I grew up Catholic. In my teens I started to realize that it wasn’t for me for a variety of reasons. I have a strong memory of being called a heretic by a former friend during CCD while I was questioning (what had been) my beliefs. That public shunning, even though it may have been in jest, has stuck with me for a long time, so, while I encourage thoughtful and engaging conversation in the comments, please don’t be insulting if you disagree with this post. Thanks!
As a kid I went to church a lot, Christmas morning was that special, get really dressed up, and spend a long time in mass day. We had to go to church before we were allowed to come home and open presents. We would sometimes spend Christmas Eve at my Aunt and Uncle’s home since they would sometimes have a big party. I didn’t have any cousins my age so this was often kind of boring for me. It seems like my Christmas was pretty traditional; family gathering the night before, go to church first thing in the morning, and then come home, gather round the tree and open up the gifts. I was lucky to grow up without want for anything else and to feel “normal” in my community.
blurry photo (only one I have!) of me on Christmas morning. Yeah footie pjs!
In my early teens we stopped going to church so often, my brother’s soccer schedule got in the way, and it suddenly wasn’t so much of a priority. I was relieved, I always disliked church and had started resisting it. Attending Christmas mass started to feel torturous and wrong. When I decided to quit the church I put my foot down and refused to go on Christmas day. I remember one year having my boyfriend come over to my house while my family was at mass, I’ll never forget the year that we almost got caught in the act when they arrived home earlier than we expected. Holy embarrassment!
When I went off to college I would go home for the holidays for about a week. I started a new tradition of spending Christmas Eve with my friends. My teammate Whitney’s family lived in Central New Jersey so I would travel down to her home on Christmas Eve and spend that night with her and her family, driving home really early Christmas morning to then celebrate with my family.
Other times I would go to Sandra’s house and celebrate with her family, it was always a much needed escape from my own home, and I loved feeling welcome into my friend’s homes. Gathering round, sharing stories and eating lots of delicious food with friends and their family (who have become my extended family!) was always so much fun.
I would still exchange gifts with family, and my mom would still get a tree and decorate the house. As someone who was continuing to figure out where I stood with the “reason for the season” I decided that traditions have a place. It brought my mom joy to decorate the house and cook a meal, so I would never think of criticizing or trying to change that. It felt weird to not get whoever I was dating a Christmas gift. Thinking, “of course you buy a gift, even if neither one of you is religious!”. It’s what was expected and part of tradition, so I continued to just go with it.
When I moved to Seattle and met my husband I started to have less desire to travel home. Considering how often I travel for work and how I knew I would have to come back to work quickly afterwards I didn’t feel the need to fly across the country. I no longer had those “winter breaks” and I found myself happier staying put and just have quieter celebrations with friends. My husband and I made the decision that we’d go back east every other year, and so far that’s working out, this year was one spent at home and it has been very enjoyable.
Christmas decorations at the market!
The biggest thing that has changed for me, which I appreciate quite a bit, is that the exchange of gifts has become less of priority. Christmas is not a big deal to John and me. We don’t exchange gifts and we basically just enjoy time off to spend with each other and with his family. We still are happy to give to our family and are very lucky to receive the generous gifts that they give us. We take the holiday season to show appreciation for each other, our family and to our friends (when we actually get it together in time to send cards!). We delight in the fact that we have another year ahead of us, and reflect on the past year that brought us challenges and triumphs, and celebrate life itself, and try to remember to do that more often during the year. I’m not someone who gets offended when people say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, I think it’s fine for people to celebrate or NOT celebrate however they want. I believe in tolerance and good will towards all, all year round.