My husband grew up with his aunt and uncle who were Jehovah’s Witnesses so Christmases were strained at best. Finally, when my girls were two and five we decided to stop exchanging gifts and cards to celebrate the holiday. My husband had valid reasons that made sense, “Christmas is only a holiday for the retailers.” This melded easily with my religious beliefs and our holidays were made more peaceful and enjoyable. After all, I married the whole man for every day of the year and I would not let a little thing like a holiday tear our family apart. Katie and Chelsey adapted much better than my family members and friends but even they eventually accepted our decision.
To compensate we put other traditions in place of Christmas so they did not feel deprived. Christmas became ‘family time’ and we focused on each other rather than presents and parties. We still gave modest gifts to the girls but I think they reveled in the break in school routine and that they had our full, interrupted attention for at least two full days.
On December 24th we had our annual “Family Sleepover.” To prepare, we made special treats and snacks and my husband would make traditional Peruvian dishes and desserts. We purchased or rented movies from our public library making sure everyone picked favorites. We carried our mattresses into the living room and arranged them so everyone had a good view. Even Jim Bob, the family dog, loved this time and showed us by bouncing from mattress to mattress.
Family Night we donned our pajamas and warm socks and climbed in for the duration. We banned any bedtime hour saying, “The last to fall asleep turns the lights off!” To start we played everyone’s favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We watched “Waking Ned Devine” and had sandwiches then it was “Patton” and snacks and bathroom breaks. We laughed at “The Goonies and revved up for “Batteries Not Included.” “Elf” with Will Ferrell and James Caan is a favorite of mine; just because we don’t celebrate doesn’t mean I don’t like a good story! One by one we nodded off and even Jim Bob would be ready to call it a night.
The 25th would be simple and easy; foods were already prepared and there were no chores for anyone. We’d give the girls their gifts and their smiles were the only presents we could have ever wanted.
Some thought we were depriving our girls of the “joy of Christmas,” so what did we miss out on? We missed the stress of shopping for party clothing or searching for the “perfect gift” for every person on a carefully planned shopping list. We missed the aggravation of long lines in stores and heated exchanges between family members and other customers. We also missed the credit card debts and arguments over budgets and money. No tree was ever wasted for the sake of hanging a string of lights and shiny balls that break so easily. We also did not experience the let down so common after opening gifts in a frenzy. I would state unequivocally that our children were never deprived of joy. They got presents or surprises year round instead of waiting for the angst of a single day.
There is that old question bantered about, “What would Jesus do?” When put in those terms it removes any doubt I might have had about not celebrating a traditional Christmas. I believe Jesus would give approval that we didn’t lie to our children about Santa Claus and cause them to feel sadness and confusion upon learning the truth. I believe Jesus would be supportive that we did not waste money giving gifts that are not needed or wanted and might even be stored away for re-gifting next year. While we don’t celebrate the holiday, I believe Jesus knows what is in our hearts and will give a nod to our reasons and results.
People sometimes look surprised when I say, “We don’t celebrate Christmas.” They often come back with, “Oh, you are Jewish then?” It’s funny to me how some have a need to categorize everyone into a little niche they are familiar with. “Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses? Are you agnostics?” Instead, I think being brought up in our family has taught them tolerance of others and acceptance of all beliefs and customs no matter the culture or religion. That is certainly our true and lasting legacy.
Celebrating or not is a personal decision some make and others just do for their children whatever their parents did for them. The first time the subject came up in my Parents Anonymous Group I got the usual range of comments but in the end all the other parents were very supportive. The other parents did not judge me nor I them as is written in the Parents Anonymous welcome statement. If you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or nothing at all it is your choice and right to do so.
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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