The birth of Christ is here again, and you have so many reasons to worry about as regards getting the most out of the Christmas traditions with your family in a unique, unforgettable and remarkable style.
So, here is the thing!
Obviously, we love the holiday season, and particularly Christmas. Call it what you will: nostalgia, a fondness for tradition, an excuse to be part of a communal experience…but we, and the children, delight in the decorating the tree, playing the music, sparking the lights etc. As far as my agnostic soul is concerned, December is one great big interfaith solstice celebration.
However, the only problem is that looking through the eyes of our two-year-old son. We’ve realized that much of what we love about the season comes with an implicit anticipation of the Big Day, especially our beloved advent calendar.
This means that if all that happens on the Big Day is presents, then no matter how restrained we’ve been in our purchases/creations or how studiously we’ve avoided the malls, we’ve nonetheless just taught our kid that the Christmas gift exchange is itself worth a month’s worth of ramp up. Cool!
We remember the exchange of gift is a top priority, so we ain’t going to sweep that under the carpet. We just figure out it’s only necessary to include other ways to make the Christmas period more exciting, so below are those we considered to fit in.
Wake up… Watch the sunrise. Until it came north to the land of dark winters, Christmas was a minor holiday. What better way to acknowledge the holiday’s pagan roots, celebrate the returning light, and set a mystical atmosphere over the whole day than to get up for sunrise? (Besides, your kids will get up early for their stockings anyway; might as well make the best of it.)
‘Carol’ it out. Before it was tamed into nuclear-family Santa-worship, Christmas was a holiday of heavy partying and class-role reversal. Wassailing, which involved going door to door demanding food and booze from the rich folks in exchange for songs and plays whether welcome or not, would probably not be an advisable family tradition, but if you’re a singer and know a few others nearby, wassailing’s more decorous cousin carolling can be a delightful way to spread the Christmas spirit after the wrapping paper has come off. In the colder climes, bring a thermos of hot tea or cocoa.
Feed the birds. Another common Yule activity among neo-pagans involves decorating outside trees with strings of popcorn and pine cones covered in peanut butter and birdseed. To add an element of impishness and old wassailing spirit, decorate your whole neighbourhood.
Reach out to the poor. Among the meaning-minded who aren’t headed to church, volunteering on Christmas is becoming something of a tradition. There are many options: special dinners with the family, gift programs for poor kids, soup kitchens. On the other hand, beware: It’s become popular enough that slots can fill up fast. In LA you have to pay $100 for the privilege of distributing food, sleeping bags, and bus tokens that afternoon. And you may also incur the reasonable wrath (or just cold shoulder) of overworked non-profit leaders who don’t want to bother to train volunteers who will only be there one day a year for the symbolic value.
Feast. Am I the only one who feels like Thanksgiving wasn’t that long ago, and having a pale imitation of it on Christmas isn’t that exciting? One way to make Christmas feasting special is picking one or two traditional foods that you wouldn’t have any other time of year – for example, mincemeat pies, chestnuts, plum pudding, roast goose, mulled wine, or from-scratch eggnog (or, apparently, if you’re Finnish, reindeer) – and serve ’em up. Chestnuts roast fine in the oven, by the way, not just on an open fire. For Harry Potter flair, find a British import store selling crackers to place on each plate.
Exchange gifts. Emphasize that the process of giving and receiving is more important than the quantity of loot by livening up the process with treasure hunts (good for things too big to wrap), deceptive wrapping competitions, guessing games, or other elaborate/goofy presentations.
Organise to spend quality time. So here you are on Christmas afternoon, hopefully all together and with some time on your hands. You could all disappear into your new books/video games, but you could also make it special by picking something to do together that you only do on Christmas; like the whole family watching your favourite Christmas movie together.
Invite friends and relatives over. This is already part of many families’ Christmas days and rightly so. Throw in a surprise call to someone who wasn’t expecting it.
Remember the past. Write down memories of the year together in a blank book and read over last year’s memories, take a yearly picture in a ritual place, or write a New Year’s letter together as a family (because, after all, it’s awfully hard to find time before Christmas to sit down and compose one of those).
Explore… Go see the lights. Some people don’t get their lights up until late; others take them down early. So on the day itself, you’re likely to get the maximum effect. As the effects of the feasting wear off, head off around the block, to that neighbourhood with the crazy utility bills, or to the formal display in the park (but check first – as stupid as it may be, many formal displays are closed on the 25th).
Don’t leave the kids out of the fun. The important thing about holidays is often more that there is a ritual than what that ritual is. Select and play your game right, but as soon as the kids have come to expect something, you better be prepared to get them. Christmas or not, the most important thing is to ensure they are happy.
So, tell me. How else would you love to celebrate your Christmas?