Giving Christmas to the Critter

by Rachael on December 14, 2010

Welcome to the December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk Traditions

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Rituals, traditions, and holidays are all ways that we embody fundamental truths about our human lives on this planet. We are born, and we die. We become adults. We plant, we harvest, and we eat. We have ancestors. We depend on each other.

Of all the holidays, Christmas has always been my favorite. I love the way that it lights up the darkest month of the year. But, though both of us were raised Catholic, I now practice Zen, and Beckett is an atheist. Whatever religious instruction the Critter receives will likely be via my Zen center, but ultimately his religious practice (or not) will be his own choice. Because a secular Christmas can too easily be a commercial Christmas, our non-Christian family needs to be clear on what the holiday is really about for us. What do we hope to embody, and how?

One of many ornaments that my Great-Aunt Mary gave my family when I was a girl

Christmas and Childhood

At Christmastime, I connect to my childhood self, the little girl who still believed in magic. She is there in my enjoyment of my favorite Christmas music (especially Pops Christmas Party by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra and Noël by Joan Baez), in my delight in our Christmas tree (always real), and in my pleasure in opening each window of our Advent calendar (preferably from Germany, and with glitter). By sharing these with the Critter, I am not only giving him a bit of what I know about magic, but connecting him to some of his ancestors whom he will never know. Noël was my mother’s favorite Christmas album, and she, too, loved Christmas trees. And many of the ornaments on our tree were made by my Great-Aunt Mary, who was like a third grandmother to my sisters and me.

Christmas and Giving

Much is made of Christmas as a time of giving, but the focus on Santa Claus and gifts often converts the spirit of giving into a spirit of materialism and getting. We’ve been cutting back on our gift-giving (and thus our gift-getting) within our family in recent years, but we also want to find ways to give to those who need gifts. This year, we will be giving to Toys for Tots through the Critter’s school. We will also be giving some of our gently used clothing as well as some of the Critter’s gently used toys to the Salvation Army. And we will be donating to our favorite cause. I’m not entirely satisfied with these as ways to embody the spirit of giving; with the recipient not present, for example, it seems that the giving as giving is likely to be too abstract and thus not really comprehensible to the Critter. But we’re a young family (well, the Critter is young, anyway), and so I trust that the tradition can grow as the Critter grows.

Christmas and Jesus Bodhisattva

A large statue of the resurrected Christ is set into the eastern wall of the monastery that is the main home of the order of Zen in which I am a student. (The building and grounds were at one point a camp for Lutheran children, though I believe the statue has an earlier provenance.) I associate this statue with my understanding of Jesus not as a messiah, but as a bodhisattva — an enlightened being who is dedicated to the salvation of all sentient beings. With Jesus understood in these non-theistic terms, what might the Christmas story mean?

