Christmas: Emotional baggage topped with a bow

Guest post by SarahC
When you shake it, does it sound like emotional baggage? By: Shimelle Laine - CC BY 2.0
When you shake it, does it sound like emotional baggage? By: Shimelle LaineCC BY 2.0

My fiance and I are from different cultural/religious background. He’s Jewish, and the closest thing I have to a set religious upbringing is Catholicism. What we both have in common is a tendency towards atheism and skepticism.

My fiance now knows what to expect when he comes over to my family’s house for Christmas and Easter, and I know what will happen at his family’s house for Hanukkah and Passover. But those are at our parents’ houses. Since we’re still saving up to be able to move in together, we haven’t really celebrated any joint holidays.

We had a number of discussions about various holidays, but there was one issue that we never could get resolved: Christmas.

Each of us left conversations about Christmas in our future house with our hypothetical children feeling edgy and unsatisfied. My fiance would NOT celebrate Christmas in our house. No Santa, no wreaths, no reindeer, and most definitely NO TREE. My fiance is an easy-going guy, but on these things he was unable to compromise, and I felt scolded for wanting to re-live some good childhood memories.

Then, one night as we lay in bed, we finally found out what the problem was. We were thinking of Christmas in terms of what it meant to only to each of us, without considering the other person.

To my Jewish fiance, Christmas is a time of seclusion, segregation, and the feeling that everyone else is judging you for what you believe. My fiance felt his Jewish heritage threatened by the Ghost of Christmases Future. Unraveling this web of complicated images, feelings, and associations is very difficult.

To me, Christmas was a time to share our hearts and our homes with the people we care about. Friends, family, and all the other people in our lives can come together to celebrate the passing of winter, the promise of spring, and the warmth of good company. And food. Lots of food. Turns out my fiance has no problem with any of these things.

The trick when dealing with any emotionally-charged issue is to be honest with each other (and yourself) about what this REALLY means to you. Communication and understanding go a long way toward overcoming relationship obstacles.

Oh, the holidays: so many miscommunications and arguments. Let’s all give each other a special gift in the comments: share YOUR methods for compassionately overcoming holiday disagreements.

Comments on Christmas: Emotional baggage topped with a bow

  1. We find this very difficult. I’m a very religious Jew raised in an interfaith household, and my partner is a ex-Catholic agnostic/atheist (not sure he would use either term, but it’s close enough as shorthand.) the hardest part is dealing with my mom. I feel like my partner and I can’t really figure out how to discuss Christmas fairly since it gets overshadowed by my anger about my Christmas fight with my (non-Jewish) mom.

    But this year, we are inventing a new holiday. It happens in early January, and is an entirely secular winter holiday. We’re having friends over for dinner, my partner and I are exchanging presents then instead of Christmas or Chanukkah, and there will be eggnog, music, friends, theoretical snow (all snow is theoretical where we live), and maybe white twinkle lights. I’m pretty excited as I hope this may feel like a way to have a touch of Xmas for my partner without having any Christmas in our home.

    • Great idea! There’s nothing wrong with making plans to completely bypass all of the religiously-charged holiday time and celebrating a few weeks later! Plus, people likely won’t have a handful of conflicting events to go to.

      My in-laws actually celebrate the winter holidays late, usually in February, as a compromise (and, I think, hope for safer driving weather) with my mother-in-law’s part of the family. I think they call it their “Festivus get-together” or something like that. It’s great, too, since they usually see the family at Thanksgiving time, anyway, it allows them a second time to get together that doesn’t seem immediately after the last visit.

    • This is a great idea. Nothing wrong with a home-made Festivus (thanks, Seinfeld). Holiday celebrations are so eclectic and varied that creating a whole new way to celebrate that combines everything you both love seems wonderful. Also, if you decide to have (or already have) children then they inherit the tradition of flexibility and fun knowing that it’s possible to celebrate inclusively.

  2. My husband (muslim) and I (catholic upbringing) are celebrating christmas together this year for the first time. And I couldn’t be happier!

    With my family in Spain we have some traditions: decorating the tree and the house, setting up a nativity scene with little figurines, big meals with the family, carol singing and lots of other crazy stuff that, of course, are very much unknown to my husband but also to England, where we live.

