels like that.

Because the truth is, my roots grew in mormon soil.  They were nurtured by loving stories of a newborn babe who eventually suffered immeasurable pain for me.  My roots tangled themselves around the belief that I must conform tightly to a long list of do’s and be’s in order to find happiness and eternal life…in order to feel Spirit and experience Joy.  I ate a lot of ice cream, green jello, dixie salad, funeral potatoes.  I sang a lot of “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” and “Follow the Prophet” and “Praise to the Man” and “I am a Child of God.”

I am not sure it is possible to uproot yourself and replant in new ground.  The roots belong wrapped around my ancestors.  It has been a deep and complex struggle to figure out what this means for me.  How I define myself. When we walked out of our mormon faith, I felt as if I stopped existing altogether.  And then, after the shock wore off and I realized it was not a death, but an awakening that left me feeling like an alien in my own body.  It is hard work, to sort out that kind of disorientation.


Eight years later, I am beginning to understand.  I no longer need to feel cut down,  separated from my roots. Alienated.  I am beginning to see the more beautiful parts of the culture I came from once again, but this time, with my eyes wide open.  I can appreciate how I grew into a compassionate, strong, intelligent, curious, open and sensitive adult… It is no longer necessary to frantically search out the mormon pieces of me to be thrown away.

The Christmas seasons have been the hardest, as the “true” meaning of Christmas, the bible story, seemed like an untrustworthy lie.  A scam.  I struggled to find meaning in the celebration without getting sucked into commercialism.  I have been fighting  to answer my own haunting question I asked more than 20 Christmas’s ago.

Why do you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ when you are not a Christian?

The answers, swirling within me, are finally settling.  And I know.

Because Christ does not need to be historical fact.  He can be an idea.  A representation of the most powerful source there is.  LOVE.   And I can get behind LOVE, and see all the beauty that springs from it…Joy, Peace, Light, Happiness, Gratitude, Compassion, Grace, Understanding, Mercy…   I do not need to invest my life into anything other than those ideals.  I can find those things in the brilliance of a star, the excitement shining in my little girls’ eyes, the sight of their snowman melting on the lawn.  I can immerse myself in my favorite holiday music, bake the best damn Christmas cookies you ever tasted, drink champagne while turning our home into a place of magic once a year, and let nostalgia take me into my past and feel rooted once again.  Christmas is a practice.  A purposeful rising up, once each year, to get carried away in love.

This Christmas, I can finally honor the roots I grew from, but I can reach for my own sky.

And watch my children do the same.

….Written to participate in the holiday writing advent at


Doorbell Ditch Christmas

On the first day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
12 Drummers Drumming
11 Pipers Piping
10 Lords a Leaping
9 Ladies Dancing
8 Maids a Milking
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree







-A participation in

December 2, 2013

Doorbell ditching friends and the subsequent giggling dash… through crunchy snow banks, slipping on icy streets and hiding gleefully in bushes are some of my favorite holiday memories.  Each year since I was about 9 years old my family has participated in the “12 Days of Christmas.”  We select a family or person to target, buy 12 days of gifts leading up to Christmas eve, and write little poems to go with the gifts…. and then doorbell ditch them for 12 days in a row, leaving our little surprises.  On the 12th day, we stay and sing a christmas carol, usually a terrible, off-key rendition of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas!”

I carried on this tradition as an adult for the first time by sending a large package to Elder Poulin while he was serving a mormon mission in California in 2000.  I wrapped the 12 gifts into separate bundles and nestled them all into one big box, with strict instructions to begin the fun on December 13… the 1st day of Christmas.

The following Christmas, we executed our own 12 days of Christmas together, just two weeks before we were married.

It’s a work-filled, demanding tradition.  And I love it.  Participating as a child taught me that giving a gift is much, much more fun than receiving one, and it was my favorite part of the Christmas season.  Each year, as I am scrubbing those Thanksgiving dishes, my mind is already leaping towards getting the preparation done so we can execute a smooth 12 days of Christmas with the kids.  Sometimes, I will admit, those thoughts are mixed with the dread and anxiety that can come from being maxed out on stuff to do and buy in the coming weeks.  There have been some years where I was not sure I could handle the added chaos to our busy lives.  And last year… was the first year we missed.  (See Packaging Holiday Melancholy).  I was not capable of pulling myself from the mire and creating the memory for my family last year.  And my girls noticed.  They asked about it, and they were notably disappointed when I had informed them that we would be skipping 2012.  The hole it left in our Christmas celebration is glaring when I think back to last year.

Last week, Lydia asked about it again…she wanted to make sure we were planning on doing it this year.  And we are.  I am.  The relationships we have forged, the memories we have shared, and the lesson in service and giving are the best part of Christmas…and this time, if it gets to be too much…something else will have to give instead.

Surely, it’s why that silly Elf on the Shelf Ivan hasn’t found his way back to our house yet.


Below I will tack on a story I wrote to read to kiddos at the start of the season, as a fun way to begin the preparation for the 12 days of Christmas.  It  includes a shopping list and poems to attach, in case anyone out there in blogland wants another tradition to tack to the list.

