Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Celebrate! Winter Traditions Brought Home.

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.

We like to be happy. We like to have excuses to be happy. We also love to learn. So what better way than to celebrate holidays? It gives us opportunity to learn about other cultures, religions, and customs, while taking every opportunity to spend time learning as a family.

We don't have a specific religion in our home. My husband says he is atheist. I'm a converted Catholic, but I am horrible at "being Catholic." I believe the dogma, and love the ceremony, but can't stand for some of the "rules."  I want my children to have the freedom to explore the world and the beliefs therein, to form their own opinions, and to make their own choices. Many people I know feel burdened by their religion, I felt joy in choosing mine. I want that joy for my kids too.

That being said, we are celebrating all the winter holidays this month that we know about and have themes we feel apply to us. There are a ton! It has taken a good amount of time to gather information on them.  One thing I would hate is to celebrate disrespectfully by getting something wrong! Luckily, we have a diverse circle of friends to help.

Our calender of winter holidays, and how we are celebrating in our home:

December 1st: Hanukkah begins at sundown. We celebrate with friends who have family members who practice Judaism, but they are just learning. My friend who is hosting the gathering picked up this neat set so we don't have to worry about the kids getting to flames. It worked really well for all the toddlers (8 kids 3 and under!). We also picked a few books from the library. My favorite was called The Trees of the Dancing Goats (Aladdin Picture Books) I loved that it talked about Hanukkah and also about honoring the holidays of neighbors and helping everyone enjoy the season.

December 5th or 6th: The feast of St. Nicolas. Everyone has a different approach to Santa. How our family does it is by looking to the inspiration for the modern Santa: St Nicolas. We focus on St Nicolas saving children and helping provide food in time of famine. We use it as an opportunity to go through our toys and clothes, and donate them so "Santa Claus" may take them to children who might not have families who can give them all the gifts our family is lucky to share. This is a great place for more kid-friendly information: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=166

December 8th: Bodhi Day. Said to be the day Buddha reached nirvana and found enlightenment. I genuinely look forward to the quiet celebration of this day, as we block a set amount of time without distractions. No computer, tv, phone, ect. The idea is to calm our hearts and minds, to be aware of the lives we lead and the choices we make. To relish in the wonders of the world around us. We might make heart shaped cookies to represent the leaves of the fig tree Buddha sat under. 

December 21st: Yule or Winter Solstice. While Yule can have many descriptions, we will be spending the day to honor the change of seasons and the movement of the stars and planets. While most of our celebrations this month are about family, this will be our holiday of science. If the weather allows, we plan to take a walk after sunset to look at the stars, and more than likely talking about how cold it is will change the topic to seasons. Lighting a fire is also part of Yule ritual that we would like to explore.

December 21st-25th: Pancha Ganapati. Hindu celebration of Lord Ganesha, Patron of Arts and Guardian of Culture. Our take on this holiday focus' on the colors assigned to each day of the celebration. We use the days to create works of art based on the color of the day (yellow, blue, green, red, and orange). Each day also has a theme that the family should work on together. Starting with creating love and harmony within your family, and branching out to greater circles. Music, drama, and dance are also important, so we hope to take time to enjoy these things as well.

December 25th: Atheist Children Get Presents Day. This is a family joke, not to be taken as a negative on Christmas. Really, I feel that it allows Christmas to return to it's holy roots and really just "calls it like it is" for most families. Many families with no religious leanings will pick out the tree to decorate, make the big dinner, spend time with family and open presents. In our house we used to like to order in dinner, pizza or chinese, and go see a movie. We would tip the delivery person with not only a huge tip, but a gift card to show how we really understand it is never fun to work on Christmas. These traditions have changed over the years, and will continue to as our family changes.

There are also many local celebrations our family likes to participate in just as a family. L1's favorite is a Snowflake Lane. Toy soldiers march out, play Christmas carols, and it "snows." It is an amazing experience that brings joy to our family. We can't wait to go again this year and see what L2's reaction is, he was too little and asleep last year!

I have also always loved the story The Polar Express. Even before I had kids and before the movie, I would have a pajama party with my friends' kids to read the story, do crafts, and drink hot cocoa. I am continuing that tradition with my children and their friends. 

This may seem all very overwhelming when I put it all together, but really this is about learning about the world around us and creating our own traditions. We won't be stressing over each and every aspect of these plans. The intent is what is important, and that we make family and friends the center of all of our celebrations.

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:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon December 14 with all the carnival links.)


  1. This is almost exactly what I want to do in our family! Learning about other religions and traditions is important to us, and I love the real connection we can get by participating in them firsthand. (We would also love to actually meet/visit people who practice the traditions - like you are with your Jewish friends.) Great post, thank you for sharing!
    ~Dionna @ Code Name: Mama

  2. Atheist Children Get Presents Day! I love it! That perfectly describes us :)

    How amazing that you're exposting your children to so many different traditions. One of the things I want to do when we start HSing next year is to further explore those traditions.

    So glad I found your blog through CarNatPar!

  3. I'm so glad you posted this list! I am an atheist and Hubby is agnostic. This year we've been reading books about various religious and cultural Winter holiday traditions. I'd like to incorporate more on the celebratory side next year.

  4. I love your traditions. Thanks for introducing me to some new ones. I feel inspired to write a pre-Solstice post on what we are planning to do for the 21st too. Thanks!

  5. Wow, what a lot of days and traditions! I'd be overwhelmed, but that's because I tend towards perfectionism and wouldn't be as good as you about being flexible and not stressing!!

    I really really love this idea -- "We would tip the delivery person with not only a huge tip, but a gift card to show how we really understand it is never fun to work on Christmas." One year my cousins in Chicago dry-ice-packed a Chicago deep-dish pizza and sent it to be delivered in Christmas morning. We were all thrilled, but I remember even then as a kid feeling bad for the post officer, and wondering what his family was doing without him!

  6. wow... so much going on! I must admit that I like your Atheist children get presents day idea. We are Christian and practice, but since Jesus wasn't actually born in December, nor did the shepherds and wise men actually decend on an infant, the whole idea behind Christmas to me is really just one of symbolism. I always see it like the Queen's real birthday versus her public birthday - the one is symbolic of the other. But I like that you'r honest enough to not celebrate something you don't believe and wish more people did too, as it would make the true meaning less watered down for those of us who DO celebrate it. Lovely post. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I totally agree with you that holidays are a great opportunity for learning because it allows our kiddos the chance to actually learn why things are done. I also love the Polar Express and we watch it leading up to Christmas Day.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. I like the way that you celebrate Bodhi Day! In my sangha it is observed by an all-night vigil of sitting meditation on the Friday night before 12/8 — not really an event that my 2-yo can participate in. Nor I these days, for that matter. And so I've wondered how we as a family could observe it — thanks for the good idea!

  9. The best part of your comments is knowing that our way of celebrating is not offending those of you that really practice each religion! That is the message I really want to give my kids, to honor and respect the beliefs of everyone!

  10. I love this mix of traditions you've found to celebrate. It sounds like you're being very respectful with them all and finding the heart of them. I love the look of that Hanukkah set. That would be a great way to introduce kids to the tradition.

    I also think your idea of giving away things so St. Nick can use them to give as gifts is brilliant. What a fun, story-telling way for kids to learn to pass things along. I need ideas like that here, because that's definitely a value we want to encourage as our kids grow. (For one thing, our place simply isn't big enough for all the stuff just our one kid so far gets from relatives!)

    Thanks for sharing all your ideas!