We don’t celebrate Christmas. I don’t remember when we started not celebrating. Must have been circa 2004. I don’t even remember too much about how we came to the decision. The only thing I really remember is having all kinds of misgivings about the anxiety around gift-giving (both affording gifts – we were BROKE – and finding the right gifts for the right people), the stress and drama around negotiating holiday-related family obligations and dynamics, and the post-holiday crash resulting from the gluttony and overconsumption (which I would attempt to remedy by dropping off unopened and unwanted gifts at the salvation army on my way to the gym). I would think about how some day I might have kids and they would ask me why we celebrate Christmas and the only answer I would be able to give would be something like, “It’s what people like us do.” or “Because we always have.” or “Because that is just how it is.” At least, I reasoned, I would be able to offer principled explanations for why we did not celebrate Christmas like “It’s not our religion” and “We don’t need so much stuff to be happy.”
Jason and I opted out of the holidays that first year and it was blissful. I think we still did the tree but we didn’t do any gifts. Over the years we have implemented a focus on the darkness of the winter solstice. We hang a few lights around the house, decorate pine cones and cut paper snowflakes to hang in the windows, bake gingerbread houses that we decorate with the last of the Halloween candy, and take a Solstice trip.We have some standard practices but it’s all a work-in-progress.
In general the kids are great about it all. We never had problems when they were quite small and, of course, it was fine when we were in China. Last year, however, Jie-jie REALLY wanted to have Christmas. When we asked her what it meant to her she said that she wanted to have a tree so Santa could come in the night to put presents under it. Through further conversation I learned that it wasn’t as much about the stuff that Santa would bring as it was about the magic of the bringing. So, although we did not capitulate, we have tried to make a little more space for fantasy and magic. This year Jie-jie has again been saying that she wanted to celebrate Christmas but when I asked her what she meant she said that she wanted the chance to shop for others and give presents. It just so happened that that very morning I had received an email about a community program that matches neighbors with other neighborhood families who would like help with gift-giving. So, I signed us up.
Tomorrow morning I will be taking Jie-jie to meet the family she is providing for (although I decided not to tell her that she is providing their Christmas presents until after we meet them) and then we will shop for them. Seems a bit odd that my older daughter, whose own Christmas experience has been limited to the presents her grandparents send, is going to be supplying Christmas to two children here in town but there you have it.