Happy doorbell ditching and secret giving!


Fitch and the Twelve Days of Christmas Doorbell Ditch

Long ago in a far away land (some stories must still start this way)
There was a town filled with droopy people who slumped and ached away the day.          This land was filled with grey…with sadness, bitterness and sorrow,                                   To feel Christmas cheer in this town would be harder than climbing Kilimanjaro.

Santa sat fretting in the North Pole, surrounded by his elves,
Soon Santa realized he would need to help these sad people help themselves!              Santa knew the people had lost their Christmas joy and cheer,
He must call on the Christmas Sprites to rescue the season this year!

Christmas sprites are angels in waiting, helping spread true Christmas meaning,               The sprites are assigned to rescue places in need of Spirit intervening!
They flit and float to a home that needs to light the fire of Christmas spirit lost,               Sprites arrive with a jolly assignment that will help Santa melt the frost.

When the assignment is carried out by the people, the Sprite has completed the task,
Then Santa will turn the Sprite into an angel, the greatest gift for which a Sprite could ask. And in this particular long ago year, a special sprite named Fitch was sent,
Right into the home of the Alakazoo’s,  a cottage the size of a tiny tent.

The Alakazoo’s had decided they would not be celebrating Christmas this season,          They had been working, fighting, and trying to stay afloat for so many reasons.                  Fitch flew in with Santa’s assignment with hope and confidence in his heart,
He knew that if the Alakazoo’s would listen, uplifting joy would soon impart.

Meanwhile, all over town the Sprites had been sent out into the sad night,                          They hoped to help this droopy town rediscover love and forget their plight.                        The Twelve Days of Christmas was Santa’s answer to spreading Christmas joy,                  This attitude of Christmas Spirit must be found before he can deliver his toys.

The Alakazoo’s were startled to find Fitch in their home this night in December,
He was unmoving, as all Santa’s helpers must be… you must remember.
Attached to Fitch was The Twelve Days of Christmas Doorbell Ditch, sent from the North Pole,                                                                                                                                    Their Christmas sprite watched as they read the message that would open their gloomy souls.


Dear Mr. and Mrs. Alakazoo, the letter politely began,
It has come to my attention that you are living in a rather sullen land.                                        There is only one way to help find your Christmas joy once more,                                          That is to bring love and hope to someone behind a different door.

The magic these twelve days will bring to you is something you must see to believe,
Santa is asking you to put to the test…it’s better to give than to receive.
The task is called The Twelve Days of Christmas Doorbell’s sneaky, and jolly fun! You will need to deliver certain gifts, hide quietly, and then RUN!

Choose someone special and make sure they don’t live too far away,                                  Such as the neighbor who is sad and alone during this holiday.                                     Perhaps a family who just moved in and is looking for a friend,
Or someone who has been sick and is trying so hard to mend.

People all around, even the ones who seem happier than you,
Are desperately seeking their own solace and looking for their joy too.                                                          Once you have chosen your target house to bombard with holiday glee,                                      It is time to check out the list of things that you will need to succeed.

Santa’s Twelve Days of Christmas Shopping List

1 candle
2 ornaments
3 rolls of tape
4 packs of gum
5 oranges
6 pack of root beer
7 rolls of toilet paper
8 pack of batteries
9 candy canes
10 baggies full of Hershey Kisses (a lot or a little)
11 Christmas cookies or treats, homemade or purchased
12 A copy of these Christmas tags, shopping list in a pouch or kit

Now every night beginning on the 13th of December,
You will wrap up these small gifts and label them with the poem so you remember!            Sneak up in the dark, set the gift at the door, knock and then run away fast!
The joy of Christmas will set your heart pumping and sorrow will be in your past.


The person or family you choose to receive your 12 days of Christmas doorbell ditch,
Will wonder who it could possibly be, and their lives it will surely enrich.
Beware of icy patches, nosy neighbors and yappy dogs that can impede a speedy skedaddle!                                                                                                                           And watch for the families who’ll be determined to catch you…that can be quite a battle!

On the twelfth day of Christmas, you will have to then decide,
Will you come out and sing them a jolly carol or continue to run and hide?
Sometimes it’s fun to leave them wondering, and sometimes it’s merry to end with song, Love will twinkle in their eyes when you tell them it was you all along!

Your Christmas Sprite will be watching you as you deliver your gifts and have a blast,          For if you fulfill your assignment, the sprite will be your Christmas Angel at last!                        The Sprite’s assignment to deliver a way to be an angel on your own,                                                        Is the very best way to ensure that a spirit of love can be found at home.

Your sprite will report to Santa how you helped spread real love and cheer,
And if you do this assignment as a tradition each and every year…
And all the people you give the 12 days of christmas doorbell ditch begin to do it too…         The land where you live will fill with Christmas service and love…it all begins with you.

