I was raised half Catholic and half Jewish. It was a challenge growing up because I never knew where I fit in, but a blessing as an adult because I feel like I fit in everywhere. Christmas has always been a time of year I love, because it brings together so many different traditions’ celebrations of light. In my opinion, what many of us are doing at this time of year echoes back to pagan rituals in its origins, in our own ways we are all bringing light to the time of darkness. A Christmas tree is a sign of the evergreen life in winter; the birth of the baby Jesus is the potential for the birth of light in each of us inside of our darkness; the journey to the star of Bethlehem is the trip we take to find that inner light. The holiday is deeply spiritual for me even though it’s not specifically religious. I find meaning in this time of year by tying many traditions together with an emphasis on seasonality and spirit.
When my husband and I first had children, it was an especially important question for us- what beliefs would we teach them?
Over time, the advent took on great importance in our home; it’s our time of reflection as we near the returning of the light. When Luca was first born, I needle felted a wool nativity. When he was smaller, we would narrate with it each day the journey that Mary and Joseph, the shepherd, and the wise men each took to follow the star. Mary is the reflection of the feminine; like Mary, I too make the continual journey to surrender to the unknown (the star) to find my truth (the Christ). The shepherd is that part of ourselves that must be humble to know truth. The wise men, the kings, are the knowing that all things that are powerful and rich must, in the end, surrender to the small and pure force of truth.
A Christmas tree goes up every year, even though we never spend Christmas eve in our home. It’s a symbol of life in the frozen time of year, but it’s also a more mundane symbol of the passing of time as new ornaments find their place in the tree each year and old ornaments reappear.
As we move through the advent, we do all the normal things that make this time fun for the children; the gingerbread house, the calendar, the storytelling. We try to create little miracles each day for strangers; last year was easier because we lived in a city and crossed paths with hundreds of pedestrians each day; this year’s miracles were harder to dream up because are are constantly in the car. We settled on randomly taping signs on cars reading, “You are Loved”:
After marrying, one of the things that was important to my husband was that we would spend the week of Christmas with his family. He has two daughters from his first marriage and it’s unquestionable that they should spend their vacation with their grandparents and relatives whom they otherwise do not see. We usually fly to San Diego to be with them, but this year we all met in Mexico.
If you are used to a traditional Christmas celebration, it can take a little getting used to a secular take on the holiday. I can sum up his family’s Christmas eves in three words: family, food, and chaos, in equal measures. It’s a very noisy night centered on eating and opening presents and taking pictures. Ten years after meeting my husband it still takes some getting used to, but my children seem to love it.
The way we found our common path was to create a time around Advent that reflects the way I think the holiday should look; and the week of Christmas reflects the culture of my husband’s family. A reflective Advent and a big family party for Christmas. I like to imagine that this will create a very diverse experience for our children and that one day they, too, will find what’s true for them inside of the holiday season.