    This year we are staying in the UK and will spend the holidays with our friends here. I will be cooking a christmas meal by myself for the first time ever, we will exchange gifts and well … I guess you could call the poinsettia I bought in Tesco a decoration. It’s different than what I did back at home but I’m stocked to be sharing the happiness that these days bring with him and our friends! We are having a halal-spanish-italian-polish-hungarian christmas!

    When my husband and I will have children, they will be brought up in the Islamic tradition but they will celebrate christmas and easter because that is their mother’s tradition (pinky swear from him to me when we started dating). Although in Spain most christmas traditions have very religious roots, I plan on passing them on to my children not because of their religious meaning, I don’t feel them that way myself, but because of their cultural significance to me. To be honest, I don’t think we will ever set a nativity scene in our home, but my children will be able to do that at my mum’s and the fact that my husband has no problem with it makes me the happiest woman on earth.

    I love my multicultural, poly-faith, polyglot life. In this house we celebrate Christmas! And Ramadan! And Reyes! And Sant Jordi! And Halloween!

  3. I have to confess I would never have thought this could be an issue for a couple with a “tendency towards atheism and skepticism”. Thanks for showing me otherwise.

    • As my mom said, “I’m an atheist, but I love holidays. Especially ones with presents!” I was raised atheist but we still have cookie/tree/presents/Santa traditions that due to work or travel may or may not happen on the 25th of December on any given year. This year my husband and I had Solstice dinner instead of Christmas dinner because we only get Wednesday off, and that didn’t feel very festive.

    • I’m an atheist too, but I love the holidays for all of the secular good stuff: food, family, friends, love, etc. I look at the tree as a pagan thing, and the lights are just for fun. No Nativity scene in our house though….

    • We didn’t realize it would be an issue until it was. For a little more explanation, my mother is Catholic and my father is agnostic. I was never baptized or sent to catechism so I grew up knowing that Christmas was a religious holiday, but celebrating it in a mostly secular manner. The idea that my fiance would have such a visceral reaction to Christmas did not cross my mind until we had to confront the issue head on. It’s reinforced the need for communication and compromise. We’ve worked out some kinks but I think we’ll have to see how our first holiday season will go and adjust once we’ve had some experience with it.

    • As an agnostic of Jewish ethnicity, this part of the post really rang true to me: “Christmas is a time of seclusion, segregation, and the feeling that everyone else is judging you for what you believe.” Christmas songs, colors, decoration, and traditions make me feel angry and hurt, not because of any religion or lack thereof inherent in them, or because of any malicious intent in the people who are enjoying them, but because of 28 years of low level exclusion and invalidation surrounding all things Christmas. And for some reason, an astonishingly large amount of secular people of Christian heritage cannot force themselves to realize that just because they associate Christmas traditions with wonderful things, that’s simply not true for all other people. It’s just really freaking annoying, every single year. My home is a safe space from that for me in December, and it would be very, very tough to have someone I love ask me to give that up.

      • Hey, I hate to break this to you, but I’m you in about 5 years (based on your “28 years” comment). Same ideas, same situation, but now marrying an atheist who wants Christmas (the “ONE holiday” she does). We still haven’t worked this out, nor have the other 5 close Jewish friends I have who are dating/married to (some with children) non-Jews. We have all made it clear that it is non-negotiable that our houses are Jewish and so are our children, and the non-Jewish partners have been totally ok with this, but they feel like since they agreed to that, they should get Christmas (to varying degrees, my partner being the chillest, but still). Which is NOT AT ALL how that works to us. Jewish home/children to me (and my friends) automatically means no Christmas. And navigating that is part of what it means to be a Jew in a Christian country. So, the good news is that we get to marry the person of our dreams. The rest will work out, I’m sure.

        • I have three older stepsiblings who are 100% Jewish. All three married Christians, all three raised their kids Jewish (Shabbat, bar and bat mitzvahs, birthright trips to Israel; the whole shebang) and all three also celebrate Christmas (tree and all).

  4. thats so sad about your fiance. i dont get why people think that way- arent more holidays just a good thing? my mom had a jewish friend who invited us to her house when i was a kid for the big holidays each year and they were so fun! the food is great, the people are great… i just dont know why someone would ostracize for that.

    i hope you guys can come to a compromise about it though, because what would be worse, in my opinion, would be to strip your kids of their heritage- which will be both a christmas and a chanukkah one!

