Planning Sadie’s First (Secular) Christmas

Photo by alicepopkorn

I’ve been thinking about Christmas a ton this year, and its meaning in my life and for our new family. I suspect this is not unusual—there seems to be an abundance of opportunity for reflection as a new parent. The thing is, we are not a religious family. And we are not planning on raising Sadie in any religious way. (Unless, of course, she requests it at any time.) We also do not plan to introduce Sadie to the concept of Santa. (Again, if she wants to participate in Santa traditions when she’s old enough to know about it, we will support her and play along.) We haven’t come to this decision lightly, so I hope you won’t think I’m being flippant about any of this. But, if you don’t do the Jesus part of Christmas, and you don’t do the Santa part of Christmas, what’s the point of the holiday?

I’m a family person. Sometimes I’m a little surprised at this, considering my early childhood. But other times, I think it makes perfect sense. There was so much uncertainty when I was little, so much instability, that when I (along with my one biological brother) was welcomed into my aunt’s family (complete with five cousin-siblings and a family dog), I was hooked. I’ve tried to move away, but I just keep coming back. I love my family, both adopted and formed. And for me, that’s what the “Holiday Season” is all about. My family does Christmas pretty big. Big meals, big gatherings, decorating the tree, hanging stockings, the Alabama Christmas album (okay, gag on that one), decorating sugar cookies, Christmas Eve pajamas, mistletoe, Christmas breakfast, lots of presents. Honestly, though, Mass on Christmas Eve, Nativity scene décor and praying before meals are the only religious pieces to the Christmas puzzle for my family.

If you do a little Googling on the origins of Christmas traditions, most of them have nothing to do with Christianity. Yet, they have become adopted in various forms by different cultures all over. I don’t want to get into the whole mess of it all, but it seems to me that the traditions are there for the pickin. So here’s what we’re doing this year, and likely ever year from now on:

  • Tree. The three of went to cut down our tree at a local Christmas tree farm. Trevor and I discovered it last year, and we went there this fall for their pumpkin patch. It was lovely, and this is probably my #1 favorite tradition of the season. I mean, bringing a tree into the house? For a month? Awesome. We got one that was modestly sized, in case Sadie decided to try to pull it down (so far, so good). Each year, we pick out an ornament together, and this year we picked one out on behalf of Sadie, too.
  • Stockings. I like stockings, for whatever reason. We probably won’t bother stuffing them this year, but maybe we will when Sadie gets older. Trevor and I are both kind of candy fiends, but we’ll have to temper that with some fruit and nuts, I suppose. And lip gloss. We’re actually still on the hunt for a stocking for Sadie. My aunt did needlepoint stockings for each of us kids, and they are amazingly personal and special. I hope that one day I can knit stockings for each of us. Maybe when I’m not taking care of an eight-month-old.
  • Parties and other festivities. Getting together with our friends is a ton of fun, and it’s no exception around the holidays. Our holiday party schedule is (for the best, I’m sure) somewhat light this year. I’m excited to be seeing two of my nieces and one of my nephews perform in the Nutcracker Ballet this weekend!
  • Food. The food! (And candy.) It’s already begun. Trevor’s uncle passed through town, baring gifts of homemade sweets from one of Trevor’s aunts. We are almost through our first bottle of eggnog. If I can get my act together, I’ll do a bunch of holiday baking like I did last year. I think a new tradition I want to start for our little family is to try a new international breakfast item every year on Christmas morning. We tend to go to my aunt and uncle’s house for breakfast, so it might be something we make beforehand (because it’s not like Sadie lets us sleep in anyway) and take to share. To start us off, I think we’ll try Belgian sugar waffles this year.
  • Gifts. This year Trevor and I are taking a break from gift-giving for each other, and we have to limit what gift-giving we do for others (having a baby and quitting your job will do that). But this is fine with me, because I’ve been honing my gift-giving philosophy; and for me, less is more. Sadie doesn’t even know that today is Thursday, so she’s definitely not going to know when it’s Christmas this year. We might get her a little something, if we come across something she might like. But we’re not too fussed with it this year. But we do plan on any gifts coming from us, her parents, and not Santa.
  • Helping. This year, my book club adopted two single mothers and their babies from the homeless shelter where Sadie attends daycare. My family used to do this through our church, and this tradition of helping others is something I’d like to stick with and instill in Sadie.
  • Family. Like I said, my family does Christmas BIG. Unfortunately, my family and Trevor’s family live many many miles apart, and we will likely miss the festivities of my extended family. We will, of course, still do everything with my family while we are still in town. But! What this does mean is that we are FINALLY spending Christmas with Trevor’s family. Well, almost Christmas. Trevor has to work the day after (a big day for retail…unless you’re a small local bike shop—don’t get me started), so we will hit the road for the very Northeastern corner of Tennessee at about 7:00 on the evening of the 26th.

