I didn’t grow up celebrating the holidays. As a mostly secular family, we did not belong to any of the religious groups that celebrated Christmas. Growing up, Christmas in our house was just another day of the week (except my parents happened to be off from work- usually). There were no build-ups to the holidays like bringing out the Christmas tree, decking the house with festive decorations or sharing a traditional feast around the family table.
Back then, gift-giving around this time of year was never customary in my house. In fact, the only memory I have related to Christmas gifts was when I was around 8- or 9-years-old. My sisters and I were playing in my mom’s closet (probably dress-up) and we found a stash of gift-wrapped goodies in a large dollar store bag at the back of the closet. We delicately parted the loose wrapping and discovered three small floral toiletry purses stuffed with candy- fruity mentos to be exact. In that moment, I remember feeling delighted because my mom had made some effort in getting us something special for the occasion, but also because the act of participating in that type of North American tradition (gift-giving around the holidays) somehow made us “like everybody else.”
At last, I would be able to go to school and tell my friends that I, too, had a great Christmas and got lots of fun goodies (only this time it would be the truth).
I retell this story without any shame or sadness- it was just the reality we lived in. In our late teens, as my sisters and I became more financially independent (with our own part-time jobs), we made a collaborative effort around the holidays to incorporate more westernized traditions. We began getting our parents and grandparents gifts without any expectation of receiving anything in return. I’m not entirely sure why we decided to do it; there was never a sister’s meeting about it, but I know it was important for us to feel like a family unit (especially this time of year).
As the years wore on, we started celebrating the holidays with my mom’s sister and her family (luckily, we were close to our three cousins growing up). Then came partners added to the mix and now of course, kids. In total, our family gathering on Christmas day includes 16 adults and 3 little ones. And it is honestly one of the best times. We all end up in separate areas of the house; some watching a movie, some playing board games and others sitting in the kitchen munching on mountains of delicious food.
Of course, the elephant in the room is that not everyone celebrates Christmas. While it’s not necessarily an inclusive holiday, it’s the most widely-celebrated and recognized holidays. For me, it’s simply a time to honour family, relationships, and all types of love. I yearn for our family gatherings and look forward to it every year.
I feel very blessed to have been able to experience the holidays from both sides of the spectrum. On one hand, I know what it’s like to have nothing but the company of my immediate family. And on the other hand, I have been able to experience the holidays in abundance: gifts, food, laughter, warmth, and joy. The former allows me to maintain valuable perspective and have compassion for those who are less fortunate. The latter makes me appreciate where I am now.
My hope for Charlotte is that she grows up to recognize her privilege and cherish the holidays. I want her to appreciate that the holidays are a time for family closeness and self-reflection: How can I be better, give back, and spread more joy.
What are some of your holiday traditions with your family?
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
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