    • It is easier to say “aren’t more holidays just a good thing” when you are part of the dominant culture. When those holidays don’t lead to your invisibility. The assumptions this time of year that everyone celebrates Christmas renders my religion almost entirely invisible. And when it is visible, it is always either in comparison to the dominant culture (isn’t Hanukkah just the Jewish Christmas??) or as an after thought (an hour “holiday” concert with 15 Christmas Songs and one “let it snow” and one “I have a little draydel”).

      If you want to be supportive of my faith, wish me a happy new year in September, understand why I refuse your cookies for a week an April, and wish me a pleasant break from work this time of year. And understand why “more” isn’t always better.

      • oh, i wouldnt call myself a part of the dominant culture. i did not grow up celebrating christmas- quite the opposite, actually, christmas was the symbol of basic evil. we celebrated a jewish-like year of holidays (it was definitely not jewish, but that is always people’s first guess, as it was old testament based), so i understand that. i didnt ever have *any* representation, because what we did doesnt exist on a large scale (or any scale? i will never know…)

        but, my parents -my dad, really- were “other”-ers, like has been talked about on offbeatbride. we were so much “holier” or “worthy” or “actually reading the bible” or whatever then other people… so all the “sheep-le” celebrated christmas/chanukkah/whatever, but we did the “right” holidays the “right” way. we literally were instructed to say “enjoy your holiday” when people said merry christmas or happy chanukkah or whatever, because it was *their* holiday, not ours. the division was front and center.

        that is where my “more holidays are only better, never worse” attitude comes from. i have lived where there is only one right holiday and only one right way to celebrate it, and that goes against my theological beliefs for one thing, and against my basic logic too- if your holiday is awesome and you love it, wouldnt you want to share it with other people who you love too? so i do wish there were more holidays. more holidays are better, in my opinion.

        but i do agree- i think there should be much more representation of cultures and winter holidays. because come on, lets be real- even the “non-denominational” ones are christmas based. you can see right through that marketing…

        • We are going to have to agree to disagree on this one:
          “if your holiday is awesome and you love it, wouldn’t you want to share it with other people who you love too? ”

          Part of the difficulty I have with Christmas is that people think they are “sharing” but what they are doing I perceive at worst as proselytizing and at best as ignoring the real fact that this isn’t my holiday. I do celebrate with coworkers and friends who are excited about Christmas who know me and respect my faith. It is the strangers and acquaintances that make assumptions that leaves me grumpy.

          If I felt people were truly trying to share something they were passionate about while understanding that it isn’t my holiday, I’d be accepting. That’s not my experience of what people do. Many assume it is my holiday and that we are together in our love of this time of year.

        • Even though it may have originated with division, I actually love the term “Enjoy your holiday.” People can interpret it however they like, and it doesn’t assume anything about anyone, and it doesn’t imply that you have to observe ALL holidays.

      • THIS so hard! I’m not a terribly observant Jew, but it’s so easy to feel left out this time of year. In the US the Christmas season seems to start at Halloween, and by the time the actual holiday rolls around I’m so damn tired of it all because it’s not associated with that warm fuzzy childhood nostalgia for me, and I’m sick of all the commercials and storefronts ramming it down my throat. People don’t get that I don’t know the Christmas carols because my mom would never play them in the house (understandably!) and that the Christmas movies like Rudolph strike me as weird and creepy because I saw them for the first time this year, and not as a little kid.

        Strangest of all for me is moving from the Northeast, where Jewish holidays are actually talked about and taught in school, to California where everyone assumes I’m Christian and looking forward to spending Christmas with my family, and nobody knows what Rosh Hashanah is. I do have one Jewish coworker who appreciated the LED menorah I built on my desk, but the rest were confused about why there were 8+1 LEDs. Sigh.

        To the OP, maybe you could do a re-branding of the holiday? Most cultures have a holiday this time of year that’s centered around lights, warmth, food, family, and looking forward to spring. I would bristle at celebrating a big Christmas in my own house (when Christmas is all over the place elsewhere), but a winter celebration of Festivus/Yule/Saturnalia/etc. would be a lot of fun and create nice memories for future kids too. (I myself have fond childhood memories of making elaborate paper snowflakes to put on the windows during winter.)