I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to say what we’re celebrating is “Christmas.” Whether maybe we should call what we’re doing by some other name (Solstice? Festivus? Krismas?). And the best I can come up with is that it’s a huge part of our Anglo-American culture. Even if the name is particular to Christianity, the traditions and practices are already largely secular. I know we’re going to catch a lot of flack about not doing Santa—Trevor already is from a young coworker. And I know some of our family is probably worried about us not raising Sadie in a religion. But I promise, Aunt Margie, we’re not doing this just to be different, to be contrary. This is just who we are.

12 thoughts on “Planning Sadie’s First (Secular) Christmas

  1. Shannon

    Isn’t it funny how being a parent makes you really think about things. I have thought about whether or not to do the whole Santa thing and still haven’t really decided. He’s still too young to really know so maybe I can’t wait until next year to decide. I know last Christmas was so much fun and so special having a child and I expect this year to be the same. I think you have to be you but think it is great that you are open to whatever Sadie may want in the future. I hope you and your family have a wonderful first Christmas with sweet little Sadie.

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      Yeah, there’s definitely still time to decide. And there’s always room to change your mind if what you start out with doesn’t work for your family. That’s the nice thing about being the grown-up, I guess. Though there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it too!

      We are really looking forward to this first Christmas with Sadie! Oh, and we got your Christmas card, and y’all are just too cute!

      Reply
  2. Stephanie

    I LOVE THIS, I love everything and agree with everything. We’re in the same boat–not doing the Jesus Christmas, but not doing Santa either. I just love everything you have said in this.

    We so far haven’t gotten drama about not doing Santa, but I know at some point we will. Neither of us are comfortable with the idea of Santa for a whole host of reasons, and we don’t want to introduce it or have other people introduce it to him.

    But the food? OHHHH we are totally celebrating the food.

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      The one thing I do worry about is if Sadie will be that one kid who “ruins” it for everybody else. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I have no control over what other parents tell their kids about Santa. The way I learned about Santa not being real wasn’t so cool, and it’s stuck with me. I figure, whatever Sadie comes up with that she wants to pretend is real–Santa, Tooth Fairy, Gnomes–we’ll play along. I definitely want to encourage her imagination. But I’d never tell her Frosty the Snowman was a real dude, so why would I tell her Santa is?

      Reply
  3. LuckyLoo

    If it makes either of you feel any better, I NEVER believed in Santa and all of my friends did. I NEVER felt stupid or left out – in fact, I kind of looked at my friends with incredulity and pity that they actually believed in Santa (but then, I believed in the virgin birth & the trinity so I can’t really talk). I never felt sad or bummed that I didn’t believe in Santa. I did, however, feel tooootally bummed that I didn’t believe in fairies or elves and all of my friends did. Eventually I realized that imagining that they were real was just as fun so I got over it 🙂

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      But were you the little one who blew it for the other kids? If not, did your parents have to help keep you from doing just that, or were you wise to the mistaken beliefs of the others? I think your last point hits the nail on the head for me: having a strong imagination is great! Telling Sadie outright that Santa is real doesn’t seem so great to me.

