22 December 2010

Christmas

I am ambivalent about Christmas. I'm not Jesus-religious, so the whole birth of Christ thing is not especially meaningful to me. I outright loathe the commercialism, and in general I'm not a gifter. John and I were on the same page in all regards here, so the few Christmases we had together were low-key affairs.

There is something, though, to this whole "Christmas through the eyes of a child" business, I have to concede that. And this year, as the fog of parenting babies and toddlers has turned into the (for me) more rewarding and enjoyable parenting of preschoolers, I've been much more in the Christmas spirit than in years past.

I come from a strong Christmasing tradition, in the most American sense. We rarely (never?) went to church on Christmas, and the Jesus part was but a blip on the radar (save my mom's loathing of the shorthand "Xmas"), but we did the secular aspect up right. We always got a huge tree right after Thanksgiving, there were lights on the outside of the house, the special Christmas glasses made an appearance, and there were gifts. Oh, there were gifts. My parents are the definition of gifters, and they really spoiled us even when times were tough. I enjoyed all of it as a kid and young adult: the fireplace, the music, the presents, the time together.

As an adult, I'm a bit shocked by my obliviousness around it all. I said "Merry Christmas!" to people with wild abandon, never stopping to think about the fact that some people weren't celebrating. I just listened to a Barenaked Ladies/Boston Pops rendition of "Do They Know It's Christmas?", that classic from 1984, and its earnestness astounds me. Do they know it's Christmas? Guess what? Many of "them" don't celebrate Christmas! Yet at the time, I remember being so moved by the gesture, so grateful for what I had, so empathetic for those who were missing out. Now the whole thing just seems so naïve, so well meaning if maladroit. Sending starving people food is a wonderful thing to do, but to condescendingly link it to their lack of awareness of Christmas? It feels so . . . well, I think I've made my point.

I overthink it all now. Do I feed into the Sana myth? How many gifts is too many gifts? How can they survive when all they've eaten for days is Christmas cookies and eggnog? How do I make them aware of other traditions and beliefs? Is "season's greetings" just a veiled "merry Christmas"? Should I just pretend it's not happening (as is my inclination)?

In the end, I'm letting Maddie and Riley be my guides. They wanted a tree, so we got one. Our guideline was that it be taller than the kids, but shorter than me. We put up lights and decorations. We've been singing our nightly songs by the light of the tree rather than in bed, and it's been charming and cozy. Maddie and Riley love the lights that are up around the neighborhood; Maddie in particular gives audible gasps of wonder at the most gaudy displays. For the first time ever, I've bought them gifts and I've enjoyed it. They have interests and desires now, clearly expressed, and it's fun to bring them the joy of satisfying those desires.

I still don't enjoy the overblown hoopla. Thanksgiving has always been my deal: family and food and time off, those are the things I enjoy. So it is with Christmas. I focus on the things that bring me joy, try not to let myself get sucked into the crazy, try to keep it simple and sweet and manageable. No malls. No last-minute shopping trips. I prefer more time by the fire and a second glass of wine.

We'll go spend the night with my mom on Christmas Eve, probably again on Christmas Day. We'll go to the Christmas Eve service at our church, for which we helped to decorate tonight. There will be football and too much sugar and too few vegetables. I might take M&R to their first movie in the theater, and perhaps we'll go bowling, as Riley has been hankering to do for months.

I love my life. Of the things that are in my power to change, I wouldn't change a thing. I am in a place of peace with most of the things I can't change. To the extent that Christmas is a time to reflect on such things, I could not ask for more.

15 comments:

Yankee, Transferred said...

Snick, I so hear you on so much of this post. When my girls were little we were really broke, so the pickin's were slim under the tree, but we did the event up. We decorated, we had a party every year, we sang carols. We also celebrated Hanukkah with my sister and her family. For us, Christmas is a winter holiday, and we love it. Now that they are grown, we are back to the minimal gifting-no need to break the bank. Each girl gets one sort of "big" gift, one handmade gift from me, and a stocking filled with little goodies. Mostly, it's sit by the fire time with lots of traditions...
Of the things that you cannot control, I wish I could change the big bad one. Sending you hugs.

Sandi said...

