One of the great things about being a parent is being able to create your own holiday traditions: deciding what’s important to celebrate, how it will be celebrated, and when. But, as fun as it is to be able to decide for ourselves, it’s also an awesome responsibility.Everything we do is building a memory for Nora and setting a foundation for the adult life she will live.
The last couple weeks I have been incredibly aware of that. Even before Thanksgiving, trees were going up in town, wreaths were hung,and shop windows were decorated.Even isolated as we are from big-box retail and black Friday madness, we couldn’t miss the constant reminders of the commercialism behind Christmas. It really got me thinking about the holiday and what it means me, what it will mean to our family.
I’ll pause for a moment to explain while you catch your breath. I realize that might have been quite shocking to read. But, neither Chris and I consider ourselves Christians, so we certainly aren’t celebrating the birth of Christ, and neither of us buy into the commercial, consumerism that is the other side of Christmas. We’re not much for getting each other a ton of gifts – last year our gift was family pictures, this year our gift to each other is a New England Christmas dinner with my family. So if not for the baby Jesus and if not for a pile of presents, then why?
Chris’ first response was that everyone else does it (really referencing our family and many of our friends, not everyone else in the world), and so that’s why we do. But that’s not good enough for me. We don’t do any other thing “just because everyone else does it,” so why this? I want to be able to explain it to Nora when she asks someday, and if the words “well, everybody else is doing it” ever come out of my mouth I will officially fail at parenting. Then, of course, I would never be able to use the line, “if Johnny/Sarah/Bobby/Susie jumped off a bridge would you jump too?” And I’m saving that line up for a really good, stereotypical parenting moment.
So we decorated the tree, listened to Christmas music, and had an incredibly serious discussion about traditions and our family — which may sound dull, but it was actually a wonderful evening. That is one of my favorite things about my marriage.
Chris’ point, expanding on his original idea, is that it’s a tradition in both of our families and he has fond memories of the experience that he wants to pass down to Nora. If we didn’t celebrate Christmas, he’s not really sure how it would work if visiting our families during the holidays. And he doesn’t want to be the soulless house.
I’m more concerned about the implications of celebrating a Christian holiday when we aren’t Christian: which for most people just turns it into the holiday of stuff. I don’t want to celebrate stuff. And though I forced poor Nora to sit on Santa’s lap last week (before all this had really started brewing), I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted by the whole concept of “gifts for merit” that Santa represents. If you’re good you’ll get presents, if you’re bad… Nora should get gifts because we love her and she is an important member of the family and because we want to make her happy. I don’t think she has to earn them; if she has to earn them, they aren’t gifts. I definitely don’t want to be the parent who threatens my kid if she’s misbehaving with Santa not coming. So, I don’t even know if I want to do Santa.
We talked for a long time and we resolved some things: Not having an excessive focus on gifts is something we both agree on; we would rather do something together or spend some money on something jointly than have a pile of stuff under a tree. Neither of us plan to create an elaborate rouse to convince her of Santa’s existence; we’ll read her The Night Before Christmas and give her a few stocking gifts, but we aren’t going to make a big deal about Santa coming and when time comes that she asks, we’ll tell her the truth (exact wording TBD). And we’ll continue to tell our family that they don’t have to get us anything, as we did this year.
But there are other things we’re still not sure of, such as what we’re going to tell her about the holiday’s meaning to us, how we’re going to handle future family visits, and do we really need to kill a tree?Even if it does look really pretty in our living room?
I don’t want to be a grinch. There are things I love about the holiday – getting together with family, having a big meal and tons of deserts, the anticipation leading up to the special day…but none of that says Christmas, so I’m torn. (Maybe we could just have two Thanksgivings.) Or maybe I need to think lessand believe a little more.
What holidays do you celebrate in your family and why?