By: Clare He, Staff Writer

A few weeks ago I was clearing out old papers and toys in the basement when I stumbled across a Christmas worksheet I had filled out in elementary school. At first glance, I set it aside uninterestedly, but on second thought, I picked it up and began to read the questions. The front page had a large box with the words “Draw the nativity scene” printed neatly above it. Inside the space, I had drawn a brown stable, stick figures for Joseph and Mary, and a little baby Jesus (or what looked like two circles and some hair). Right below my drawing was the question, “who are you most thankful for this Christmas?” Under that question I had written, “Family, friends, God” in a glitter gel pen. You see, I grew up Catholic. My family was never the church-going type, or the praying type, for that matter. I, on the other hand, was a little bit different. Ever since I was in kindergarten, I’ve attended Catholic schools. I can still remember my eager excitement on the car ride to church one morning. That was the day of my baptism. Everyone else in my class was baptised as a baby and the words “This is it!” played over and over in my mind as the holy water cascaded over my forehead. Finally, I could be just like all the other kids at my new elementary school. Soon an accumulation of religious experiences like this not only strengthened my sense of belonging in my Catholic community, but also established my deeply personal relationship with God through prayer. The church has many religious holidays throughout the year, but Christmas was always my favourite. As a young girl, I loved seeing the pews filled with more people than I had seen all year. I always stood on my tippy toes to try to catch a glimpse of the priest dressed in his white and gold robes, and when I was old enough to be a part of the choir, I found myself immersed in church in a whole new way. Christmas Mass wasn’t even the best part. For me, it was the nativity play we would put on every year for all the parents. Every little girl fought to be Mary and the boys to be Joseph. For a while, my mom and I regularly attended church, but after my family moved to a new city, we went less and less and then barely at all. Still, I was heavily involved in mass at school, went to confession every year, and continued to enjoy the Christmas traditions just as I used to. My nightly prayers had turned into hour-long conversations in which I would tell God all about my arguments with my parents, my mean piano teacher, and the boys I liked at school. However, somewhere along the line, my faith began to waver. Was it because I disagreed with the Catholic church’s ideologies that were taught in school? Was it God’s lack of presence when I experienced the death of a loved one for the very first time? Or was it because I simply didn’t believe in God anymore? Honestly, I’m not too sure, but when confirmation—the sacrament in which a person is awarded full acceptance into the church—approached, I suddenly wasn’t very sure if I would like to be confirmed at all. I felt like I was the only one who felt the weight of this daunting choice, and in fear of being rejected by the only community I had ever known, I reluctantly got confirmed. Now as a young adult, I no longer confidently consider myself a Catholic. The guilt of being a “fake Catholic” after my confirmation continued to weigh on me as I moved further and further away from my faith in high school. I was eager to immerse myself into the environment of a new school and the lack of religious presence in my school life slowly transformed my routine prayers and occasional church attendance into an afterthought. Even though the remnants of my faith ceased to plague me further, every Christmas I am haunted by memories of the church. Conflictions with my faith from a past time seem to come flooding back as I reflect on my Catholic identity. This winter, as I prepare to head home from university, I think I have finally found peace with my ambivalent feelings. In the past, the holidays were a reminder of the Catholic celebrations I missed: a past life I would never get to revisit. Passing by an old church last weekend—one I’ve passed many times before—I miraculously found myself walking up its steps without entering the church. Person after person, the heavy wooden doors opened and closed as Sunday mass began. Quietly, I stood there and admired the intricate architecture of its walls, the small group of people disappearing through the door, and the faint echo of music that could be heard from outside. There, even with the icy wind blowing all around me, I felt a sense of calm I had never felt before. When I described the experience to my best friend later that day, she too expressed that she also no longer felt fully a part of the Catholic community. I don’t know if it was in those ten minutes outside the church or due to my friend’s surprising confession, but my internal battle with my faith finally came to a halt. I realised that faith was ever changing and the perfect Catholic didn’t look a certain way or do certain things. My relationship with God was one I could work on even through times of doubt and uncertainty in my faith. So, if you ever ask me if I do anything special during Christmas, I’ll probably say, “I don’t.” In reality, I do. Every Christmas, I pray. Even during times where God feels very far, the holidays always seem to make me wonder if he might still be around to listen to my prayers as he used to. Every year, as I drive past my old parish, I wonder if the service is just as I remember it. Maybe I’ll even attend this year. Perhaps it’s something in the Christmas air that makes me reminisce fondly about the warm candlelight, the church choir, and the nativity play. “Even during times where God feels very far, the holidays always seem to make me wonder if he might still be around to listen to my prayers as he used to”