BUILDING BRIDGES: Christmas a challenging time for those who don’t celebrate

What, how much, to do varies from one household to another

Every year at Christmas, I remember when my oldest was in kindergarten. Up until then, we didn’t celebrate Christmas in our home. My husband and I had made the decision not to, as it’s not a religious or traditional custom in our families.

Having said that, we each did have some form of acknowledgement of the holiday; my husband’s family put up a tree and exchanged a few gifts, whereas Christmas in my home meant biryani and a small gift for each kid under…a houseplant. That happened when we were older though, several years into living here in Canada. I don’t recall this being an issue for me when I was a young child. I had a strong sense of belonging with my extended family and religious community; we were all trying to figure out the customs of our new home but in the meantime, we celebrated our own traditions in big ways.

So when my husband and I got married, we decided not to have Christmas but instead, we ramped up Navroz, the Persian new year which falls on the first day of spring. We celebrated that by having the family over to paint eggs and eat a festive meal.

And then our five-year-old, now a ‘big’ kid at school and fully aware of what was happening around her, told us all about what would happen on Christmas Eve. Santa would come down the chimney and drop presents under the tree. We would also hang stockings over the fireplace – to hold more presents, of course!

That moment will forever be emblazoned in my mind as our first major intersection of our past and our future.

If you come to my house on the first Sunday of December, you’ll see us putting up our tree and hanging precious ornaments we have collected over the years. The stockings are there along with other handmade decorations that each year remind us how quickly time passes and children grow.

The tree is my favourite part of the season; being able to light it each day around suppertime to add a little glow to these dark evenings is a blessing.

When the kids go to bed, the only place I want to be is in my living room, in front of that tree, the soothing light now the only thing that’s left of the day. I am grateful for the tree and the memories it holds.

But I do still think of that day when my girl came home telling us how Christmas was going down. She was innocently repeating what she had learned in school and of course, who can blame her?

What bothers me about it is that there really isn’t that awareness yet that not everybody celebrates Christmas. Some children come home with these ideas of what is going to happen because the teacher read a book about it, they sang songs about it, they made ornaments for trees etc. and then their parents tell them, “It’s not something that happens in our home.”

We didn’t take that route because we chose not to. But for some who feel more strongly about what they celebrate in their own homes, this must be difficult. And I just want to acknowledge that today.

It’s difficult to not conform. As relatively recent immigrants compared to some of you who have been here for generations, we must decide all the time what to buy into (and literally, if you opt for Christmas, there’s a separate budget for that).

Those who have been here awhile see Christmas as a Canadian thing, something that one must adopt simply because of living on this land. But it’s not; it’s a choice. And it’s a spectrum.

My family has gone from a houseplant to a tree, stockings and turkey dinner in one generation.

Perhaps my children, when they are grown up, will include advent calendars and the sneaky elf who moves around on its own while everyone sleeps. (I am definitely thankful we didn’t take that on!)

It’s important we go easy on people who are still deciding if and how to incorporate Christmas into their traditions.

There’s a lot more to it than a simple, “Yes, let’s do it.”

Or a “No, let’s not.” There are emotions involved; some people don’t want to let their kids down so they feel trapped, some people think it’s important to be open with their kids from the get-go, some people are mourning their own traditions that aren’t celebrated as widely or in the same way as they were in their motherlands, etc. It’s not for anyone to judge them.

Perhaps, in the spirit of Christmas, and in the spirit of everything else good, we can just be accepting and understanding of one another.

Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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