To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate

December 16, 2009

Jeff and Holly's Christmas Tree--photo by Reba Boyd Wooden.

To Celebrate or not to celebrate, that is the question.  Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to partake of the season's celebrations or to sit idly by while others rejoice in the season. 

Some, such as Tom Flynn , think that we should take a stand and refuse to participate because Christmas is promoted unfairly over the holidays of other religious traditions and is virtually imposed on other people.   I can definitely see his point.  In fact, I and a few other members of the Indianapolis Hiking Club have objected to the annual party in December being called a Christmas party.   A few years ago when I was on the board of directors of the club, which has over 600 members, the board voted (with only one opposing vote) to rename it a Holiday party.  Then a couple of years ago, the new board voted to restore the name of Christmas party.   My point is that if they want to be a club that welcomes people of all backgrounds (as they claim to do) then the party should not bear the name of one religion.   However, the Christians are in the majority so their opinion prevails. I and some other members have protested by not attending the party.  The Christians don't seem to care that we don't come anymore.

However, on a personal and family level, I do participate in Christmas celebrations.  Just as nonobservant Jews keep up their traditions, I, as a cultural Christian (or whatever the term would be for a person who was brought up in a Christian family but no longer believes) continue to celebrate the holiday.  It is a time of year to get together with family, to reconnect through holiday cards with old friends, to give gifts, to put up pretty decorations and lights, and to see those decorations and lights of neighbors. 

I will say, however, that the spending frenzy that accompanies Christmas is really crazy and something in which I don't participate.  I buy gifts only for my children and grandchildren for the most part with a standing order of a Christmas ornament for my sister, two brothers, and their families, and a gift card or two for a few other people.   I usually buy a small gift for my children and grandchildren and give each family some money which they can spend as they like.   One year my daughter and family went for a sledding weekend in the mountains but usually she spends it on the activities in which the kids participate--such as dancing, music, and swimming lessons. 

Except for a few Griswolds in the neighborhood who have their lawns littered with plastic lighted figures, the lights are a nice, pretty, friendly reprieve from the dark days of winter in Indiana.  In 1990, I started a collection of gold Christmas ornaments and for the past several years have sent the special yearly ornament to my children, siblings, and the young lady from Ukraine who stayed with me for a few months while she was a student in the United States.   This has become a tradition and the ornaments are on the trees of my family.  Ulyana calls me her American mom.  Some of these ornaments are religious but most are secular.  As I put my ornaments on the tree with the clear lights, I have memories associated with some of them such as the Santa Train that my grandchildren used to argue over which one got to put it on the tree. 

So I will have to go with Robert Ingersoll who wrote in 1891, " I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy.  .  .  . Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget--a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds--a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine. "

No matter what our cultural or religious heritage, we all need at least one day a year to do this.   It doesn't have to be December 25. 

Happy Holidays--no matter what you call them or when you celebrate.