When I was a pig-tailed Protestant child tucked up in my single bed in New Jersey awaiting the iconic fat man with the bag of loot (who had a passion for my Mother's homemade cookies), I enjoyed the Christmas holidays. As a nice Jewish matron living abroad with my own children (who used my Southern skills to fry latkes and chicken to celebrate the miracle of the oil), I enjoyed the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays. Today as an atheist grandparent in Chicago I still enjoy the ChristmasHanukkahKwanzaaSolstice holidays. Always loved happy, shared holidays.
So I'm all about the holidays; most assuredly not a Grinch. In fact, given I've less stress than the Martha Stewart wanna-bees who are aiming for the picture perfect ChristmasHanukkahKwanzaa, I sometimes wonder if I don't enjoy the holidays even more.
Since my family doesn't exchange gifts, I don't have to battle the lines in the stores OR at the post office! Out and about in the Loop, I can enjoy the holiday songs--yes, even the religious ones. Music is just music. Good music is even better!
And with no need to be home to prepare something on Christmas eve or Boxing day, I can spend my time helping others by substituting for the absent volunteers at my favorite museum, the Art Institute of Chicago (open everyday but Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day). What my son calls my part-time job.
So what are the holidays? Well, it depends who you are and where you live, one size doesn't fit all. I still remember as an adolescent interrogating my peers at a slumber party about how they celebrated Christmas. Who'd a guessed that five teenagers had five versions of how it was supposed to be done?
As an adult, when we lived in Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, December 25th was a quiet, religious holiday. The day our Roman Catholic Dutch friends attended church, then went home to a quiet family meal. No boisterous bottles of bubbly or reams of colored paper to clean up from; there were no visitations from the Currier & Ives Santa Claus on December 24th. They had his older brother, Sinterklaas.
In late November the person of Sinterklaas would arrive by boat accompanied by a pair of Zwarte Piet, or Black Peters. With his festival day December 6th, the gifts were exchanged the night before unless you were naughty and got the bag of coal instead--woe is you. And despite what Fox News recently said, on the island Sinterklaas came in white and black. The holiday was so non-religious that even our large Jewish community celebrated Sinterklaas, plus Hanukkah of course.
It was in those years abroad that I learned that sometimes a holiday is just a holiday--and not a holy-day. As my non-American friends came to our Thanksgiving feasts and our non-Jewish friends came to our Passover Seders; so we went to their first communions and Christmas dinners. Celebrating others holidays or events is just that--celebrating with them.
So what did we do on the 25th of December? We went to the beach to snorkel or scuba dive, celebrating the diversity of life above and below-the-sea by partaking of it. David Attenborough would so understand, or at least Richard Dawkins would.