There was no Christmas tree in our house. There were no stockings, and Santa never came down the chimney. This is how I grew up. Seven percent of Americans do not celebrate Christmas. That includes members of many religions (including some Christians) and other Americans for whom, for whatever reason, it’s just not a holiday. I grew up in a Bahai household (just like Rainn Wilson), and we didn’t observe Christmas. Or any other winter holiday, actually. Bah humbug.
Chinese and a movie is a cliché among Jews, but it’s actually pretty standard for anyone who doesn’t celebrate. Everything closes on Christmas, except a few Chinese restaurants and movie theaters, so if you want to go out and do something on your day off, that’s about all there is to do. Sometimes it was TV dinners and a rental. And like the rest of you, I pretend the Star Wars Holiday Special never existed.
Christmas pretty much dominates a month and a half of every year, from advertising, to city decorations to the music they pump into the dentist office. When I was growing up, there were still Christmas parties and Christmas programs in school. I had a choice of singing Oh Come, All Ye Faithful or sitting in a room with nothing to do during Christmas program rehearsals. I sang. My brother sat.
People just assume you celebrate unless you tell them otherwise, and frankly sometimes it’s easier to let them make that assumption. It avoids a long conversation around what was really just intended to be a cursory holiday greeting. One year a cashier wearing a yarmulke wished me a Merry Christmas, and I reflexively wished him one back. And then it dawned on me that we’d probably both wished the other a happy holiday that neither of us observe.
Then there’s the whole philosophical debate. Most people are pretty cool with the idea that there are plenty of people who have plenty of different traditions, but some people get strangely confrontational about it. Yes, I’m aware that there are lots of people who enjoy Christmas as a secular holiday. No, it’s not against my religion to celebrate Christmas, but we didn’t choose to do that. I survived. I’m not working on a tell-all memoir about my awful childhood, and I’m not judging anyone else for celebrating. Honest.
Although I grew up without a Christmas celebration at all, the kids have one now that my in-laws moved to town. We have a gift exchange and Christmas brunch at their house. It’s understated but nice. Like Thanksgiving with a few presents. There’s still no Christmas tree at our house. There is no Santa, and if we ever move, I suspect we’ll be back to Chinese and a movie. We’ve got too many December birthdays around our house as it is. We can barely keep the house clean, let alone decorated.
So Happy Whatever You Celebrate, and Happy Whatever You Don’t Celebrate. Take pride in your cultural traditions, whatever they may be, even if it’s an awesome Festivus. Whether or not we make a fuss about Christmas, we’ll still be watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special. Maybe all of them in a marathon. It goes great with moo shu chicken.