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger,” says Linus, quoting the Gospel of St. Luke. He reminds Charlie Brown — and all of us — that the true meaning of Christmas is in the baby: the divine made manifest in the most vulnerable of us all, and present in all of us, shepherds and kings alike. In truth, though, words fail me here, because when I use the word divine I don’t mean anything having to do with any gods. What words in themselves cannot express, images and stories can, and so this is the time of year to bring out the picture of Jesus in his manger that hung over my bed when I was a girl — Mary, Joseph, and a menagerie of wild animals are gathered around the smiling baby. And this year will be the year that we introduce the Christmas story to the Critter — by watching A Charlie Brown Christmas together as a family.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Traditions? What traditions?Olivia at Write About Birth needs your advice: how can she make the most of the holiday season in a new country with only her immediate family? (@writeaboutbirth)
  • TRADITION!!!!!!Ella at My Intentional Journey reminds us all to be thankful for family traditions; there are those who have none.
  • tradition!Stefanie at Very, Very Fine came to realize that families can make incredible memories, even if they’re not wealthy (or organized).
  • Taking a child’s perspective on traditionsLauren at Hobo Mama wants to keep in mind how important even the mundane traditions will be to her little ones. (@Hobo_Mama)
  • Sunday Dinners and LullabiesKat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment finds traditions in the small things throughout the year.
  • Simple Family Advent TraditionsMichelle at The Parent Vortex crafted a set of advent bags with daily surprises to eat and to do. (@TheParentVortex)
  • Parenting: Family Meetings – A Timeless TraditionAmy Phoenix at Innate Wholeness discusses a year-round tradition in her household: Family Meetings. (@InnateWholeness)
  • Our Mindful Holidays — They may not be “traditional” traditions, but they fit the family of Kellie at Our Mindful Life.
  • Our Holiday Traditions, New and Old — Even with three young children, Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings is finding ways to be intentional and meaningful about holiday traditions. (@sunfrog)
  • Our Cupcake CustomAmy at Anktangle knows celebrations need minimal excuse and lots of cupcakes! (@anktangle)
  • On the bunny slope of tradition-makingJessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama is finding her groove as a holistic-minded mama with a joyful holiday spirit. (@crunchychewy)
  • No, Virginia, There Is Not a Santa Claus — Just because her family is not going to do Santa, does not mean that Sheila at A Gift Universe can’t instill some mystery and magic into Christmas. (@agiftuniverse)
  • New TraditionsBecky at Future Legacy shares a few traditions she is starting for her family, including popovers, a birthday banner, and service.
  • My Holiday Family TraditionsThe Artsymama continues a long tradition of adopting family members and sharing two favorite games that work well for a crowd.
  • Mindfully Creating Family TraditionsAlison at BluebirdMama has ideas for celebrating birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas — though her family’s still figuring some of it out. (@bluebirdmama)
  • Memorable TraditionsLori Ann at MamaWit follows four mindful steps when instituting any tradition.
  • Let’s Talk TraditionsLily, aka Witch Mom shares her family’s traditions that are centered on the wheel of the year. (@lilyshahar)
  • Homeschool ChristmasDeb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now did not always celebrate the Christmas season in the same way with her family, but they always celebrated together. (@DebChitwood)
  • Holidays, food and family — For Kristen at Adventures in Mommyhood, the holidays are about family and food. (@crunchymamato2)
  • Giving Christmas to the CritterRachael at The Variegated Life has found a way to tie her Zen practices to the Christmas story of the baby in the manger. (@RachaelNevins)
  • Family Traditions + To Santa Or Not To Santa — Stop by Natural Parents Network to discover some of the traditions from other natural parents. NPN is also featuring snippets of posts from NP bloggers on the topic of whether to encourage children to believe in Santa Claus. (@NatParNet)
  • Family Tradition OriginsMomma Jorje discusses her family’s traditions, and her desire not to make anyone feel obligated to conform to them.
  • Everyday Traditions — For Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children it’s the small, daily traditions that make life special.
  • Establishing Traditions and Older Child AdoptionMrsH at Fleeting Moments is trying to find ways to start traditions with a family that was made very quickly through birth and adoption.
  • Emerging Family TraditionsMelodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! shares some of her favorite birthday and Christmas traditions. (@bfmom)
  • Does Rebellion Count?Seonaid at the Practical Dilettante has instituted a day of rest and PJs at her house on Christmas. (@seonaid_lee)
  • December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family TraditionsSybil at Musings of a Milk Maker tries to give her girls a mix of traditions to foster togetherness — but worries that not being near extended family is a disconnect.
  • Craft-tea Christmas CelebrationsLucy at Dreaming Aloud created a delicious Christmas tradition that she named “Craft-tea.”
  • A Christmas TraditionLuschka at Diary of a First Child knows that even though she won’t be able to have her usual holiday traditions this year, the important thing is that she has her family. (@lvano)
  • Celebrations without the HolidayAsha at Meta Mom shares several ways to celebrate the winter holidays without focusing on religious traditions. (@metamomma)
  • Celebrating the Journey We Have Traveled TogetherAcacia at Be Present enjoys the chance to draw closer to her family during the Christmas holiday.
  • Celebrating Motherhood — Do you celebrate the day you became a mother? Dionna at Code Name: Mama offers some ideas for traditions to mark your passage into motherhood. (@CodeNameMama)
  • Celebrate! Winter Traditions Brought Home. — At True Confessions of a Real Mommy, TrueRealMommy and her family are celebrating many different religions and traditions this month. Stop by to see their schedule of events. (@TrueRealMommy)
  • “Always Ready”, Holiday StyleAmy at Toddler In Tow discovered that it’s not the traditions themselves, but the emotional experience behind them that makes them special.
  • { 14 comments… read them below or add one }

    Seonaid December 14, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    This is just lovely. I have been very awkward talking about the sacred with my kids over the years, even though I have a statue of the Buddha prominently displayed in my house to remind me of what I’m really working on. (It’s next to a statue of the triple goddess, so you might see how I’ve got some issues with communicating this to the kids.)

    Thank you once again for your honesty and clarity, and for challenging me to think more clearly.
    Seonaid recently posted… Traditions- Does Rebellion Count


    Rachael December 14, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    Thank you! Really, I don’t know what I’m doing in this arena any better than in any other. This became apparent to me when the Critter started recognizing the “Booba” (as he put it) and I realized that the religious iconography in the background of his growing-up will be very different from that of mine. I’m glad that there are many other parents of young children to look to for guidance in my sangha.


    Dionna @ Code Name: Mama December 14, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    Beautiful! Regardless of one’s spiritual path, each baby is a miracle to be celebrated.
    I love your thoughts about a secular Christmas. And I’m with you 100% on finding ways to give at Christmas time. It is hard with little ones – Kieran gets very concerned any time I take something to donate, he doesn’t want me to take his things. In time he’ll get it, for now I’ll just model it.


