Whenever I see the first Christmas lights hung in my town or hear the first few notes of a Christmas song on the radio, I can't help but get so excited for the season. I have a 3-year-old son who is finally starting to really understand the world around him — including Santa and all that entails — and I've been anxiously awaiting the chance to really get our family traditions started. I love Christmas, and I also participate in aspects of Hanukkah, but in our family, the religious elements of the holidays don't play a part in how we celebrate.
Religion in our family is kind of a smorgasbord. My husband is a lapsed Catholic and I was raised Jewish/Unitarian/whatever else my family decided to throw in, so neither one of us is particularly religious, and we aren't planning on raising our son with any one faith. I understand that Christmas is a huge religious holiday for many people all over the world, and I know the nativity story, but for us, Christmas is purely secular, and that's OK.
I want my son to have fond memories of Christmas and Hanukkah, and despite ignoring the religious aspects of this special time of year, I think I've truly gotten to the heart of what the season really means.
Christmas in our family starts the day after Thanksgiving, because yes, we are those people (and proud of it). We head down to our local tree lot, which ironically is in the parking lot of my son's Catholic preschool, and pick up the largest tree we can squeeze into our door along with a handful of comically oversized wreaths. We spend the day decorating and watching Christmas movies, and my husband and I drink martinis. My son has far too much hot cocoa and probably causes more destruction during the set up than he helps, but that's fine by me because he's 3 and we're making memories.
Over the next month, we'll do a variety of Christmas activities, none of which involve religion. One favorite is visiting our local Chriskindlemarket, where sellers from all over display ornaments and hand crafted items that show that there is more than one way to celebrate Christmas. This year, my son has been expressing an interest in ice skating, so I'll likely take him to the skating ribbon in the park, knowing full well that he'll find it frustrating and fall. There's the tree lighting ceremony in my neighborhood, wrapping gifts for others, making ornaments, and, of course, visiting Santa at Macy's. Our holiday season is filled with cheer without one mention of Christ.
For Hanukkah, I will light the candles in our menorah and together we'll say something we're grateful for. Sometimes we play with dreidels, but that kind of dexterity is beyond my son right now and he's not a very good gambler. I could certainly look up the actual prayers and read them off, but that's not really the point for my family. Even though I don't practice Judaism, I am proud of my family's history and want to share that with my son in any way possible. We don't go to temple and and he has no idea about the miracle in the desert, but for us, Hanukkah and Christmas are about so much more than the religions that founded them.
Just like all of those Hallmark Christmas specials that I surround myself with for over a month, religion doesn't need to play a part. That magical, warm, and fuzzy feeling I get when I see Christmas lights and hear my favorite carols is really about time spent with my family and an excuse to stop and taste the snowflakes. It's about traditions, showering our loved ones with gifts, and trying to make the people we care about more than anything in the world feel loved. I want my son to have fond memories of Christmas and Hanukkah, and despite ignoring the religious aspects of this special time of year, I think I've truly gotten to the heart of what the season really means.