Ho, Ho, Ho

We are seven days into December, it is freeeeeezing cold and I’m thinking that it’s time to acknowledge that the winter holiday season has arrived.

Last year at this time Yogi was four months old and we were doing good to get cards in the mail.  This year he’s walking and chattering and attentive to every little thing that goes on around here, so I’ve been eager to share the season with him.

But….. what does that mean?

How can two parents who are neither Christian nor Jewish nor down with rampant consumerism share the season in an authentic way?  (This question is not rhetorical, if you have thoughts please share them in the comments).

Given that my wife and I were both raised in the Christian church, the first obstacle is explaining what Christmas even is.  Now, I know I’m getting a bit ahead of myself as Yogi is not asking these kinds of questions yet, but he will and I want to be ready.  So, what to say?  Here’s how I’m imagining the exchange:

Yogi:  Mama, what is Christmas?

Me: Well Yogi, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Yogi: Who is Jesus again? 

Me: He’s that really great guy that we talk about sometimes, usually at church.

Yogi: Like Buddha or Martin Luther King?

Me: Yes, kind of like that.

Yogi: So everybody has a birthday party for him?

Me: Yes, many people do.

Yogi: Are we going to put up a tree for Martin Luther King’s birthday?

And this is where I imagine the conversation breaking down.  How to explain that?  No, we don’t put up trees and spend a months time celebrating any of the other “really great people”.  It seems impossible to avoid the assumption that we don’t do those things because those other folks aren’t quite as great.  They did good stuff, but they just aren’t really that big of a deal.  Arghh.

This is not what I want to communicate (even implicitly), but I don’t see a way around it.  I do want to use rituals that are associated with Christianity both because they were significant in my own childhood and because I want Yogi to see his family experiences mirrored in the world around him.  There are plenty of other ways in which his family is not the norm and perhaps this is why our participation in these facets of the dominant culture (doesn’t that sound menacing?) are important to me.

The next obstacle is Santa.  What to do about Santa?  I know that I only have so much control, but I want Santa to be about magic and wonder and surprise, not stuff, stuff, and more stuff.  We haven’t talked at all about Santa (beyond naming him when he shows up in books), but what will we say when we do?  I don’t think that the idea of him is inherently bad, but I’m not sure what role I want him to have in our family celebration.  Anybody have ideas about this?

And then there is obvious fact that there is a lot more than just Christmas going on this time of year.  Although I want Yogi to know about other religious traditions, there is something about actively celebrating a religious holiday that no one in your family has any connection to that rings more than a little false to me.  So, we won’t be lighting the menorah either.

But…… I have always thought that celebrating the winter solstice sounded like an awfully nice idea.  Does anyone do this or know of any rituals associated with solstice?

I know I’ve got a little time yet with Yogi being 16 months at Christmas this year, but I want to start getting my story together, working out the kinks in the winter holiday system.


5 thoughts on “Ho, Ho, Ho

  1. I think that children can understand the idea of many forms of religious expression. You can explain Christmas as a particular Christian religious celebration, just as you might explain Rosh Hashannah or Ramadan or Solstice. If you tell Yogi that your families have been Christian for many generations so you too celebrate Christmas as a way to remember your history and celebrate the life of an important religious figure that might be one way in. From there you have a great entry point to talk about other faith traditions and what it means to be different or odd person out. In a country with long Christian roots and cultural traditions what would it feel like to be Jewish or Muslim or Hindu? Kids are amazing at thinking through these kinds of questions.

    In response to your imaginary conversation, my reply would be, “Well, Yogi, usually Martin Luther King Day isn't celebrated with a tree, but there are lots of other really good ways that we celebrate this important holiday”. Children understand that each holiday is different with it's own rituals and traditions – Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas and Winter Solstice/Yule will all have their own traditions in your family. Since the UU is totally groovy, I'm sure that they have some resources for celebrating Yule or Winter Solstice. You might ask your pastor what s/he thinks.

    I don't have many thoughts on Santa, beyond the possibility of tracking down a Children's book that covers the history of Santa. My family loves a little magic (we all traveled to Disney this summer and absolutely loved it) so Santa still visits our house – even the adults draw each other's names and sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to fill stockings. We all know that this is about magic and the way that the Adults remember that is we have to figure out who our “Secret Santa” was based on the things in our stocking. It's always great fun.

    My family has an extremely ritualized tradition of the Christmas celebration so I love learning about what other people do to celebrate important holidays.


  2. Yes, yes, yes–we struggle with similar issues. It seems like when you remove the “birth of the Savior” part of Christmas, a lot of what you're left with is the rampant consumerism part..bleck. But there's also lots of cool stuff that's common to many holidays that happen at this time of year–good stuff about gathering together in the dark, having hope that the light will return, etc. And there's lots of ways that those can be made into family rituals.

    I think UUs have lots of good resources for this kind of thing. Like: http://www.uuworld.org/spirit/articles/2276.shtml and

    In our family we have a tree (which I justify because the tradition has lots of good pagan roots–and it smells so nice). We also go to the Solstice service at our local UU church. We sometimes go to a Christmas Eve service too (since both sets of grandparents are Christian). I'd like to have more family rituals (with just the 3 of us), but haven't figured out just what yet.

    I'd love to hear more of other folks' thoughts on Santa, as this is one we're still figuring out.

  3. I'm not feeling like we've figured out this question. If anything, lately, it seems once we got on board with the whole Santa thing, it's a slippery slope to that rampant consumerism you mention….but, for whatever it's worth, I've tried to secularize the holiday as much as possible. It's equal parts winter solstice-ish–Xmas tree and lights on the house and hearty food coincides so utterly nicely with the darker days we encounter this time of year. And for every mention of “what do you want from Santa,” I talk about how Xmas is also about giving. This year we're joining some friends in buying some presents for families who requested help buying gifts for their kids, and I try to make our kid a part of that. Last year, he did ask me a question about “What is Christmas?” and I started down the path of explaining how it started with this baby named Jesus…but quickly got tongue tied and totally above toddler level. It's evolving, I guess. Mostly this year, I'm finding I want to reel in some of the more consumer tendencies.

  4. Those questions from kids…or the ones we can imagine coming from them at this point, serve to show us how little we know, eh? Not that I ever wanted to know much about Christianity…

    We were both born and raised Jewish, although I am now agnostic so it's way more cultural than anything else. So we're going to have to explain that no, Santa does not visit Jewish peoples' homes. And I prefer to say that many people believe this Jesus fellow was THE son of god, but Jewish people think we're all the children of god and then I, myself, don't necessarily believe in the whole 'god' concept in the first place… It's going to be quite murky when he starts asking this stuff lol.

    I think you should explain your views as well as you can, and the views of others as well as you can, and make your own winter traditions with your family. If you want a tree and lights, go for it. If you don't want Santa to visit your home, then Santa doesn't visit your home. If you want to exchange little gifts, then you do it because you love each other and also don't want anyone to feel left out of the giving. Me…I like annual holiday cookie-making 🙂

  5. I believe that the Waldorf has many solstice activities that happen around this season –there are religious aspects to some of their traditions to (from what I understand) but you could choose ones that suit your beliefs.

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