    Rachael December 14, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    I’ve been referring to your recent post on ideas for giving with toddlers. It’s been super helpful, and I imagine I’ll be looking to it for more ideas in the future! Not just for Christmas.


    Lauren @ Hobo Mama December 14, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    I really appreciate the way you’ve been able to make the tradition of Christmas meaningful within your current spiritual practices. I’ve been wondering how best to pass along my beliefs to my son when I’m in the midst of some struggling myself and not currently involved in a formalized religious group. I hope it will come to me in time. I love that you’re making your Christmas still non-commercial and beautiful even without being traditionally religious.
    Lauren @ Hobo Mama recently posted… December Carnival of Natural Parenting- Taking a childs perspective on traditions


    Melodie December 14, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    I got shivers reading your post. It was very calming and lovely. Just what Christmas really means to me. In fact I just read your post from before this one too and fell in love with your blog all over again. I haven’t been here in awhile but I think I’ll be back soon! 🙂
    Melodie recently posted… Emerging Family Traditions


    Lori Ann December 14, 2010 at 8:47 PM

    Hi there, found you via the Carnival.

    I share your desire for a non-materialistic Christmas, so I’m enjoying reading the suggestions for focusing more on giving, especially to those in need. My family worships Jesus as God, but I still connect with your definition of Christmas’ meaning… this year (first Christmas with a baby) and last (very pregnant and very much identifying with Mary!) have really emphasized for me that Christmas is a day to celebrate Jesus’ humanity. That, and I absolutely love A Charlie Brown Christmas, the soundtrack of which I’ve been playing since Thanksgiving 🙂


    Luschka @ Diary of a First Child December 15, 2010 at 1:53 AM

    A beautiful post, and parts of it really resonate with me. The commercialism of Christmas really bothers me, especially in the UK where Christmas starts in October.

    I love your thoughts on giving, and we have plans in place from next year when it will actually mean something to Kyra.

    Although we too worship Jesus as Messiah, like Lauren we don’t go to church anymore and so teaching Kyra about Jesus and about our beliefs is proving to be rather difficult. Sadly, we have found churches in our area to be a rather secular meeting point for a social club rather than anything to do with growing in the Spirit.
    Luschka @ Diary of a First Child recently posted… A Christmas Tradition


    Amber December 15, 2010 at 7:29 PM

    Christmas is a holiday that I find it easy to get behind, even as someone who no longer considers herself a Christian. To me it’s about the potential and holiness in every child, the re-birth of light in the darkness, and joining with others to spread goodwill.

    Although, to be honest, I fear my children think it’s all about Santa.
    Amber recently posted… Capturing Moments


    Michelle @ The Parent Vortex December 15, 2010 at 10:04 PM

    lovely post! You’ve clearly expressed lots of the things I think about when coming up on Christmas as a now-secular former-Christian and detangling all those threads of memory and tradition and what’s happening in the present moment.
    Michelle @ The Parent Vortex recently posted… Simple Family Advent Traditions


    Amy December 16, 2010 at 12:55 AM

    I appreciate your choice in allowing your son to choose his spirituality as he grows… The warmth you experience around Christmas will certainly demonstrate the truth present in Jesus’ teachings, whether he sees him as messiah or enlightened being. I wonder if the two are really any different… Words are so interesting in how they can only point and our perspectives determine what meaning we receive from them. Your son is likely to be grateful for your clear, loving example. 🙂

    I really enjoyed this sharing – it does elicit the feelings you want to take forward from childhood while allowing your son his own experience, thank you.
    Amy recently posted… Parenting- Family Meetings – A Timeless Tradition


    Becky December 16, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    I enjoyed reading this! It is interesting all the beliefs that are out there. My husband and I are straying from our religious roots, so it can be hard to talk about such intimate thoughts, such as beliefs. I love Christmas music and think that music can explain (spiritual) things better than talking could. It’s so sweet to play the music your mother loved and display ornaments from your great aunt. That really brings out family history instead of leaving it in the books. My 1-year-old daughter has been playing with her Linus talking doll all season. She loves to push his foot, so he can recite the Luke passage and constantly kisses him calling him “baby”.
    It looks like you have an interesting blog here; I’ll have to peruse a bit. P.S. Thanks for your comment on my [new] blog!
    Becky recently posted… New Traditions


    RealMommy December 17, 2010 at 3:25 AM

    I love that there are so many people devoted to allowing their children to find their own religious/belief path.

    I had the thought about making giving more tangible: Giving trees. I have seen them in malls, or such, and you choose a tag that describes a specific child. Maybe using that information and picking a gift based on it would make it more like really giving a gift to someone?


    Shannon December 17, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on the holidays. This felt like a very open and honest approach to belief and understanding. I always enjoy getting to know how others define belief and what they hold in their hearts.


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