Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Secularly

“Don’t forget the true meaning of Christmas.” I head someone admonish her companion in the store a few days ago. I winced. And looked around guiltily as if that someone was pointing a finger at me. Every year, unfailingly, I hear some one go on and on about the true meaning of Christmas, how it has been commercialized, how it is just about the gifts and food and this year, the inevitable – how the recession will bring back the true meaning of Christmas. Every time I hear this, I wince and gulp. Because, you know, Mea Culpa. I am probably the one of many contributing to the whole “commercial” aspect of Christmas. Gifts, Santa, Tree. The whole shindig. I am not a Christian. Let alone a practicing Christian. But every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I send BigGeek down to our crawl space to get out the tree and the ornaments. (The lights are already out for Diwali and they stay on until the New Year). My silk tree is moved from its year-long corner, the Christmas Tree is set up. Trimmed with lights and ornaments. A tree skirt with a giant Santa and Ho-ho-ho written in very large letters spread out under it. And the gift or two, for Chip placed under it. Cookies are baked. Wine is mulled. Cinnamon scented candles lit. And we all look forward to enjoying some nice family time. With lots of food of course. A very secular Christmas. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

But it is what it is. Our Christmas has no religious undertones whatsoever. I love the nativity scene our neighbors put out (and they hadn’t this year until this morning and I wondered is something untoward had happened there). I love listening to the carols and hymns. And the uber-cheesey Christmassy pop songs blaring out on the radio and in the malls. I love how every house (well almost every) puts icicle lights and wreaths and the whole dull, gray winterscape suddenly springs to life. I love the mall crowds (I am probably the only person in the entire world to say so), although this year, they have been abysmally thin. I love the Starbucks specials (peppermint mocha, mmmm) and the new gizmos that come out during this time of the year. Bulk of my gift shopping happens at Diwali and I sorely miss the buzz of the festive season then.

Does this mean that I am truly stealing Christmas from its true meaning? Being a Hindu, immigrant Grinch of sorts? Probably. But Probably not. This is also a time for us, to reflect on the year, so see how we traveled through it, so to speak. It is also a time for us to give to the many charities we support. Our local volunteer firefighters association, Wikipedia, the National Children’s Leukemia foundation, Smithsonian. It is a time to cherish our families and spend this day in their warmth. Sleeping late, eating a lazy breakfast and staying in.

A few days ago, as I picked Chip from his school, we met his principal on our way out and she asked Chip if he had a good day. Chip nodded and said, “I was a good boy today Miss F, because if I am not good, Santa is not bringing me any gifts!” Miss F. was surprised. “You celebrate everything.” She said to me. I just nodded. A big part of our Christmas celebration, is also that I don’t want Chip to be left out. If we lived in the middle-east, I would have celebrated Eid, if we lived in China, I would have celebrated the Chinese New Year. All with gusto. We live in the US and we celebrate its biggest holidays. What’s not to celebrate? And of course it also ensures that Chip will never be lost, when his friends at school ask him the inevitable post-holiday question, “What did you get for Christmas?”


Anonymous said...

This is exactly why I started "celebrating" Because your child will ask why does Santa gives presents to the other kids and not us.You dont have a answer for them.

I dont do the stockings because I never bothered buying them.

Other than that, the tree, the ornaments, the wine,the baking..we do almost everything.

Oh I grew up in Singapore and we celebrated Chinese New Year,gave 2 oranges and get red moneypackets. Mooncake Festival we would get a lattern and would join in the parade.Hari Raya(Id) everything was a public holiday and we went to our friends place. Good times..:)

Jira said...

I am not a parent yet, but I feel exactly the same way (word for word) about celebrating holidays in America :)!
Chanced here from Mystic Margarita's blog...
Merry X-mas and a Happy new year to you!

dipali said...

Attagirl, Dottie!
Merry Christmas- have a wonderful time.

Tharini said...


sounds so dreamy and christmassy!

a very merry, cheery christmas to you all!

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

So true. I understand and applaud what you are doing. I wish my parents had done the same for the time that we were there.


Merry Christmas to you all!

rayshma said...

i celebrated christmas and eid in india as well.
i think i DO dilute the meaning... coz for me it's a LOT about the food and gifts. but then, so is diwali.

whatchu get for xmas, dottie??
i got a silver neck-piece with a little kitty! :D and chocs! :D

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

I just can't get myself to do the whole gig...
To me, if I were to ever start celebrating x-mas with the trees and Santa, I have to first celebrate Pongal and Diwali and Navarathri and Nombu in full glory as opposed to a quick prayer and treat that I usually do as if to check off of my list each year...!

I know...mean mommy! I'm unpopular with T1 anyways with the Vegetarian/Indian food that I send to school, not to mention restricting food cos of her allergies and all the other rules I enforce, what's another??

But even someone like me who doesn't want to get into celebrating Christmas can't deny the Incredible Holiday Spirit in the air!!
I do love to put up lights, just never got around to it after the first two years in this house... And as for gifts - Well, they got to spend a week away from mean mommy, with no rules and nothing but fun...
'nuff of a gift I think :)
Jokes apart, if the girls *really* want to celebrate, I will!
Shhh now...that's a secret!!
Wow that's what I call a Post-comment :)

Itchingtowrite said...

all becoz of and for children too. my tree s decorated all for the kids to know and experience tree, christmas & santa

PG said...

It is the same here, if it had not been for Rishab, I doubt that we would be buying a christmas tree. But, it is such a pleasure as it means a lot of family time which we hardly have like we have now. playing games together, just sitting together gossiping and listening to "christmas" music. :D. And the holiday mood which you have everywhere.
But, for me there is nothing more important than that. Maybe it has become a bit commercial as the gifts have become expensive too. But, then it is a personal decision, what and how you want to gift ultimately.
And my memories of all the Hindu festivals is the lovely memories of the food and sweets and the fun which we had as children. I feel this should be the most important aspect of any festival.
a wonderful post!

Munchkin said...

I completely agree with you.In Rome do as the Romans do. I spent a lot of my growing up years in North India although I am a Maharashtrian, but my parents ensured that we enjoyed and embraced all their festivals like Lohri,Holi etc. Because of this ,we think of festivals as something that is removed from religion and has more to do with celebration. I would like to impart the same to my son which is why ,now that we stay in the US, we are celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas. Plus, this will also give him a sense of belonging to the place he is growing up in. I think Poppins had done a wonderful post on it some time back where she had elaborated upon the very same point.

NainaAshley said...

We do the exact same thing. We also invite a few friends for a Xmas party , do a white elephant gift exchange etc. The last three years we my brother dress up as santa and hand out gifts to kids at the party. I think next year Apple will probably recognize him so this year might be the last year we do santa. All the kids have really enjoyed it.
I just love the holiday season.

Spontaneous Mini said...

We celebrate all festivals too. Xmas is big in Kolkata, where we spent most of our winter vacations. It was almost a ritual for my father to take us for a stroll through Park street and pack a tiny plum cake and even tinier alcohol eclairs from Flurry's, that a very large group of us cousins/relatives would share.
My bestfriend is a muslim so I celebrate Id with gusto and ofcos all hindu fests- DurgaPuja and KaliPuja being the biggest ones.
We are so crazy about the Id food spread that I forced my mom to ask my father's peon, to ask his ammi to prepare a whole Id meal for us. And then I behaved as if I had not eatten ever in my life. Watching me, she offered to cook for us whenever we would ask her.

Sorry abt the rambling.
Food is such a large part of our celebrations!!
I really think food unites us- the happy stomache.

Happy New Year!