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The Meaning of Christmas…

The last time I was home for Christmas I vowed it would be the last time I celebrated Christmas. It was the Christmas of 1999. We had a new baby to celebrate. My niece arrived on December 7th. I was in my second year at Ottawa U. My closest friends and I had just recently celebrated Buy Nothing Day by chalking the sidewalks and plastering the malls with posters. We all felt the same way about the holidays…it was turning into something different. The consumption was overwhelming and the gift giving was coming from a place of obligation rather than love. Time after time we heard conversations of worry about the recipients approval of gift giver’s choices.
I have fond memories of my childhood Christmas. I still have many of the books that my dad always inscribed with loving words. My favourite is on the inside cover of Black Beauty “To Tanya whose beauty, determination, and grace will surely make her a winner too. Love Dad Xmas 1986″ We had traditions, and love, good food, and warmth. Those are the Christmas memories I try to remember. Unfortunately they are often shadowed by the years I felt greed, resentment, jealousy, disappointment and sadness. My adolescence was a very influential time in my life. I was brought up with the magic of Christmas being about the gifts. During my teens, when the money was gone and the gifts were scarce, the traditions, love, good food and warmth weren’t enough for me. Replying to the question”What did you get?” on the first day back to school with ” I got to make ornaments with my mom, I got to read with my dad, I got to go ice skating with my sister, was not an option. The problem was…I didn’t know how lucky I was. My whole relationship with Christmas up until that point was about the gifts. The traditions and family time was there, but there was never any emphasis on how important it was, that those were the things that the holidays were about.

On the Christmas of 1999 I did something different…I gave my family all of my most treasured belongings. The theory being if it was given with love it would be received with love. My sister got my copy of ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ My brother in law got my beloved wool sweater. My eldest niece got the jewelry box that my dad brought home from a trip to SanFrancisco when I was 6. My mom got my amber necklace, and my dad got some of my best CD’s. For the first time, I felt so good about my choices, and I hadn’t spent a penny. I wrote a poem about my intent…I wish I still had it. The words I wrote reminded us, that Christmas was about many things, but certainly it was NOT about how much money we spend on one another. So how come the Christmas of 1999 was the end of all my hope for renewed Christmas cheer? My own family did not understand my actions…their reaction was “this is yours…?” I was crushed…and so that was my last family Christmas.

Then during the holidays of 2002 I found myself pregnant, living in a one room cabin nestled in the Canadian Rockies with one of my best friends. The small packages from our friends and family started arriving, and with a new baby on the way, I felt the majic again. Christine and I decided to open a few presents on the winter solstice, and save the rest for Christmas morning. Knits for the baby, chocolates and homemade cookies, scraves from India, and baby clothes and toys form both of our infancies…That Christmas morning is one of my all time favourites. Christine and I talked and talked about how we would celebrate the holidays with our own families. Up until that point the majority of my pregnancy had been focused on childbirth. Christmas with my family? This was a very important decision for me. All of a sudden I was thinking like a mother.
Would we honour St Nicholas? Would we celebrate the Winter Solstice and the coming of Light? Would there be gifts? Would we practice the priciples of Kwanzaa? I knew I had to make some important decisions in the next few years.
As my son grew I found that my initial worry was justified. I could not believe the amount of times we would be in public places and complete strangers would say the most bizarre things. “Are you being a good boy for your mommy? Santa knows whose naughty and nice.” or “What are you going to ask Santa for this year? Have you made your list?”
These people always bothered me for a few reasons:

1. Not everybody on the face of the planet celebrates Christmas!
2. Children cannot and more importantly SHOULD NOT be bribed.
3. How come you don’t care about my son’s behavior the rest of the year?…last summer I could have used some community involvement!
4. Santa is only as capable as my bank book! Please do not encourage my child to expect too much!So the Christmas my son was almost 3 I told him the story of the birth of Christ. I told him the story of St. Nicholas and the origin of Santa Claus
Now in 2010 my famliy has grown and I struggle to hold on to my alternative beliefs in a society that breathes consumption. This year I will give with love and feel good about the message I am teaching my children about the meaning of Christmas. We’ll celebrate the Winter Soltice with a dessert potluck and we’ll celebrate Christmas with gift giving and family. A family holiday without the confusing message and bribery most people put on their children by linking behaviour to deservance of a visit from Santa. All children deserve the magic of the holidays, no matter what traditions their families choose to celebrate.