        So maybe you can save the overt Christmas and Santa stuff for your parents’ house and carve out your own joint winter traditions that you can both get into. If you really don’t want to let go of all of it, though, maybe it can be confined to a designated spot (so it’s easy to escape if needed) and there can be equally prominent Hanukah decorations elsewhere? This is a tough one, and it sounds like you’ll both have to give up a little of what you want to keep each other happy.

        • I watched Rudolph as a child and as an adult. Don’t worry, early claymation is CAF (creepy as f***). We are working on compromises. I get twinkly lights and tons of blue and white decorations, plenty of food, and the Christmas movies we can both watch and enjoy (Nightmare Before Christmas, A Muppet Christmas Carol, the Dr. Who Christmas specials, a Christmas Story are all on the short list). I give him Channuka presents, he gives me Christmas presents. We spend more time together and eat in more so we don’t have to sit through hours of Christmas music. We’re also playing with a post-Christmastime party with our friends so we can all celebrate the New Year together.

          • Sounds lovely! Glad to hear you guys are making it work.

            Also glad to hear you agree about Rudolph. I was starting to think I was the only one. 😛

        • I grew up with Christmas and that Rudolph thing really upset me as a kid, and it is still pretty disturbing to me as an adult. Rudolph’s father was terrible to him, and the Island of Misfit Toys always made me cry, even if they toys eventually found homes, because I was a misfit and excluded too.

          I watched it every year, though, because I felt like it was some kind of duty to my family. :/

      • Making assumptions that people are from a dominant majority, especially over the internet, is a dangerous thing.

        I understand your point, but I don’t ask people to ‘understand’ so much as ‘listen to me when I explain.’ I grew up in a Muslim household. I still put up a Christmas tree because I associate it with my American upbringing. The biggest holiday of the year for me by far is Nowruz. Do I expect everyone to know what it is? Nope. Do I get excited when people ask to me explain? You betcha!

          • I didn’t mean for that to be a setup for that question, honest! But since you asked … Nowruz is Persian New Year. It falls on the first day of spring, and we celebrate with a lot of symbols of life and new beginnings. And food and family (for me this typically means marathon skype sessions). The mascot is a wee guy called Haji Firuz. Like in Chinese New Year, people give gifts of money. January 1 New Years has never been a big thing for me. I’ve lived mostly in the US and Europe, and it was always cold and dreary that time of year. I also lived in a country that celebrates Chinese New Year. That was an interesting experience – having childhood friends celebrating one new year, my local friends and colleagues celebrating another, and my family and I celebrating a third 🙂

        • Some people LOVE to explain their holidays and traditions, and other people HATE it because it makes them feel like a token or it is just annoying to explain it over and over again. I’ve learned to use really broad questions to get an idea… even like “Are you taking any vacation in the next few months?” or some variation on “Do you have any plans?” That leaves it open for sharing family traditions, religious or otherwise, or for a quick answer that basically means “I don’t want to talk about it.”

    • See my comment above, but… basically, Christmas traditions are inextricably linked for me to feeling excluded and invalidated. Christmas means all my friends are busy and can’t hang out with me. Christmas means everybody’s singing songs I don’t know. Christmas means everyone wishing me “happy holidays” weeks after any holidays I celebrate are over. It is not a fun time of year for me, and I wish people would stop telling me that it’s just about food and friends and feeling good. It’s not. There’s a lot more to it, you just don’t notice it because you’ve never had to notice it.

      • What one holiday means to someone is not necessarily what it means to everyone. Even among Christians it doesn’t mean the same thing. Friends of mine who are very religious celebrate the holiday in a very different way from my more secular friends. It’s the same way for my fiance. It doesn’t matter that I’m not religious or that most of the traditions surrounding Christmas were taken from pagan rituals. To him, they all mean bad memories. To me the holiday does just mean food and family. We just have to figure out the things that aren’t linked to the holiday that we can still enjoy about the season (snowflakes, hot chocolate, presents, twinkle lights, etc) and incorporate them into our new celebration.

  5. My husband and I hash out our cultural and familial expectations while we’re in the car driving from one holiday event to the other. It’s not ideal, but spending hours driving in the car feels very private, and there are no distractions besides the occasional need to stop at a rest area. We have some of our deepest conversations when driving in the car, and this is where our holiday feels come out. Then we can spend the time with our families without worrying about emotional baggage and just enjoy visiting and celebrating.

