Our home glowed orange during the Christmas season, since that was the color of the candles Mom positioned in the windows throughout our two-floor Cape. I felt it a fine color—the glow seemed heavenly. Some lights were tiers of three candles, while others were singular, but they all bathed our home in a warm amber light.
Nowhere was that light more pronounced than in the dormer of our girls’ bedroom, for here I’d transformed the cloistered space into a sacristy (picture above is similar, if you take away garage and side entryway.)
On a table nearby, our kids’ red and white record player piped in soft Christmas music.
On the walls of the dormer I’d taped Christmas cards depicting the birth of Christ or the Three Wise Men following the star of Bethlehem, to the manger in Jerusalem. All the illustrated people wore the necessary faces of piety and solemnity. Since it was still the era when most people sent cards (requiring twice-a-day-delivery by the Post Office,) I had plenty to choose from.
I’d transformed Mom’s cedar chest into an altar, covering it with a white sheet, and on that, I placed my tabernacle which had been a neighbor’s cigar box from which I’d removed a panel, glued white construction paper to each of 3 sides, and ran a knitting needle across the expanse of one for a curtain rod. From that, I hung a cloth I’d gotten from a package of Dad’s new white handkerchiefs. It had to be perfect, for behind that curtain stood the chalice.
That goblet was one of Mom’s best crystal glasses topped off with a cardboard square (again, covered in white paper), and it held the small, perfect circles of Sunbeam bread I’d cut, using a half dollar coin as pattern. They awaited the singular moment I’d transform them into the body of Christ—the Host.
To prepare, I draped sheets about my body, to mimic the garb the priests of my church wore. I’d already anointed my younger sister as altar ‘boy.’ At 4 years my junior, she was only too happy for her role in the drama.
Then I invoked the heavenly spirits– God, Jesus, angels and archangels and I began the chant that was hardly Gregorian. It was a child’s rendition of the holy words, rising in crescendo, at times, just as I believed I’d heard them at church.
At the high point of my delivery, I held the ‘host’ on high, genuflected, as my sister rang the dinner bell I’d conscripted for our use. Next, I turned, deposited the “host” in her mouth, and did the same for me. We bowed our heads appropriately.
My sister and I performed this nightly ritual all through the pre-holiday season, leading up to Christmas day when I was 8 years of age and she was 4.
We merely mimicked the ceremonial actions we saw the priests and my brothers (as altar boys) perform. In later years, I’d see the Catholic church bend its rules and allow girls to serve in that capacity. But in our era, that service wasn’t possible.
So, my sister and I created our own church, as only children can.
In retrospect, I might have seriously entertained the idea of becoming a priest if that occupation were open to me. Instead, I became a teacher– “doing God’s work,” as some friends describe it.
But in that dormer, I sought… as a child… to leap the constraints my church and era imposed.
It would signal the beginning of a lifelong struggle.
Merry Christmas to all of you. I wish you every blessing in this New Year.