Learning How to Love Christmas
What I Used to Love
When I was a child, Christmas really was the best time of the year. It meant four kinds of treats from Mom Mom: sand tarts, Mexican tea cookies, seven layer cookies, and chocolate fudge with walnuts. It meant driving around to see the colored lights. Singing holiday songs at school and Christmas hymns at church. Watching the specials on TV: Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty the Snowman. Decorating the Christmas tree, which was a real one until we discovered my brother’s allergies. Waiting anxiously upstairs until we were allowed to come down on Christmas morning. And of course, it meant Santa and presents and toys. I believed in Santa until I was eight years old, even while getting teased by kids at school. He’d come down the chimney (that we didn’t have) and land in the fake cardboard fireplace, which also served as a place to hang our stockings. My dad worked hard to perpetuate the Santa fantasy by climbing up on our sloped roof in the middle of the night and ringing bells.
How I Stopped Loving It
Slowly but surely, Christmas grew to be more of a hassle than a joyful time. I think my waning enthusiasm for the holiday corresponded to my disillusionment with God and religion and what I saw as an annual greed fest. Kids ripping open presents and barely looking at them before moving on to the next. The regular sigh of disappointment when the last gift was opened: Is that all? My mom and grandmothers in the kitchen working away while the men sat around doing whatever it is that men did back then. And I becoming so jaded that I would sneak into the closet where the presents were hidden and carefully open each one to see what was inside, pretending to be surprised on Christmas day.
For years, Christmas has been this burden. And since I started blogging, the only times I’ve written about it were when assigned by the Green Moms, or BlogHer, or some other bloggy group to which I belong. I don’t want to have to buy gifts for everyone I know on a specific day, just because our society has decided that December 25 (or December something else for those who don’t celebrate Christmas) is gift day, or gift week, or whatever. And I don’t want anyone to feel compelled to buy me anything either. I want to give when motivated by love, or when I happen to find something that I know one of my friends or family would appreciate. I hate all the waste, the plastic toys, the wrapping paper, the canned music, and the shopping frenzy.
Finding A Way to Love It Again
But this year, I’m enjoying the holiday season. Because I realized that Michael and I, rather than escaping Christmas as we believed we were doing, have made our own traditions. For the past two years, we’ve lit the Menorah for each day of Hanukkah (or for as many nights as we remember to do it.) I’ve even memorized one of the prayers, although I never remember what the words mean. Regardless, I love the sounds of the language and the simplicity of the ritual. There are no gifts involved and there don’t need to be.
On Christmas Day we go to the movies. And then out for Chinese food. And we enjoy strolling along the empty streets, when for once, the city is relatively quiet with most people inside their homes and most shops closed for the day. This year, I think I’m going to take another break from the computer, like I did on Buy Nothing Day. In fact, I’m writing this post on Christmas Eve and will schedule it to post automatically on the 25th.
But you know what I think I love most about Christmas? The fact that it takes place right after the Winter Solstice, which means that for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, the days are once again getting longer. As it did to ancient pagans, to pagans still practicing today, and to those of use who just don’t like freezing our buns off, this holiday represents the rebirth of the sun and our connection to the earth from which we came and to which we will return.
Christmas has a different meaning for each of us. I think the point is to experience it fully. To feel the emotions that come up for us, whether positive or negative. And let the day simply be whatever it is.
this post really resonates with me. I stopped giving Christmas/birthday gifts to my brother, instead surprising him occasionally with something when I find something I think he’d really like. In return, however, he seems compelled to give me a birthday gift each year, usually a gift certificate. I hate it that my gifts make him feel compelled to give something in return. *sigh*
@Lesley, your Christmas Day sounds just lovely. Thanks for telling everyone about this site! I love that this blog was somebody’s Christmas gift!
@Leona, I forget that not everyone who reads my blog has read my posts about my family. My husband is actually Jewish, which is why we light a menorah. I should have mentioned that in my post. Still, I’m having difficulty understanding how this simple ritual could be a “cheap shot at Christians as an excuse to take a jab at the birth of Christ” when my post was about the commercialism of Christmas, not the birth of Christ.
It’s wonderful that you have beautiful memories of past Christmases. Please keep in mind however that we are not all the same. As I wrote in my final paragraph, “Christmas has a different meaning for each of us. I think the point is to experience it fully. To feel the emotions that come up for us, whether positive or negative. And let the day simply be whatever it is.”
@Bart OMG! That link makes me want to sing O Holy Hell! Is it even worth commenting on? The article is posted on the plastics trade association web site, so what else do we expect? Eco-friendly is not only about carbon emissions. There are health issues associated with PVC that the writer conveniently neglected to mention.