    • Car trips are fantastic for discussions that need to be had, but that tend to be avoided (as in procrastination) and long. My husband and I often have our “big” conversations on long car rides. After all, we’re going to be in the car for a while, so no one can wander off or say “oh, hey, I need to go do [insert excuse], so let’s talk about this later.”

      For us, as an interfaith couple/family, to a certain degree holidays are easier, as any holidays we don’t choose to celebrate in our household, we go to celebrate with family. Plus, we’ve been doing this for a few years, now, so we’re pretty familiar with what to expect.

      Most of the traveling to celebrate applies to my Christian side: we don’t do Christmas and the whole tree thing in our house, but we go to my parents’ house two hours away to celebrate it. Easter is usually spent with my sister’s family and her in-laws. Jewish holidays are either spent locally/at home or with my husband’s parents.

      Neither of us take celebrating the other person’s religion as a denial of our own, so it works out for us. I think it helps that our families are positive about our interfaith marriage–no one gets preachy or tries to convert anyone, so sharing in each other’s holidays is an enriching experience, instead of a painful one.

      • It’s good that you have that solid interfaith background to call on. There was never really any religious contention in my house and my fiance has Christian relatives on his father’s side, but celebrating Christmas made his Jewish mother super-uncomfortable so he and his brother and sister were raised exclusively Jewish. We’re working this out as we go along.

        • Yeah, it can be really bewildering to unknowingly stumble upon an emotional trigger for your partner. My husband and I don’t believe in accommodating/avoiding the trigger, but working through it and increasing tolerance for each other’s behavior. Feelings are not bad, but some reactions can be out of proportion to the stimulus.
          I may be wrong, but I am sensing that in your case, your partner feels anger and guilt and resentment about only celebrating Jewish holidays. And it sounds like you are confused about why your actions contribute to your partner’s reaction. I think tolerance and acceptance of each other’s traditions will help both of you. New traditions are nice, but I think it’s a false friend. I think it’s just avoiding the real issues of sharing in your life with your partner. I think it’s possible to celebrate all the lovely traditions that make you reminisce about your childhood, and help you feel prepared for the coming new year – this may just be celebrated in a different way (e.g. skipping the big party for a few smaller ones).

          • It’s more complicated than that, and really more complicated than I can get into, even with a super-supportive community like this since a lot of it involves issues my fiance probably doesn’t want out there (family stuff) but a lot of this stems from school experiences. In elementary school, when the rest of the class was writing letters to Santa or coloring paper ornaments, he sat in a corner and did math worksheets because the teachers weren’t prepared for a student to say “Excuse me, but I don’t write to Santa and we don’t decorate a tree. This isn’t my religion.” In his mind, he was always punished at Christmas for being Jewish. Like I said, it’s more complicated than three posts could hold, but we talk about it together and we work through a little more each time we look at it.

  6. I won’t say I hate holidays, but I get really close to hate. I don’t like group events at all, and I hate the layers of artifice that come as part of my family holidays. I always fought them by myself, but now I have my brand-new husband to fight them with me. He helps. This year, we’ve told our family we’ll happily come visit them for an individual Christmas, but we’re not going to the group event. They’ll have more fun without us Grinching it up, and we’ll have more fun actually bonding with them when we do see them.

    • The most important thing is that you present a unified front for the holidays. Good for you, making the holidays better for you and your husband! Being on same page is essential.

      • Yep, solidly learned this one this year.
        My family decided to change which holiday it emphasized as important, so that means changing the events we go to with my husband’s side. My family wanted me to come to All The Events which would then completely cheat my husband out of his family events. I had to really put my foot down with some family members when telling them I wouldn’t be joining the festivities this year.

  7. No Santa, no wreaths, no reindeer, and most definitely NO TREE.
    ***
    Remind your fiance that all of those things have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas; most of them are remnants of pagan, pre-Christian rituals which celebrate winter solstice and the return of the sun.

    • I hear this so frequently and, at least in America, it’s simply unrealistic verging on hypocritical to pretend that all those things have “nothing to do with Christmas”. If they truly have “nothing to do with Christmas”, why does everybody who celebrates Christmas include them? Why should Jewish people be any more likely to want to celebrate pagan rituals than Christian ones?