I'm an Atheist, yet I love the holidays. I am all about the commercialism and the food. We celebrate the hell out of Christmas--we go into NYC to see the tree and windows, we go see The Nutcracker. I love holiday parties. We make cookies. We decorate the house. And I did all this stuff when I was single and didn't have kids, too.

liz said...

One of the things I love best about Christmas as a grown-up is finding out how everybody else does theirs, if they do.

Keen said...

Lovely Christmas post, and just reading it makes me feel content. That's all any of us can ask for, to be in a good place.

Also: I have been expressing those very sentiments about that song to anyone who will listen this holiday season. Ugh. Living in an Islamic country in Africa did that to me.

Have a great Christmas with your family! Much happiness to all of you in 2011.

Lyndsay said...

It's all kinda different throught the eyes of a child, isn't it? Enjoy this fun time! Merry Christmas!

OTRgirl said...

I LOVE the sound of contentment in this post. It makes me really happy for you.

I really loved the balance my parents found in terms of truly celebrating the Christ Child and the meaning of Christmas, but leaving room for other people's celebrations as well.

Having mostly Jewish friends in college introduced me to the lovely simplicity of "Jewish Christmas", which we've done a couple years. Without kids, going out to eat Chinese or Indian food and watch a movie is often the best way to do Christmas.

Watercolor said...

Interesting. I've never cared for Thanksgiving because it has no meaning, just too much food. But I love Christmas, actually Advent, the season leading up to Christmas Day and then the Christmas season and then Epiphany. My favorite time because there is so much rich meaning.

Dumb Mama said...

I've never understood why people are offended at a cheery "Merry Christmas" even if they don't celebrate it. If someone wish me "Happy Hanukkah" or "Happy Kwansa" (which I don't celebrate) I would take it as "Have a great day" -- sometimes it really is that simple. IF it isn't celebrated at least considered the intent behind the wish, and I don't think anyone has evil or malicious intentions.

stacey said...

what a wonderful posting, it made me happy to read. So glad that you all are enjoying the holidays and building traditions for Maddie and Riley that they will treasure. ALL THE BEST TO YOU!

Sam said...

My mom always said it's too many gifts if you can't list them all off the top of your head.

Some of her friends would give us presents and she'd hold them back to give us on Valentine's Day or New Year's or something so Christmas wasn't just 20 presents that sent us into a tizzy.

Dr. Smak said...

Kids really do allow the magic of Christmas to appear, especially poignant if you haven't been able to see it for years.
Sign me up for that second glass of wine by the fireplace.

Susan said...

Christmas is what you make of it. You want to get involved in the over commercialism, you will. But you certainly do not have to. We believe in the Jesus Christmas and enjoy the whole season with gift giving. We don't go overboard. We fit it into our life style/financially. We don't over give and can't figure out how to pay the bills after. Whether you believe in what we consider the real meaning of Christmas (Christ's birth)it is the history of the season from way back (won't get into a history debate =)) and I refuse to say anything but Merry Christmas. I'm sick to death of trying to figure out whose toes are being stepped on and who is offended. Like someone already said, even if you have no religious belief, how can you be offended by someone offering you a Merry Christmas when it is Christmas?! But besides all this, I am one for sitting longer by the fire and enjoying the 2nd glass of wine as well - Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Fairlington Blade said...

I never cared for the preachy choir-style songs from pop stars. For my part, I love the meloncholy songs. Lennon's Happy Christmas, White Christmas and my favorite, I'll be Home for Christmas.

Though it's been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.

eemilla said...

I'm pregnant with our first so we're trying to sort out what to do with Christmas. Neither of us are Christian, but we both grew up in Christian households so our families will continue to celebrate Christmas regardless of what we do. I hate assuming that everyone celebrates Christmas so I stick to Happy Holidays from the week before Thanksgiving until New Year's. I think it would bother me less if Christmas weren't such an orgy of spending with everyone I know (even those that consider this a religious holiday) overly concerned with how much they spent on each person so that no one has a bigger gift than anyone else.

So far we've decided to do a mis-mash of traditions: an advent calendar to the solstice, a Yule tree, Santa Claus, cookie and sweet making, volunteering somewhere, watching Love Actually and The Nutcracker, and drinking mulled cider.

I hope you enjoyed your low key Christmas!

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

I. HATE. THAT. SONG. in more ways than I can count but you identified some of the reasons. UGH!!!