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December: It’s time to put up the tree, send out Christmas cards, and brainstorm ideas of what to get my impossible-to-buy-for father.

I love Christmas. My parents loved Christmas, and made a big fuss. In the weeks leading up to it, we’d go to Carols by Candlelight down at Altona Beach. My father put up fairy lights all around the garden. We’d all go to midnight mass together on Christmas Eve, and leave out fruitcake and a glass of port for Santa.

So, Christmas. Highlight of the year. Peace and love and goodwill to all. Only, I’m not Christian (any more), so what’s to be done with this odd festive season concurrently celebrating a baby come 2,000 years ago to save all humanity, and the awesome power of the credit card?

There seem to be three different ways to go about it:

  • The traditional, “real meaning of Christmas”. Nativities, church services, baby Jesus sent to save us. Emphasis on getting together with bio-families.
  • The secular “let’s make the major holiday of our society a celebration of Western excess” – too much food, an exhausting whirlwind of parties, long lists of things we want from other people, and overspending on things our own kids don’t need in order to prove how much we love them.
  • And then there’s a third avenue, which, while moving away from the religious paraphernalia, emphasises renewing a commitment to peace and love and community with neighbours, family and the world.

I don’t want Pearl and Louis to get swept up in this frenzy of greed and want. Elisabeth just wants them to have gorgeous Christmases. Some of my attempts at moderating Christmas so far have included, “The twins are only two, they don’t know it’s Christmas, maybe we can skip it for a year.” “We shouldn’t encourage the whole Santa Claus thing, it’s only an excuse for greed.” “Maybe instead of getting a sackful of presents each year they can just learn that Santa brings one good present?”

Elisabeth was horrified by the idea of playing down Christmas. On Christmas, I am afraid, I have been overruled, and sackfuls of presents are accumulating in the top of the linen closet as we speak. At two, Pearl and Louis are starting to become aware of this whole present-getting caper (to wit, their birthday last week), and I’d like to begin to consciously create the sort of celebration we are going to have each year. I want to do Christmas, but I don’t want it to be a fossilised relic of my own religious upbringing, or a frenzy of avarice and gluttony.

This will unfold over the years, but some ideas I’ve had so far about how to make it the sort of festival that would be fun and loving and peaceful and global include:

  • Emphasising connection with family. There are three sides to our extended family – Elisabeth’s side, my side, and our donor & his other family.
  • Helping the kids become aware that Christmas is one of many different celebrations throughout the year,  not all in the Christian tradition. They’ll get the religious messages thrown at them by various people – I’d like them to have a relativist approach to that. “Yes people believe Christmas is about that, and here are some other cultures and their important festivals”. There’s a big Buddha’s birthday festival here, we could take the kids to that each year. There’s an Eid festival held near where Dad lives. That way I can do Hallowe’en with integrity as well – I don’t like the idea of the US import but I’m sure within the next four or five years it will be firmly entrenched here, and I’ll just seen churlish if I insist my kids miss out.
  • As little “crap” as we can get away with. We don’t need plastic plates with Santas around the rim, we don’t need candlestick holders with holly on them. Hand made presents. Hand made decorations. Prioritising an environmentally light Christmas.
  • Maybe having some sort of ‘thinking of others’ ritual that we do around Christmas. I know one family that each year chooses a charity to save for  – the kids research and choose the next year’s charity and send off the money for the previous year’s charity with great fanfare. At my church when I was a kid we used to have a Christmas tree “for poor people” – the adults would bring along food hamper stuff and us kids would each choose a present to wrap up and put under the church tree for poor kids.  Even something like a Boxing Day cull of last year’s toys to make way for the new haul could be good.

It all sounds terribly earnest and hokey, I know. The fun will be in the way we do it. Not, ‘You’re so lucky, think of all the poor people,’ but ‘Let’s identify a problem and do something about it as our Christmas gift to the world.

I’m sort of working this out as I go along, so new ideas are welcomed. How do you do Christmas?

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