      • I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that the ‘nothing to do with Christmas’ refers to the religious aspect of Christmas. These symbols have been folded into the traditions of (some) of those who celebrate Christmas with a religious slant, and those that celebrate it as a winter holiday, like I do. This is why you can find giant Christmas trees and slightly-off-but-well-meaning-Santas in malls of countries that have few religious Christians. They’ve become symbols in their own right.

        • I can only speak for myself here but I’d like to point out that Chanukah is a holiday where we celebrate the fact that, during a time when we were pressured to assimilate and worship the gods of the dominant culture, we were able to preserve our own identity. The oil miracle happened after we fought a war to maintain our right not to assimilate. And now in modern times we again feel this extreme pressure to “just celebrate it as a winter holiday like the rest of us.” It’s more poignant than it seems on the surface.

          • Although Chanukah is not even one of the most important religious holidays of the year. The High Holy Days take that spot, which are (I’m new at this so correct me if I’m wrong and forgive my misspelling) Roshashana, Yom Kippur, and Passover. My fiance celebrates these more and isn’t particularly attached to Chanukah. Most of the current traditions we associate with Chanukah were instituted very recently, especially the gift-giving. Conservative rabbis were concerned with the prevalence of Jewish homes celebrating Christmas, so they picked the winter holiday matched up on the calendar and added the trappings of a winter celebration. Chanuka used to be a much more somber holiday for remembering the terrible civil war that tore the Hebrews apart. The people the Hebrews were hiding from in the temple were other Hebrews.

          • I think its sad that that pressure exists, and I respect people’s decisions to celebrate what they want to. But I don’t think getting rid of shopping mall Christmas trees will solve that pressure. I think that involves actually asking people to think about how they interact with others and present themselves not only during the holidays, but year-round. But I live in a country where consumerism is king, there is a huge amount of religious diversity (and apathy), but Christmas is popular because it’s an excuse to buy all the things!! So things could be different in the US.

          • @jellybelly In the US right now, I’m definitely feeling annoyed and isolated. I touched on a few aspects of being Jewish on Christmas above, but some frustrations just got reignited with everyone wishing each other well before they leave for the break. The other day as one of my friends left, the way she said “happy holidays” felt like a sort of winking, I’m-saying-happy-holidays-because-it’s-politically-correct-and-isn’t-that-silly. When really, I prefer “Happy holidays” from people I don’t know, or just “happy end of 2013” since a lot of different winter holidays are already over for this year (though I see your new year isn’t for a while, so your mileage may vary). If people wish me “Merry Christmas,” they might mean well, but I feel like my heritage is getting erased–the default assumption here is definitely that you’re Christian.

            Maybe it’s over-sensitivity on my part, but today’s Google doodle in the US, while itself is just a search for “happy holidays,” brings that stuff right back into my face too. When I clicked on it, the top results were news articles telling me that polls show most Americans wish they could just say “merry Christmas” and that it would just be so much easier if we stopped worrying about offending people over Christmas and this guy who wrote about how when people say “happy holidays” he says “merry Christmas” back, and he can tell that they’re just so relieved they don’t have to worry about offending him because it’s what they really wanted to say too. So not only are they ignoring everyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but they’re telling me that everyone else thinks I’m being silly and I should just get over it.

            I’m not sure what country you’re in, but general religious apathy in the public sphere sounds like a nice change from the US. Sure, our constitution promises religious freedom, but there’s still a ton of contention over what religion political candidates are (and every president has been Christian), gay marriage (because the Bible says it’s wrong), sex education and access to birth control (because the church says it’s wrong), and things like keeping Christ in Christmas because at times we really are a Christian nation.

    • 100% true, but I think that applies more to people who wish to celebrate a secular christmas who are getting flak from the “War on Christmas” crowd.

  8. This is very interesting. As a secular, spiritual whateverist that celebrated christmas for no religious reasons what-so-ever, I was always annoyed at the red and green wash that came over stores in November. Granted, I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area where the story of Christmas was taught alongside Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (Chinese new year was also alwaya celebrate when it came around).

    As I get older, I’m started to appreciate Thanksgiving more. Yea, the backstory is all crap and you’re encouraged to overeat, but the feelings of family and food (and minus the headache of the gifts!) are all what I associate with Christmas, and the religious exclusion is pretty small. Of course then you get into the nationalism bit, right?

