Deciding how to celebrate the holidays

Here’s something that’s been on my mind for a while now: what to do about Christmas? I grew up celebrating the holiday, but as an adult I find myself questioning how I participate in the festivities. I’m not a Christian, so I don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus as my savior. Once you take the religious belief out of it, things get sticky. What is Christmas?

Increasingly for me it’s meant busyness. This year I am determined not to be overwhelmed by things if I can help it, and to help me tamp down that feeling of busyness, I’ve decided to start the Christmas season early (as in right now). If I listen to the music and think about all of the many things I’m supposed to do for the holiday while I’m still sane and it’s still early, I won’t feel overwhelmed, right?

I’m betting I’m not the only adult non-believer who celebrates Christmas. I know a lot of people who say they celebrate but don’t focus on the religious aspect of it. They like so many things about the season and it’s enough for them to come back to it year after year. Decorating, baking, choosing and wrapping gifts, being nice to others, listening to carols, eating candy canes, sitting by the fire, hoping for snow, and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the season are a few things they like. For them, and even more for those who have young children, the magic is powerful. Santa Claus is active and busy, alive and well in their lives.

I like all of these things too. As I get older though I am finding that the pull isn’t enough. My spiritual beliefs lie somewhere else; they are tied to the change of seasons, not to Christmas. My consumer beliefs lie somewhere else; they aren’t awakened by this commercial season. My beliefs about my home and family, my desire to cook and bake from scratch, my inclination to be gentle and generous with people I meet is present throughout the year.

A few years ago I had this same discussion about Easter. At the time it struck me as odd to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus when I didn’t believe in any of it. It boiled down to the Easter Bunny coming to visit, and that was it. It was a very empty holiday. So we stopped celebrating it. We asked the Spring Chipmunk if it would come and visit our home on the first day of spring, just as the Easter Bunny used to visit on Easter morning. Happily, it has come every year. The arrival of spring is much more meaningful to our family than Easter, and it made sense to shift the focus from one to the other.

Here we are approaching the first day of winter (okay, we’re several weeks away, but I need to focus on the day when the amount of sunlight each day increases, so agree with me here). I would much rather celebrate the Winter Solstice than Christmas. Everything I love about the Christmas season is actually related to the change of seasons: I love the greenery and lights, the warmth of fires indoors, and the feeling of settling in for the winter. Our family celebrates the change of seasons four times a year by lighting candles and talking about what we’ll miss about the outgoing season and what we look forward to with the new season. It makes so much sense for us to stop celebrating Christmas and put our focus instead on the Winter Solstice.

There are a few obstacles that stand in the way. Easy obstacles, but they do exist. A few months ago I had a dream that we stopped having Christmas. When I told the girls they were very concerned about Santa. Would Santa come anymore? Santa has to come. He has to, they say. The second thing is the family aspect of the holiday. My family comes together every year to celebrate Christmas. How do I reconcile that? The third issue is the hardest: my sense of place and time. I grew up celebrating this holiday. I don’t view it in the same way anymore, but I have the inkling that I’ll miss it.

The very fact that I’m raising these questions tells me that it’s just a matter of time before the holiday slips away from our family’s life. Heavy stuff to think about.


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