My mother went into labor on Christmas morning 1944. She gave birth to me a few hours later. I was her third and last child. They took me home, swaddled like the baby Jesus, and placed me under the Christmas tree. Many relatives thought it was a blessing and an honor to be born on the day we celebrate the birth of the Christ child.
As I grew up, I was increasingly aware that my birthday was a bit of a burden on the biggest holiday of the year. No one said it, but I felt it. My mother baked several kinds of cookies for all the visitors we'd get. Then there were the traditional meals, a large Christmas Eve dinner with several kinds of seafood and the larger Christmas Day dinner, both with family in attendance. We helped my mother with many tasks, but most of it fell on her. This gave me some feelings of guilt, especially because she always made a special birthday cake for me. Decorated for the holiday, my all-time favorite was the double layer chocolate with mint green icing, dark fudgy drippings all around the edge, green peppermint candies and tiny red hot candies that when combined, looked like holly leaves. It was a masterpiece!
It wasn't possible for me to have a traditional birthday party. After we ate and exchanged gifts, I blew out the candles and we had my cake for dessert. By the time I became a teenager, my friends and I began exchanging gifts. It was bad enough my parents had to come up with an extra gift on Dec. 25, now my friends had "double gifting" too! Some couldn't afford it and would hand over a gift with downcast eyes and say, "This is for both."
When I was in my late 20s, my friends suggested we celebrate my birthday on July 25. I thought this was pretty cool. We could go out and have fun on my birthday for the first time. It was nice also to get traditional birthday cards instead of the usual "Happy Christmas, Merry Birthday!" Several years later, I got married and my husband told me he would always make me feel special on my birthday. Sweet!
Getting back to the Christ child, I in no way felt I could exemplify the glorious nature and loving spirit of Jesus. I lived my life without any sense of obligation to be Christ-like or overly religious. In fact, I had more than one run in with my parish priest who thought I was sinister for blessing myself with my left hand. He pulled me in the back of the church and asked loudly if I was worshipping Satan! Everyone in the back rows turned to look at this sinner. I was shocked and didn't know at first what he was talking about. I was only 8 years old and, being left-handed, I just dipped my left fingers into the Holy Water without thinking. I can tell you that Christmas Carol was not feeling particularly blessed that day. It was a moment beyond embarrassment. I wanted to crawl in a hole down to the depths of hades and die there!
Nor was I feeling particularly blessed the time the communion host fell down the front of my dress at morning mass. It was summertime and I was wearing a lightweight dress with an airy scoop neckline. There was momentary chaos at the altar rail as the priest and altar boy looked all around me. He was hissing at me, "Where is it?!" All eyes were on me... again. It had to be retrieved by two nuns after mass. They weren't allowed to touch the host, so I had to drop the entire top of my dress to the waist while they let it fall onto a gold plate with a handle. Then they washed my abdomen off with holy water. This occurred when I was at the tender age of 12 and beginning to blossom but not yet wearing a bra. It was probably the most humiliating moment of my young life!
A couple of years later, we were taking religious instructions in preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation at the church. The priest that seemed so easily antagonized by me never taught these classes. Instead, we had a soft-spoken, younger priest who was nice to the kids of the parish. At the last minute, we were given word of a change. The fire-breathing, slick-haired priest with penetrating eyes and a sharp tongue was taking over. I was terrified! Some of my classmates ran off in fear and I followed. I ran all the way home, never looking back. Like a freakish nightmare, the parents of all those absent from class were called the next morning.
My father was instructed to bring me to the rectory where the priest lived. I was told to apologize to him for running off. I didn't think I would be able to speak much less apologize! Standing next to my Dad, I tried shrinking back behind him for protection. He stood staring at me with his arms crossed and his usual stern expression. My Dad nudged me and said, "Carol, don't you have something to say to Father?" I felt my face grow hot. I blurted out "I'm sorry Father," then turned to run out the door. Thankfully, he gave permission for me to return to class the next week. This was not merely humiliating, it was demeaning, shameful and mortifying!
As an adult, I have put things in perspective and fully love Jesus. I also feel he would never do such a mean thing to a frightened child. He would seek remorse, but would not do so in a condescending way. Maybe my Christmas birthday was a test of my integrity and ability to tough it out yet hold onto my core beliefs. I am blessed. I'll celebrate my 71st birthday this year!