  9. I’m a buddhist, and my husband is an atheist/agnostic (somewhere in the middle). I was raised by a christian mom and an atheist dad who both LOVE Christmas for what it represents about family and fun and getting together to drink cocoa and decorate the tree. He was raised by a buddhist narcissist mother; to her, Christmas was the time when his father left her while she was still pregnant with my husband, and she made sure that every year (even when he was living with his grandparents instead of her) he was reminded that Christmas was a time of personal tragedy. As adults, he could give two shits about Christmas, and I still sort of love it for what it reminds me of (happy childhood, fun family).

    Because we don’t have children and aren’t planning to, that makes things easier for us as far as what we do to celebrate or not celebrate the holidays. When we first got together, I had in mind that I could create a new, magical definition of Christmas for my husband. I tried very hard to make him see the fun and joy of tree decorating and hot cocoa and Charlie Brown. But it didn’t work. And now, we pretty much don’t decorate because I’m lazy and he is ambivalent and our cats would destroy anything we tried to put up inside the house anyway. Giving up the idea of making a “perfect” Christmas for someone else took a lot of pressure off both of us…me because I wasn’t attaching so much emotional weight to his reaction to things, and him because he didn’t have to pretend to enjoy things that I’m sure trigger bad memories. We have Christmas related fun together, and with my family, we just define our Christmas comfort zone together instead of feeling like it has to be defined by things we grew up with or did in the past.

    I do feel strongly that potential parents should work out their own holiday related baggage in a concrete way and not pass that baggage on to children unnecessarily. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but attaching personal baggage to the holidays can have a lifelong effect on kids (and onto their own kids if they have them.) My husband’s parents had been in the process of breaking up for many months, and his father actually moved out of the house around the end of November…there was no real reason for his mother to drill into him that Christmas=abandonment. Obviously she had emotional stuff going on relating to the end of the marriage and the holidays were hard for her, but she did not have to make them hard for my husband as well. She chose to do that. And her choice has colored the rest of his adult life; even if we choose not to put up a tree or decorate or xyz, he is still surrounded every year by things that create an unpleasant response in his brain because of something that someone else chose to teach him when he was small. And I don’t feel it’s the responsibility of the world to eliminate those things, either.

    I know that interfaith families face challenges as far as celebrating holidays, and I hope that you and your fiancé can work out something that feels good for both of you (not just for him OR for you) and that your potential future children can have happy holiday memories of however your family chooses to celebrate together.

  10. I was a bit surprised by the comments this round (this is more in response to them than the original article). My perspective would be that you have a choice about how you handle these things, especially relating to your kids. Will winter be the season of being offended and excluded in your household? Maybe there are other ways to handle it – maybe you can learn about other religions that are even less represented. Maybe it’s a time to make new friends who share your beliefs or heritage. Maybe it’s a time to learn where all these bizarre Christmas symbols really came from (it can be your little inside joke that Santa is Greek). Maybe you can make goodies from your heritage to share with friends of various backgrounds. I really don’t know exactly (and of course it’s always easier to say…) but maybe it’s possible to pass a different attitude about the “holiday season” on to your kids than you grew up with.

    Sure – it’s probably not fair that you have to deal with this somehow when others just ride the marketing train right through to the north pole, but to me it seems like when it comes to your kids, it’s worthwhile to reflect on.

    I guess it really goes back to: you can’t influence what others do, you can only influence what you do (including how you perceive what they do, how you react, etc.). Even if it IS crappy that Christmas is so dominant, that doesn’t really help you to be happier.

    Full disclosure: Christmas-loving atheist who grew up as such.

    • My partners and I have had to have a lot of conversations about Christmas this year. Christmas was a time of exclusion for me as a kid due to abusive family, hubby doesn’t have a lot of traditions in his family, and my boyfriend does have traditions but isn’t really interested in continuing most of them going forward. So we had to decide: what do we want this holiday to look like for us and our kids in the future? What parts of the holiday do we emphasize and what do we discard to create a holiday with new traditions that reflect us?

      It’s an ongoing conversation and it probably will continue to be, but I’m happy to say that laying all our holiday baggage out on the table has been good for us and has helped me heal in ways I didn’t know that I still needed to as an adult. As we move forward together in our lives, I have high hopes that we can design a holiday that our kids will remember fondly when they’re adults, instead of one they’ll dread.

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