Here’s another plastics-related view of celebrating Christmas:
I find it terrible easy to get lost in the meaning. But this year we have made a huge effort to attend church, so when christmas came around at christmas eve service, i teared up. It hit me, the true meaning.
I’ve always loved the celebration of winter, the sleepiness and cosiness Christmas and Soltice can bring. I find the consumerism of it overwhelming and horrible. It’s great to make small gifts to exchange, i like home made things, that are useful and contain personal effort, such as jam, christmas cake, one year myself and the children made all our gifts together. It was fab, the children had a lovely time and it really made Christmas a special time for us as a family.
Beth, after posting on my blog “My Quest for a Simple Life” and talking about using less plastic, etc., a reader commented that I should check out your blog. I’m so glad I did! I’m a bit overwhelmed, just beginning this journey, but I’m also excited. I know your blog will be a source of inspiration.
Thanks so much!
PS…We also go to the movies and get Chinese every Christmas!
hi i got suckered into christmas this year with relatives, i did not want to go but they guilted me into going first xmas ,without mom and dad they not being alive, i wanted to stay home no lights no tree no decorations no cooking just enjoy tv and eat chinese no traveling except for dinner ,but no they said no presents we just get together one last time eat and play board games, said ok, then they said bake and bring , then they said bring presents…i went it was awful rainy travel lots of time on road then stuck with people that you do not really like and had to buy for them and fake that you like the crap they give you ..they were drunk and had gas.. i do not drink and the food was awful like the plastic crap they gave me plus the cards killing trees for the wrapping and cards … oh the waste of it all … i told them never again i want to enjoy my holidays and it will be a relief not have to put up and take down decorations and not travel and cook next year will be a great xmas hope yours was great
True! The most lovely part of a holiday are the traditions that you share with those you love.
I love you Christmas rant because I have had those similar feelings! In fact – Halloween is my favorite holiday even over Xmas because there is WAY less stress involved and lots of just pure fun.
I don’t want to be a grinch – but I have started telling people that it is okay to get me things that are used (when they ask what I want… I’ll say a sweater (for example… and that it is OK to get me a used one). I really would rather just buy for the Children – I think it’s pointless to get gifts for adults unless they really specifically need something.
The grandparents on each side of the family seriously overdo it on toys for the kids. We seem to either get some giant thing (that is way too big for our house) or else LOTS and LOTS of plastic toys.
I have come up with a new philosophy for toys for the kids. That – since kids hate packaging – I’m happy to buy used and also since before you know it, the house fills up with this stuff. I’d rather get quality instead of quantity. Like one quality handmade unfinished wooden truck rather than 5 plastic ones.
Anyways, happy holidays!!!!
zSomething else to celebrate- totally plastic free commuter mugs Who needs a personal shopper when you got me?!?
It’s unfortunate that you have managed to only see the negative side of Christmas and have failed to look for any postives. Lighting a Jewish Menorah seems like a cheap shot at Christians as an excuse to take a jab at the birth of Christ.
I have wonderful memories of Christmas as a child, and of all the other years since. Of course there have been not so pleasant moments to recall as well, but I choose to not dwell on those, what good does it do to rehash negative moments from confused people.
My mom used to bake a white cake with buttercream frosting that she woudl decorate with green holly leaves. And she always placed one candle on the cake and we woudl sing happy birthday to Jesus. For my family, it was never about presents or greed, it was about loving and sharing and being together with each other. ANd as we lost family members – first mt grandfather, then my older sister, killed by a drunk driver when she was only 22 years old, then my dad, and most recently my mom – well being together seems to be even more important as it seems our numbers keep growing smaller.
So I am sorry you have some inner bitterness about Christmas. Next year, why don’t you try to llok for the positive things in life, maybe try an advent wreath along with your menorrah?
Bravo Beth! I think the biggest thing is to realize that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate (or not) the December holidays. I hear so much about the commercialization of Christmas but I’ve learned to block it out so I can enjoy Christmas in a way that makes sense for my family and makes me happy. Just because a bunch of stuff (decorations, special food, gifts, THINGS) are for a special price or even for sale in a store doesn’t mean you HAVE to buy all of it or even some of it.
This Christmas I had a first. I got something I really wanted without letting it be known beforehand – so I was genuinely surprised. It’s a little flexible tripod for a camera called a “gorillapod”.
The night before Christmas I had been at a party where one was used. I was drooling over it, thinking I’d get one for myself online. Then, Xmas day, completely by chance I received one as a present from my ex, of all people! I guess that proves divorce need not be vicious (it was 15 years ago anyway and time heals all things, right?).
