Christmas Traditions From an Outsider’s Point of View

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I’m not a Christian, so I don’t really celebrate Christmas myself. A loosely practicing Jew can really muck up Christmas. I’ve had a Christmas tree that I called a Hanukkah bush, hung blue lights and stockings, sung Christmas carols about Jesus, and even attended midnight mass. I can just see my very Jewish aunt shaking her head and wondering why. But I’ve also been a part of many Christmas celebrations over the years with Christian friends, and have seen how the holiday is done by those that know what they’re doing. Today as, I was cruising through the holiday posts on Facebook, I was musing at how differently everyone celebrates the Christmas holiday.

First comes decorating. Real tree, or fake tree? Ornaments handed down over the years, or ornaments to match the chosen theme of the year? Tinsel? Popcorn or cranberry garland? Angel or star? Lights…all one color, or mixed colors? Outside decorations…over the top, fill your yard, cover your house, and light the neighborhood? Or simple lights along the roofline? Nativity scene? Angels everywhere? Wreaths? And when do you put up the tree…Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day? Christmas Eve? Whenever you have a moment to yourself without the kids? Or with the kids?

And the countdown and preparations. Elf on the shelf? Advent calendar? Shopping trips? Pictures with Santa? Naughty or nice checklists? Cookie exchanges? Airline tickets?

Food is a big deal at any holiday, but Christmas seems to come with more than any other. Ham or turkey? Or something more fancy like prime rib roast or lobster tails? Or perhaps a special, local or family traditional fare…like lefse, or lutefisk? Potluck, or is one family member responsible for the entire meal? Christmas cookies, candy canes, fudge, and all of the cute treats that look like something Christmassy. Glug, grog, cider, hot chocolate, hot toddies, or a good ole Tom & Jerry?

And what about Santa? Do you have a family member (or perhaps a Jewish friend) dress up as Santa to visit the kiddos and pass out presents? Or do some gifts appear that have Santa’s name on them? Do you leave cookies and milk out for him? Anything for the reindeer?

Then there’s the opening of the presents. Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning? Or maybe one on Christmas Eve, and the rest the next morning? Does everyone take turns, oohing and ahhing over each gift, or is it mass chaos as everyone tears into their prizes, regardless of what’s going on around them? And do the presents get put under the tree as they were purchased or made, or do you wait until the kids are asleep on Christmas Eve to drag them all out of hiding?

And for those with larger families, how do you decide where to celebrate, and when? If you have to make it to 4 or 5 houses to “do Christmas” with each relative, how do you fit them all in, and still make it meaningful for your family? Do you eat 5 Christmas dinners in one day? Do you ever get to have Christmas at your own house if you are traveling all over creation to attend all of the relative’s celebrations?

And, last, but not least, what’s it all about to you? Presents and decorating, eating and drinking, visiting and enjoying time as a family, or the religious parts? I see a lot of folks get caught up in the rat race of Christmas, running around to find the best gifts, getting everything cleaned, made and ready. They must be too exhausted to enjoy the holiday once it arrives! And there’s the expectations that tend to run rather high for most. We’ve all seen the Christmas morning tantrum over a gift not received, or a gift that doesn’t work as promised. And that’s not always just the kids!

As an outsider, whatever your Christmas was, I hope that it was everything you hoped it would be. I hope that you spent it with family and friends, and that you inhaled deeply the time together.

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