What do we believe?
What do we celebrate?
This are important questions, and ones that contribute to winter holiday stress for many. Some find strife when family members disagree on the reasons for the season. Others lament a general lack of meaning, or the transfer of moral significance to commercial gain.
Our Winter Holiday History
For the first few years of our marriage, Alex and I celebrated whatever we wanted to, picking and choosing mostly based on which holidays had the most yummy food and drink traditions. As committed atheists, we were disconcerted with religious meaning but we threw some great parties.
At the time I taught at the Orthodox Jewish school and bought a beautiful hand made menorah. Better observe Hanukkah to make use of the menorah, right?
In 2005, Lil came along. It struck us that a string of meaningless dinners and decorations might confuse the child. More importantly, we could mold her young self with moral lessons dictated through holiday stories.
Given our rejection of diety, miracles, and the like, just what might those moral lessons be?
The Hanukkah story of the Macabees is our chance to share the value that everyone can believe what they want and stand up for that right. We also share the story as an example that a dedicated group of individuals can indeed make change or even defeat a king.
We celebrate Hanukkah by lighting candles at sundown as is the Jewish tradition. We give Lil one piece of gelt per evening and play dreidel. At least once during the eight nights, we cook up latkes and dough nuts in a fry feast.
Lil helped us discover a Solstice tradition earlier this year. She picked up the book Sun Bread from the library shelves. It doesn't mention Winter Solstice but does tell a sweet story of an animal city welcoming the sunshine back in midwinter with a rich yellow sun-shaped bread.
In a few days we will share the sun bread recipe. We're making it again on the shortest day of the year. On Solstice we share all the things we look forward to enjoying on sunny days. The sun is, after all, the currency that allows us to grow our garden and feed our family.
Honestly, Christmas is the most difficult celebration within which to find non-religious morality for me. I can almost make myself believe that while Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, I honor the unique birth and life path of all my friends and relatives. Alex is satisfied to just carry on family traditions on December 25th without applying any lessons or reasons why.
Christmas is the holiday with the most secular traditions in our extended families. We exchange gifts, we bake cookies, and host a semi-formal Xmas Eve English goose dinner. We joyfully sing carols and watch classic Christmas movies.
The Holiday Mash
So far, Lil has shown extreme flexibility in understanding our traditions. This should not be surprising, considering the plethora of stories that swarm through a kid's mind. It's part of preschooler development to define what is fact and fiction. They do this best in a community of family and fun, just what we intend to cultivate around the holiday.
How do your holiday celebrations relate to your beliefs? How to do share these with your family?