The downsides to growing up in a Very Evangelical Home were many. (Typical day: my dad finding Madonna’s Immaculate Collection in my room and snapping the CD in half, me explaining this to my buddy’s sister, its rightful owner.) So you’d think the one upside would be that we really did it up for Christmas. I mean, the whole day is pretty much wall-to-wall God Baby stuff, right?
Because the Bible never really specifies when Christ was born, and because the whole Christmas tree thing is actually based in pagan stuff celebrating the winter solstice, my parents decided Christmas was not for us. No tree. No lights. No presents. No eggnog. (Actually, that’s a lie. My mom loves eggnog, so she’d buy tons of it after Christmas when it was on sale and almost expired. Boy, did we enjoy January eggnog in the Burbank house.)
Had we been Jewish, at least we’d have had some sweet Hanukkah action to fall back on. But we weren’t. We were just seven kids in a shitty house near Northgate Mall who didn’t get to celebrate the best holiday of the year.
The one cool thing was that our normal relatives in other parts of the country would send us gifts, which we were allowed to keep. I remember my granddad calling from Virginia, asking me how I liked the soccer ball he’d sent. I also remember my dad covering the mouthpiece of the phone and telling me, “Don’t talk about the no-Christmas stuff.” He knew his father could barely understand why he’d run off to a religious commune at age 20 to marry some hippie lady and start cranking out babies; if he threw the “and we’re not celebrating Christmas” thing into the mix, my granddad probably would have called the FBI. This was the first time I realized just how odd my parents’ worldview was. Up until then, it seemed normal and sort of unquestionable to me.
Eventually, we changed churches and my parents normalized on the Christmas thing a bit. When I was maybe 14, we were allowed to have stockings. No tree, just stockings with gifts in them. I was excited to buy cheapo items for my family at the pharmacy across the street. I got my dad a laminated sign that read “To err is human. To really screw things up you need a computer!” (We didn’t own a computer at the time, so the sign’s comedic genius may have been lost on him.) The following year, my mom put up some wreaths and Christmas tree boughs and we kids could tell that the anti-Christmas levee was about to break.
Finally, when I was 16, my folks brought home an actual tree. Calling it “an actual tree” is being generous. It was the scrawniest, most pathetic formerly living thing $5 could buy at Chubby & Tubby. But it was, technically speaking, a tree, and to us kids, it was a goddam fucking Christmas miracle.
Luke Burbank is a radio personality and comedian. He hosts the podcast Too Beautiful to Live and co-hosts the KIRO-FM program Ross and Burbank.
Illustration by Tom Dougherty.