Growing up, my parents were eager and excited to celebrate the holidays no matter the faith we believed in…to incorporate traditional American holidays into our very Indian lives. Religion didn’t matter. We even went to Christmas church services with our neighbors. I sang ‘Ave Maria’ in my elementary chorus group. We had a Christmas tree, decorated every window with candles, exchanged gifts and shared cookies and sweets with everyone on our street. Everyone in our small town decorated for Christmas and aside from not wanting to be the only ones out…our family enjoyed this time of year especially and we looked forward to spending time together during the holidays doing all of these festive things. Some of my best memories are decorating our Christmas tree with my dad while listening to Christmas tunes. I think some of his best memories might be doing this too and watching the twinkle light reflecting sparkles of joy and wonder in my big, brown eyes. The same joy that I see in my own boys now.
When I moved to California several years ago, I noticed things were different. Many houses on our street didn’t decorate, our neighbors didn’t bring over cookies and other sweet treats…it just didn’t feel like the holidays as much. It just didn’t feel like what it felt like back east and what the holidays were supposed to or at least what I was used to.
Recently, one of my neighbors asked me what we do for Christmas…she’s just recently immigrated from India. She said, “We just don’t celebrate…it’s not part of our culture. We aren’t Christian. My kids don’t see Santa.” And I thought about it for a minute. Because it is a Christian holiday just like Diwali is an Indian one. But to me, and maybe I will be in the hot seat for saying this…it’s also a time to celebrate light, love, laughter, forgiveness and in my opinion, most importantly a time to give back just a little bit more than you normally do to those in need, with your time or donations no matter your faith. There are countless ways to do this. It’s the perfect time for anyone to celebrate these simple things in our busy lives that actually matter the most.
To me, this time of year isn’t about giving a ton of gifts. It’s about the merry music that can cheer just about any one up, the impromptu snow ball fights, the twinkling lights that make your little ones jaws drop in awe and wonder, the cozy hot cocoas together with family and friends sometimes years and years of not seeing each other…connecting over the foods whose recipes have been passed down for years and years. Making the time to make memories which will last a life time.
Those twinkling lights and the warmth in this season even amidst the cold winter air, this alone can restore anyone’s faith no matter what the religion that you have to believe in the kindness, goodness and love of people. It alone recharges us for the new year and a fresh start.
So after my neighbor finished saying that she doesn’t celebrate and that her kids don’t get to see Santa, I replied that it was truly a personal choice. Because it truly is. But I told her that to me, “the best way to enjoy this life we get is to experience as much of all cultures as possible and to expose our kids to everything we can within the boundaries of what feels comfortable.” And that she could still celebrate by putting up lights that she had up for Diwali just a few weeks ago. That time together with the kids making sugar snowmen cookies or maybe spending just a little time this weekend going through the garage to see which toys or old winter coats could be donated to kids who whose families can’t afford them this year. That this alone would be ‘celebrating’…because it isn’t just about a tree, or wrapping gifts or figuring out which dress to wear to the next holiday party…this season which can be enjoyed and celebrated by all. That the real magic is in keeping things simple, remembering to keep faith in the goodness of people and brightness and warmth in each and every one of us. To share in the holiday spirit no matter what your beliefs are.
Other ideas to bring the holidays into your lives…
- Read holiday books – read a different one each night. Holiday book countdown!
- Toy and clothes clean up – out with the old for donations to the needy.
- Make homemade holiday cards using recycled materials.
- Decorate with a fresh wreath and lights, if a tree with presents is not your thing.
- And instead of cutting a tree, plant one each year as family. So much greener, too.
- Volunteer as a family to give back to your community- so many ways to do this.
- Donate old winter coats, mittens, scarves to keep the less fortunate warm all winter long.
- Sing holiday songs together…so many fun ones the kids will love!
- Go play in the snow or ice…snowboarding, skiing, ice skating…great ways to enjoy the winter.
- Make your own holiday traditions specific to this season…hot cocoa night, winter pajama + holiday movie night, making gingerbread houses…the list goes on and on. Get creative.