      Reply
      1. LuckyLoo

        My parents never started of telling me that Santa wasn’t real – it just never came into the picture. In my child’s mind Santa was just another holiday icon like the Easter Bunny and that belief just evolved naturally. I am sure if any of us kids every brought it up in terms of needing validation of whether he was real or not or wondering why we didn’t believe in him, my mom deflected – it probably went something along the lines of, “Well some people believe that Santa brings them presents but YOU get your presents from mom & dad and grandma & grandpa! Isn’t that great! because we loooooove you so much! Blah blah blah etc.” My mom sold it with a cheery voice and the “Isn’t that wonderful?!” method…and that was totally fine with me. She never made other people out to be silly or stupid for believing that – she just said that is what some people believe and that’s OK and fun for them but we don’t and it’s not a big deal. I absolutely love love love Christmas and not for any religious reasons…my non-belief in Santa has not affected my appreciation for the holiday just as I am sure the non-belief in Jesus as Lord hasn’t affected the appreciation of Christmas by the many non-Christians out there.

        Also – I never ruined it for any other kids. Almost all of my friends believed in Santa and it was a non-issue with us. They knew I didn’t believe and they could have cared less – it meant nothing to them and they went right on believing in him. As a kid I wasn’t concerned about getting other kids to NOT believe in something and I had fun making Santa themed art projects and singing Santa themed songs and watching Santa themed movies. He is a Christmas icon and I appreciate that part of it, but for me Christmas is about family and that feeling that comes with this time of year (wow how cheeseball is that? But it’s true!).
        I don’t plan on telling my kids that there is or is not a Santa – they can believe what they want about it and I will answer their questions as honestly and gently as possible.

        Reply
  4. Bex

    I think you said it right on your reply to Luckyloo: There’s a difference between not telling your kids that there’s a Santa and telling them that there isn’t. Basically I don’t want to lie to them, but i don’t want to do anything that might kill a tiny bit of magic for them either, should they want to believe it. If they had an imaginary friend (as my older sister did for a long time), I’m not going to sit them down and explain that their friend is not real, am I? But then again I’m not going to invent one for them. And so on and so forth.

    As for Christmas, this will be a long post for me as well. Because I’m like you, from a family for whom Christmas is practically sacred. It is truly the happiest time of year for me. But then, I’m Jewish now, with a Jewish family. So it gets really complicated. It’s an issue I have to sink my teeth into and write about, but I’ve been avoiding thinking about it for fear of judgment from both sides.

    Reply
  5. amirao21

    Interesting post and nicely thought out.

    We don’t celebrate Christmas –obviously because we practice a different religion, but my point is that I respect anyone’s decision in how they chose to implement spirituality (or not) in their children and family life.

    So I say more power to ya for finding a method that best fits your family unit! =)

    And thank you for your kind words about Aiman’s birthday; we really appreciate it! =)

    Reply
  6. amirao21

    oh and I went back and added some pictures, if you’re interested.

    I love seeing pictures of bloggy friends and finally stepped outside of my posting pictures fear…lol

    A weirdo, I am.

    Reply
  7. LuckyLoo

    I want to clarify that imagination and magic in childhood is a HUGE deal to me. My number one word for describing my childhood is “magical” and I want that for my own children. In reality, I was lucky to be surrounded by friends who had wild imaginations and whose parents encouraged them in that because while my parents didn’t discourage me in that area, they also didn’t actively support it.

    I intend to actively support my child exploring, pretending, playing & imagining all sorts of fantastical & magical things. I am fully backed in this by my partner who has been lucky enough to retain that part of the brain that can almost instantly delve into the unreal much like a childs can.

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      Yes, I hope that Sadie does have a magical and imaginative childhood. I want it to come from within. And I’m glad to hear it’s possible to never have believed in Santa but to not have “spoiled” it for your friends and family who did.

      Reply

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