I’m not religious, like many of my peers in the millennial generation, although I appreciate the presence of traditions. If I had to classify my belief system I would label it ‘spiritual naturalism.’ There is so much magic in the world to appreciate and enjoy. I don’t believe that a supreme being created the mountains and oceans and rivers, but that makes them no less awe inspiring. When I talk about the world with my children I talk about stewardship, informed choices, mutual responsibility and justice for our neighbors near and far. As we reflect on the holiday season, I find myself feeling the need to create an alternative to both the religious and secular versions of ‘Christmas’ also known as ‘December’ or even “basically everything between Halloween and New Years”.
When we got married my husband and I talked a lot about creating our own traditions for our family. I think this is an important part of growing up, especially once we had our own children - sort through what we grew up with, selecting the best and discarding others, making changes and inventing new ways to insert meaning into our lives. I love decorating the tree, the lights, special foods, opportunities to gather with loved ones and taking time during the cold winter months to reflect on the year past and prepare for the year to come. How do I share those values with our children?
When my daughter asked me about the baby Jesus and how he was connected to Santa, I talked about how different people believe different things. The story of Jesus’ birth is a story some people believe and share and celebrate. Santa, also a story that some people believe, and that The Man has latched onto to force people to buy loads of stuff they don’t need and fulfill his mission of a neoliberal consumerist take over of the planet. We don’t want to buy in to that. In our house we frame our celebrations around the winter solstice and the celebration of calling the Sun back to our side of the earth to warm us.
Not to say we are not down with gifts, though we do our best to focus on the spirit of the gift rather than the gift itself. I know many of us feel like “oh I have to get so and so a gift because they always get me a gift”. We continue to discourage our friends and family from giving us gifts - a happy alternative has been sharing special meals (and drinks) with each other. A few years ago we asked our family not to give presents to our children, but to offer an experience or something homemade to share. That year they got some homemade playdough and recycled cookie cutters, and an afternoon building graham cracker gingerbread houses.
I think its important to mention the role money plays in all this - because I know for some it is a matter of pride to give their children a special gift at the holidays, which is great. At the same time, it is a privilege to have the time to create homemade gifts, even if the materials are cheap. This is definitely not a one size fits all situation and each family needs to decide what role gifts will play in their holiday celebrations. What is important, I think, is the way we celebrate the holidays - being conscious, mindful and clearly communicating with our kids. Kids are not born expecting a pile of presents under the tree. Its easy to get caught up in the hubbub and sacrifice time that could be spent relaxing and enjoying family or friends in the ‘stress’ of the holiday.
This past December, we spent time with our children instead of at the mall. We baked cookies and drank hot buttered rum. We hung lights and put a tree in our house. We invited our loved ones to join us. We took time to remember what made us happy this year, notice how we have grown, and reflect on what challenged us. We talked about what we want to do in 2015 and how to carry the warmth and love that fills us now with us all the time.
There are many different definitions of "parent" and a diversity of perspectives on parenting. One thing remains... good parenting is rooted deeply in love. This is our attempt to capture real stories from real people.