This was originally an e-mail I wrote in response to a question about celebrating Christmas when one isn't Christian and avoiding a total focus on materialism.
I'm not Christian and I don't feel excluded at all. We faced similar dilemma's regarding how much (commercial) Christmas and how to handle Santa, etc, with the added complication of making this a meaningful celebration when you don't believe in the religious aspects.
The first thing I'd recommend is reading Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. The authors ran workshops for several years before developing the book. It has a lot to read and think about, and worksheets to help you figure out what you really want Christmas to be like. They talk about the hidden rules of gift-giving and the myth of the Christmas Magician (mom making it all *beautiful*.) It doesn't tell you how Christmas *should* be, it just gently guides you into clarifying it for yourself.
Now about traditions, these do not have to be big and fancy. Traditions are anything that you do the same way each year. People are often very attached to seemingly little, unimportant things, but it is those tiny rituals that really grow in your heart.
We make paper snowflakes for the windows each year, and on Christmas morning we make crescent rolls and eat them under the tree while the kids play with their stockings and Santa gifts. We have a special braided rope that we hang our Christmas cards on as they arrive, and I made fabric bags which we use for our wrapping paper, so they are the same every year. We host an open house on Christmas Eve every year and we always buy gifts for several people on the Tree of Joy. For us, Solstice is also part of our celebration----on this day we give gifts to the wild creatures around us. Last year we put up bird feeders.
One of the chief complaints that people have about Christmas celebrations is that they are over too fast. There is so much build-up and then it is over with in a day. I would love to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, but my daughter's birthday is Jan. 1 and I don't want it to be subsumed in Christmas. So instead, we celebrate the 24 days leading up to Christmas. This isn't a huge deal, we just do something different to prepare for Christmas every day. One day we put up outside lights, another day inside lights. We decorate the house on another day, choose the tree one day, decorate it another. We make our paper snowflakes and make cookies. We have many Christmas books and movies and we introduce them gradually through the month (I have a written schedule), including a favorite movie that we always watch on Christmas day.
The day itself is very low key for us. Opening our gifts usually takes 2-5 hours. We wear comfortable clothes, enjoy brunch and then we play games and hang out for the rest of the day.
Santa. I was also very uncomfortable with lying to my children, but there are some fun and magical aspects to the idea of Santa. So Santa comes and brings presents and we don't lie about it. I don't make a big production out of the story. I don't tell the kids that they have to be good, I've never mentioned coal or chimneys, we don't leave cookies or carrots out. They know that Santa is a story and fun game to play but that mom and dad really buy the presents. They know that the Santas at the mall are people who like to dress up and pretend.
About gifts. I'm sure when I mentioned the length of time that it takes for us to open our gifts that it sounded like we have a giant goody bonanza, but we don't. Our children receive four gifts each, plus their Santa gifts. Dad and I usually wind up with two each, one from the other spouse and one from the kids. We often give joint gifts to the kids, so their individual totals may be less than four.
Limiting the gifts has been positive in a number of ways. For one thing, it allows us to buy better quality gifts. It is also much less overwhelming. The kids have the opportunity to become acquainted with their gifts, to take time to explore and work with them. Our gift opening takes so long because we take the time to explore each gift before moving on to the next. Sometimes the kids are so interested in the Santa gift that we don't even start opening gifts for a couple of hours. Gifts from outside our home are opened upon arrival, rather than saved for Christmas day.
So far, I've always helped the kids make a gift for Daddy, though I would buy something if they prefered to do that. They really enjoy making things for him, however. We usually make special clothes for him; on several occasions they have made shirts for him with their hand and footprints on them. This year they are going to decorate clothes for him with permanent markers.
Our family's daily Christmas activities for 2002.
Our family's daily Christmas activities for 2003.
Traditions and rituals we've developed in our family.
Celebrating Christmas in a non-Christian family.
The Truth About Santa
My family's approach to Santa.
Christmas isn't about shopping, it's about the way we care.
- Peter Alsop
©2000-2013 Barbara L.M. Handley