Holiday Traditions

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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41 thoughts on “Holiday Traditions

  1. We’ve always celebrated Christmas here, not for religious reasons but because we enjoy the pleasure of gift giving and celebrating family. Oh and big Turkey dinners.
    I’m always so interested in how other people view Christmas, the fact that you were working before introducing westernised ideas into your family is remarkable to me. How wonderful that your sisters just started to build on the traditions. Did Santa Claus feature at all while you was growing up? The naughty/nice list? Do you encourage Charlotte to believe in the magic now? I love everything about Christmas, the music, the tree, the merriment. The only thing I refuse to co-operate with is the damn elf. Fair play to all the parents with the creativity and time to use him, but that’s not my bag. So when my son asks why we don’t have an elf- I tell him elves only appear when children are troublesome. Terrible of me really, as he must think all his friends are ‘naughty’ now. 😟🎄🎅🏼 🦌

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    • Hmmm, Santa…. I was never a kid that thought Santa existed… But I also never thought he wasn’t real.. I simply never actively thought about him.. By the time we read books about him I was already old enough to kind of understand the impossibility of it all lol…

      You ask good questions…. Charlotte does know about Santa.. She wasn’t actively taught by us though.. We were walking in the mall a couple weeks ago and “Santa” was taking photos with all the children and she knew who he was and wanted to go see him… So I guess she herself believes in the magic and my husband and I are not going to burst that bubble for her lol

      Oh the elf… I wonder if that’s an older kid thing bc none of the moms I hang out with talk about this elf… When someone with an older kid in my circle brought it up I thought it was an old toy that they brought back on the shelves but she said no it had never gone away and it’s a thing every Christmas! (Suffice it to say, we won’t be participating in that… I fear retribution from Charlotte in the form of nightmares keeping her and me up for weeks!)

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  2. So interesting, the evolution of your holiday experience. And I love that you and your sisters kind of organically began new traditions. Christmas, if nothing else, is an amazing excuse to eat delicious food and spend time with loved ones. So I’m so happy for you that you have that now, in a format that makes sense. I love the everyone doing their own thing vibes. Love it!! 🌲🌲🌲

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  3. It’s wonderful that you have embraced the spirit of Christmas and developed your own traditions. When you put the overcommercialized aspects aside, Christmas is ultimately about love—whether you observe the religious side of it or not. I think we would all be richer if we learned about and embraced other cultures’ holidays.

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  4. That’s so interesting to see your side of Christmas celebrations. My family, even though we’re Southeast Asians and very far removed from Western culture, did celebrate Christmas, and we used to have dinners and gift-giving. Nowadays not so much. Anyway, thanks for this post!

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    • Yea, I think it’s hard not to take part in enjoying this holiday with family even if you don’t technically celebrate Christmas right? Any excuse to see family and enjoy each other’s company (though I know that’s not always the case for all families)!

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  5. As usual, an incredibly thoughtful post filled with so much wisdom. The main takeaway for me is that not everyone celebrates Christmas as a religious holiday, and we should be respectful and mindful of that. You know by now that every possible thing in my life is somehow connected to school. Many teachers (myself included) often did some type of craft project so that kids who wanted could give something to their family if they wanted. That presented its own set of challenges, though. For those who didn’t celebrate Christmas, I gave them the option of making the craft item (never religious) for themself, doing a random “job” for me that would make them feel important, or allowing them to volunteer in another classroom.

    One of the stark realities was while most of the staff and children in the class were excited for two weeks off, I often had a child or two who did not look forward to vacation. School was the one place that provided them a sense of normalcy and stability. I get the concept from your life of wanting to fit in—a normal human feeling.

    We’re driving to Portland tomorrow to spend the holiday with family. Our son and his fiancee are flying out from Montana, and it will be great to spend some more time with my future daughter-in-law. Happy holidays to you and your family, Jen! (AKA BB)

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    • That’s so very intuitive of you as a teacher to recognize the individual needs of your students and be inclusive, especially during this time of year.

      The realistic part of me always thinks for every wonderful, warm holiday where people are excited to gather and celebrate, there’s always people who are less fortunate or these holidays bring about painful memories for them. So it’s very nice to hear that you were very mindful of that as a teacher!

      I’m so happy to hear that you’ll get to be with family for the holidays!! Enjoy and Merry Christmas to you, Pete! 🎉❤️🎄

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  6. I grew up celebrating Christmas with food and decorations and gifts and church services. However I don’t always do that now, some years I feel so moved, others not so much. As an adult we have no traditions, family is far-flung so we do what we do. And enjoy it.

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  7. Oh Jen, what a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your Christmases. I think most people, secular or not, look upon Christmas as a time to be with family, and to give thanks. So, you and your sisters kind of started that. Thank goodness it has grown! Charlotte is lucky to have you as her mom- she will have a greater appreciation and understanding than most.

    I hope these blog posts about family have been copied and put into an album or journal for Charlotte down the road. I have only one written story from my grandmother. Oh, how I wish I had more.

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    • Thanks Jennie! That’s so, so kind of you to say! I save all my posts and well, I assume the internet is forever! 😀

      Hope you had a lovely holiday with your family as well! Your passion for educating children is a wonderful inspiration to us all! 💓

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      • You’re welcome! I should have known you would be saving them, Jen. Our holiday was lovely and quiet. Family is widespread, so we Zoomed and FaceTimed with everyone. Our backyard neighbors have two little ones who adore us, so we have our ‘adopted’ grandchildren. Squishmallows are the best gift, along with a good book. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words!!

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  8. This is interesting, and something I’d never thought about! Thank you for sharing. I can imagine how going to school after the holidays would be if you didn’t celebrate.

    As for me, our family doesn’t belong to any religious sect, but we celebrate Christmas (mainly because of me). I’ve always seen it more as a way to get together, exchange gifts, play games, and eat, kind of like what you described above.

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