The best part of Christmas is that family members who live far away come to town and, if the family is small like mine (4 of us), that’s manageable.
More great holiday news is my son has come to the conclusion that his car is nothing but a black hole for money and he is going to get rid of it. YES!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to Beth and all of the Fake Plastic Fishermen and women.
I too despise the blatant commercialization of the birth of jesus — the reason for the season. i have created some traditions of my own that have evolved over the years and which i have largely learned from my mother (may she rest in peace).
We don’t have a tree with decorations. We have candles and good food and our sons and their families come over on xmas eve and i give everyone a present. This year i wrote a letter to my chldren, siblings and their children and told them about Fake Plastic Fish and gave them all glass straws that i learned about on your blog.
We also have a grab bag with inexpesive items that i purchase and everyone picks out one and then we trade with each other if we like something someone else has — that is the highligh of xmas eve for us.
On xmas day my husband and i went to the movies and everyone else stayed at their homes and did their own thing . . . we enjoy a stress-free day filled with love.
As a child, I, too, loved Christmas. Relatives came into town, lots of good food and good times. When my son was little, it was always wonderful to watch him at Christmas, and I enjoyed the holiday through him. Years later my mother died on December 20 and since then the holidays always are a two-edged sword. But now I have grandchildren and the vicarious joy is back.
I’ve never been religious, and now I don’t even have a public pretense of “Christian” at any time of the year. I much prefer the pagan celebrations, as they are more connected with the earth.
This year my son, daughter-in-law, grandkids and I all traveled to my d-i-l’s parents’ house out of town. For a week. In this short time we have had ugly words, hate-filled tirades, hurt feelings and people stomping out. And that’s just the people who live here. None of the family/guests have joined in these “festivities”. I have managed to spend a lot of time with my grandkids and in my room (thankfully I have a place to hide). Christmas morning was an orgy of greed, overspending, waste, trash, and over-consumption. Like “underbelly” above, I wrapped my few gifts in fabric napkins I had made and my d-i-l used recycled grocery bags and cut-up t-shirts for wrapping. However, that was still a mountain of paper and ribbon to go in the trash.
I don’t think I’ll do this again. My stomach has been upset and I have been having a minor anxiety attack since we arrived. I think I’ll just skip it next time.
Happy New Year to all.
I have never had a problem with christmas, being raised in a Norwegian,Lutheran home by mid-westeners and a mom who used to kill herself xooking and decorating. It has evolved for me as a time to be nice to people and hopefully they are nice in return. Gifts are fun for me to make (and buy) I put a lot of thought behind them. Sometimes it is as easy as leaving a box of cookies for the milkman- a very hard and concientous worker- or for my baristas at the local coffee shop. Or buying a used guitar for martin. Or taking the rib bones form christmas dinner for Romeo and some prime rib pieces for Sammy cat. The little things make me happy. I have always meant to light a menora for hanukkah, because I think it is a beautiful tradition and B- because it would greatly confuse the redneck across the street to see a symbol of jewish tradition in my window facing his. OK maybe the wrong reason for lighting one but hey we all have our traditions- mine is giving the rednecks something to look at they hate!
My partner, David and I celibrated solstice together and it was so lovely. Beeswax candles and making cookies. Enjoying time with each other and giving each other the gift of not having to give a gift. We give gifts when the mood strikes or when we see something that the reciever would really appreciate as a gift. It’s so much more fun that way. The gifts are so unexpected! And they often brighten a dreary day.
On Wednesday night the hostess for a Christmas Eve dinner I’d been invited to called to confirm the arrival time. As she ended her call she added, ”See you tomorrow!” I asked, “What’s happening tomorrow?” There was a pause, then she said, “Tomorrow’s Chrismas Eve.” Fake Plastic Fishers, I had NO idea! I’ve been so focused on a personal problem that I hadn’t noticed the awful Christmas season that’s been taking place under my nose, in my ears, in my eyes, and the ignorance has been bliss. Until that phone call I’d been free of the annual Christmas depression that has ruled my winters for so many years. An hour after the call I could feel Christmas pain seeping into my consciousness and had to marvel at the power of suggestion.
I share the same feelings about Christmas that you do–it’s so much waste, so much stress. I watch commercials boast about how lovely it is. I watch my mom get pushed to her limit. It all feels like a big joke, sometimes.
Today I was in charge of cleaning up the gifts/wrapping paper. Even though I had wrapped some of the gifts in cloth, part of me still wanted to cry.
I hope you have a peaceful and happy Christmas, experiencing it as it is. Enjoy the computer hiatus, and the movie and Chinese food. :)