By Rosalie Tirella
If you are a Roman Catholic, even a “lapsed” one, Christmas gets stretched out to a weeks-long Season. Advent: waiting for Jesus’s birth, including the big day when an angel from Heaven flies down to earth to tell Mary: you’re preggo! With THE SON OF GOD! She can’t believe it! … Then Jesus’s birth, Christmas Day. Rejoice! The World is Saved (and it CAN BE SAVED) … Afterwards reality sets in: Mary, Joseph and their infant son Jesus head out and have a normal life. Sort of. Joseph is a carpenter, so he teaches his son Jesus his trade. Some Biblical texts say Jesus had a brother, also a carpenter. But Jesus, even at 12 years old, shows he is special – reveals his spiritual gifts to the community by discussing life and death so powerfully with the local priests that they are blown away! Everyone at the neighborhood temple – and beyond! – is impressed!
The birth of THE SON OF GOD, BORN TO A REGULAR PERSON, MARY, is a MIRACLE, if you are a “believer.” God the INFINITELY CREATIVE is made flesh: a human baby. Something, sadly, I can’t get back … long lost for me. I used to believe … wake up Christmas Day, as a child on Lafayette Street, and with my Catholic mother, old Polish granny and kid sisters go: YAY! GOD – JESUS – plus the HOLY SPIRIT IS BORN today!!! Magic! The MIRACLE MAN who I pray to for all my straight A’s at Lamartine Street School IS BORN! The little plaster of Paris Jesus statue on my bureau that I pray to every morning, before I walk down my street, up Grosvenor Street, to my teacher Mr. Monfredo’s 5th grade class at Lamartine is GOD! I “Bless” myself before the crappy little 25 cents statue my mother gave me one Saturday morning as she was cleaning out her bureau drawer: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” I say shaking with utter conviction … God is alive and watching over me and helping me live my life. Comforting. Reassuring. I am NEVER alone. God is always watching over me. This fact freaks me out a little, too, but it also makes me, the 10-year-old Rose who is a bookworm and near-sighted feel invincible! So every night, I “bless” myself before my plaster of Paris Jesus statue, and I write tiny notes to my Jesus statue (Jesus depicted not as a babe but as the sage, philosophical 12 year old – holding a book), and I stuff them into its hollow base, all crumply: DEAR JESUS GIVE ME AN A IN MY MATH QUIZ. – Rosalie … DEAR JESUS HELP ME GET AN A ON My BOOK REPORT. – Rosalie … DEAR JESUS I NEED AN A IN MY GRAMMAR TEST. – Rosalie Naturally, Jesus came through for me – I always got all A’s.
Then I went to college and met my boyfriend and his cool philosophy-major best friend – and I lost Jesus. Just like that. All the 17 years of Sunday masses with Ma, weekly trips to that big creepy box confessional booth at St. Mary’s, my prayer books, my nun pals, church folk group in high school! … 14 years of Monday evening catechism class at St. Mary’s … all down the toilet.
So, while I am not sure about the He-is-God-Almighty part these days, I do celebrate – in my own way – Christmas. I focus on the Christmas Eve Story – something I can relate to and believe in: being poor, being an outcast. An outsider looking in. No money? Then live in a barn – or a shithole tenement! The song remains the same – for eons and eons! But through the ages people have always transcended their mangers of hay! Rejoice!
I love the Christmas story! It was meant for this Green Island Grrrl growing up in a tenement with her poor beautiful sweet mother, Polish immigrant Bapy, fraile kid sisters. So poor, yet so loved! The precious gift. And yet so weary, like the weary, hungry, homeless Mary and Joseph looking for a room at any inn on that special night. No money? Then no roomie!! Into a barn (a crumby tenement) you’re shoved – with the sheep and cows.
The animals’ body heat and warm gusts of breath keep Jesus and his parents from freezing to death. Like a gas log in an old kitchen stove in any of Worcester’s poorer neighborhoods. So the Son of God – THE KING – is born in low, bad circumstances – literally a stack of hay!
It came with shepherds, angels with wings, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Kings, even a cow and a few sheep. I just have Jesus. We don’t talk much these days, but her Baby Jesus in the Christmas manger speaks to me through decades – brings so many Green Island Christmas days to me. Memories of her. … All the church going, the kneeling on our kitchen floor, or beside our beds, praying to plaster of Paris Jesuses … HOPE. LOVE. Always LOVE.