I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas. Well, that isn’t exactly true. I was raised in the Jewish faith, but my mother was raised Catholic, and although she converted to Judaism before she married my father, she had trouble giving up Christmas altogether. So when I was little, we had a tree and baked Christmas cookies and exchanged Christmas gifts, in addition to celebrating the eight nights of Chanukah.
Then, when I was about seven, all of that stopped. That isn’t to say the end of Christmas in our household came with a bang. My parents sort of phased it out. For the first few years, we took vacations in December – a dude ranch in Arizona, a Club Med in St. Lucia – where every night was a celebration, and one of those nights just happened to be Christmas. Frankly, my brother and I were so enthralled with learning to ride a horse or use the trapeze that we didn’t think twice about Santa or Christmas trees. Besides, we’d already exchanged presents for Chanukah.
Gradually, I also began to understand why some families celebrated Christmas and some celebrated Chanukah – and still others celebrated Diwali or Kwanza. Not everyone celebrated the same holidays, and that was okay. We could still celebrate the spirit of the season – that of family and togetherness and cheer – without celebrating the holiday itself.
And that’s exactly what happened in our household, especially as my brother and I moved into our teenage years. Christmas was one of the few times of year when both of us were off from school and didn’t have other plans. We couldn’t say we had play rehearsal or plans with friends because everything was closed and all of our friends were with their own families. Christmas provided built-in family time, even if we weren’t formally celebrating the holiday itself.
Then, about seven years ago, I met my husband, who was born and raised in London and who’d spent his life celebrating Christmas. Once we were engaged, I spent my first Christmas with his family in England, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I stand out as the non-Christian at the table? Would I feel uncomfortable?
What I discovered was that his family’s Christmas traditions were remarkably similar to mine. Sure, the food was different (Christmas cake! Christmas pudding!), and we opened crackers (those crowns!), but given that his family celebrated the holiday in a non-religious fashion, the spirit of family and togetherness was the same. And you know what? I loved it.
When we have children, we’ll have to decide how we celebrate Christmas and Chanukah and what we tell our children about why we celebrate the way we do. But whatever we decide, I know we’ll infuse our household with the spirit of love, joy, and generosity that makes both of us love the holiday season so much. And that’s a gift I think our whole family will enjoy.