Our family’s version of Christmas is not religious. It’s one where we celebrate togetherness, sharing and light (yes, OK, and food), not spirituality.
More power to you if the traditional traditions are the ones you prefer, of course! It’s just that, while carols are fun to belt out and Christmas pageants are great sheer spectacle, they mostly don’t work for us. Neither my husband nor I is religious, but we like celebrating Christmas with our kids and our extended families.
Since both of us come from more religious backgrounds, however, it means that many of the traditions we grew up with revolve around church -— and that doesn’t really fit in with the sort of celebration we want to share with our kids.
The good news is that a more or less clean break with the past means that the slate is wide open for us to pick and choose the kinds of traditions that we want. And pick and choose we did… from Christmases all around the world.
Here’s how some other folks do Dec. 25:
In Japan, the Christmas Eve meal is one of fried chicken. This apparently arose from a wildly successful KFC marketing campaign in the country, but I for one am happy to bow to marketing pressures if it means I don’t have to cook and clean up after a big family meal two days in a row. (Also, fried chicken is delicious. But mostly, it’s the spending more time out of the kitchen and with my family thing.) Thanks for the great idea, cultural imperialism!
Part of the benefit of saving kitchen time on Christmas Eve also figures into the fact that at some point that night, I have to start making the dessert for Christmas dinner. That tradition is shamelessly stolen from the French, who decided to start serving the culinary equivalent of a Yule log as part of a holiday dinner: the bûche de Noël, a flat cake rolled up with filling and frosted to look like, well, a chunk of firewood. (No, mine doesn’t look as good as the one in the picture, but it tastes great.) When our kids are bigger, they can help frost and decorate it, which seems like a significant part of the charm to me. All holiday traditions are at least 900 percent cuter when designed by young children.
And that’s not the only plan we have for Christmases when the kids are older. In Iceland, where presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve, a popular gift is that of chocolates and books (which are published in the country only during the fall). Everyone then goes to bed to read and graze on candy into the night; and what better way to shoo little kids off to bed before “Santa” arrives than a brand-new book and a chocolate bar all to themselves?
They’re not big, fancy traditions; they’re small and cozy and fun, and they work for us as a family because they celebrate the things we value: time together, creativity and imagination. And for us, that’s what Christmas is all about.