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Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

I didn’t know what Christmas meant until one special service

While most of my friends weren’t Christian, I felt like they did Christmas better than me


“What are you doing this Christmas?” my friend asked. It was our last day of school before winter break. Other classmates murmured excitedly about ski trips and what gifts they wanted. I shrugged in reply. My friend proceeded to rave about their annual family Christmas feast: relatives would gather at their house in Saskatoon for mouth-watering roasted turkey and an endless array of homemade pies. Then they’d play games and sing. “It’s a family tradition!” my friend said.

This conversation replayed itself every year. While most of my friends weren’t Christian, I felt like they did Christmas better than me. I had none of those traditions. My dad, a fifth-generation Canadian, was raised with shiny wrapped presents under a freshly cut tree. But his busy pulpit work as a minister left those traditions in the past. My mother was born in Korea where Christmas didn’t mean much if you didn’t go to church. When she became an ordained minister and eventually moved to Canada, she didn’t see the point of a Eurocentric, commercial Christmas.

At our house, we didn’t have a Christmas tree or a fireplace. We moved to Saskatchewan from Ontario when I was six. With relatives a province or ocean away, gathering for a holiday meal was impossible. We didn’t buy many presents either. Jesus did come up a lot, though. My parents and others at church called him a friend, the son of God or the Messiah, which was supposed to be very important. But I didn’t know him.

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I couldn’t figure out what Christmas meant. Was it about the birth of a baby with whom I felt no connection? Was it a picture-perfect family gathering that I could never have? Was it to fulfil my duty as a consumer in a capitalist world? I struggled to put the pieces together.

Then, in 2019, I was asked to play piano for the Christmas Eve service at Saskatoon’s Grosvenor Park United Church. As I played Silent Night, something shifted in me. The congregation joined the carol, and in that room, lit only by the glow of candles, I experienced joy. I felt embraced in the chorus of voices.

I realized Christmas wasn’t about presents or family traditions. It was about being present in the relationships that make me feel loved. I cherish my congregation, which gives me unconditional love. Playing piano with the worship band sparks a deeper connection with myself and with them. At the heart of it, Christmas, and being a Christian, is simply about taking the time to connect with those we care about. And that is a gift.


Hannah Kim-Cragg is a student at the University of Toronto and an anti-racism youth animator for the United Church.

This story first appeared in Broadview’s December 2021 issue with the title “Making Sense of the Season.”

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