Here is the list of poems for which you must cut up and to each gift affix,
Now, go out with your list, gather your wits and prepare for these hilarious tricks!
Wrap the gift for each of the days and make sure the poem is easy to see,
Be safe, have fun, get silly and sneaky, and may these twelve days be filled with holiday glee!

With Jolly Good Cheer, Santa Claus and the Sprites

Mr. and Mrs. Alakazoo paused for a breath and looked each other in the eye,                  For Santa and Fitch they must do this even though they were barely getting by.                 Little did they know that in households across their land that night,                                   Other families were also reading the letters left by their own Christmas Sprite.

Mr. Alakazoo patted Fitch lightly, new excitement bubbling in his chest,
Mrs. Alakazoo skittered with a girlish twitter in her step.
They set about to fulfill this new and crazy Christmas assignment,
And without even trying, they felt their spirits lifted from the former gloomy confinement.


On the first day Christmas, one candle to burn bright…                                                    Was left at your door step to light up the night.

On the second day of Christmas, two ornaments for the tree Go ahead and hang them up for everyone to see!

On the third day of Christmas, three rolls of tape appeared… Everyone seems to be running short this time of year!

On the fourth day of Christmas, four packs of gum will be at the door… Chewing something tasty really brightens up holiday chores!

On the fifth day of Christmas, five oranges sat shiny and sweet, Gotta eat those veggies and fruit in between those holiday treats!

On the sixth day of Christmas, a six pack of delicious root beer… Something with a little fizz will keep you in good cheer!

On the seventh day of Christmas, seven rolls of toilet paper seems a bit crazy, This busy season certainly can make the essentials list seem hazy!

On the eighth day of Christmas, eight batteries you may soon need, Getting stuck without them can be a real bummer indeed!

On the ninth day of Christmas, nine candy canes are a classic Christmas treat, Of all the fancy flavors out there, peppermint can’t be beat.

On the tenth day of Christmas, ten packs of chocolate Kisses to give to ten people you know, Sending a little sweetness away is always the best way to go.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, a dozen cookies seemed like fun… But much to our surprise, (oops!) somebody already ate one!

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Santa’s big night is finally here…
You’ll get a 12 Days of Christmas Doorbell Ditch tradition to pass along next year!

Fitch became the Alakazoo’s angel that transformative year,
And the people in the town began to rediscover their holiday cheer.
The twelve days of christmas doorbell ditch over the years spread both far and wide, Helping Santa and the sprites teach people that happiness begins inside.

And now, after a great many years of Christmas’s have past,
A sprite has come to your home seeking your help at last!
It is your turn as a family to begin the tradition delivering the 12 days of poems,                   Seek out a family who needs a boost and watch as love grows in your own home.

Give your sprite a special name to honor your new tradition,
Know that your sprite is rooting for you to finish this holiday mission!
And when you have completed the first year of the Twelve Days of Christmas countdown, Your sprite will forever be your Christmas angel to help spread joy throughout your town!

Packaging Holiday Melancholy

December 1, 2013

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace….

-Joni Mitchell,  The River

I am going to participate in Melissa’s writing advent challenge, over at  I am feeling a bit daunted by the upcoming holidays, my to do list, my writing goals, and the stories that flood me this time of year.  It seems like a perfect way to at least get something down every day.   I stumbled upon her lovely blog this morning, and was taken by her beautiful trees in the header, and the gorgeous little bird picture posted for today’s writing prompt.

She asks,

What images, ideas, and sensations come to mind when you turn the calendar page over to the 1st of December?


This afternoon was grey and waning, I stood out on our mostly dead lawn and watched my husband climb up a ladder planted on the spongy ground, reaching for the gutters to clip our Christmas lights in. I was “supervising” by occasionally holding the cord. Rick reached up and grabbed a handful of mucky leaves clogging our gutters and began tossing handfuls to the ground we labored to rake clean just a week before. I sipped my beer, noticed his nice ass, and felt mildly irritated as the leaves began to litter our bushes and small front stoop. Today, on the first day of December, performing this chore of the season, I found myself recalling a day in late December last year. In a surge of resentment and deflated pawing for holiday cheer, in the hour before picking up my children at school, I fought to untangle the cords and nailed the string of lights to our new 1929 english Tudor. I had silently wept as I worked to surprise my girls, wiping the tears away on the sleeve of my coat. The throbbing cold in my fingers made my own despondency more acute.  Last year I had wondered if the swell of Christmas mania would succeed in swallowing what was left of me altogether.

Today, that memory of my heavy sadness last year swept me up for a fleeting moment. I took a cold breath in, and noticed…I felt unclogged by the passing seasons, the months of healing and unloading and discovering that the past year had delivered. The dead leaves and muck that no longer served me had been scattered by new memories and bold declarations made in 2013. Rick and I finished the last strand of lights by wrapping it tightly up a small pine tree, taking the tangled pile from his left hand, and passing it to his right. We stepped back to admire our work… our home sufficiently festive to create memories that will hold in the minds of our small girls. I slipped my hand into his back pocket when he gave me a soft kiss, and the moment wrapped itself around my melancholy memory, transforming into something beautiful for me to hold.