There’s a squirrel on the top of my tree. No angels, no stars, no cribs, none of that business. There are some sheep, but they’re not ones watched over by shepherds until glory shone around and some bloke was like “Fear not!” for mighty dread had seized their troubled minds. They’re just sheep. There’s also some pigs and some dinosaurs and some robots. A buttons.
It is not, I’m basically saying, a religious tree. I don’t have anything against religious trees, of course – all trees are entitled to their opinion, but ours is not of their number. It is a tree that pretty comprehensively avoids religion, apart from the unavoidable fact of being, of course, a Christmas tree. Nothing I can do about that. In my childhood, all trees were religious. And that, my friends, is the point of this post.
In my head, everyone’s Christmases were a calm and comfortable family affair, typified by a morning of mimosas and croissants, a long, leisurely present opening, a stroll, a lunch, some parlour games…
Growing up, our Christmas days were busy. My father was a methodist minister, my mother a minister’s wife, and a lay preacher in her own right: Christmas was a work day. Work all the time. Three services in the day? Four? There was no day around Christmas, in fact, that wasn’t about work. From carol services, to soup kitchen duty, from people who were lonely popping to our house as a safe place, to more services, to midnight masses, and home visits and… Christmas, to me, is not a thing. It’s not a family thing. (And that’s not to say I don’t have a family I love a lot, or that my mother didn’t try to make our family important in this busy time – but it’s just a fact. For some people, Christmas is work. That’s what it is).
Traditionally, frankly, familialy speaking, boxing day is more of a thing. Boxing day is the greatest of all days. Not only do you get to construct a sandwich out of leftovers and snack foods and peanuts and added marmite and anything you can find (and it’s totally allowed because it’s still Christmas, so open season on calorie consumption). Boxing Day is the day when you stop working to a schedule, stop making smalltalk, dealing with other people’s problems, being religious, working from a script: Boxing day is traditionally my Christmas, as far as other people’s Christmas seemed to work.
My thing, as a grown up, since realising I didn’t believe in the same thing my parents did, has been trying to stretch boxing day backward – make the whole thing relaxed, calm, happy and not even remotely religious. For me, those perfect relaxed christmases are things that happen in other families. Our family had a lot of brilliant times… but they weren’t around religious holidays, because work. And for many years inbetween, I have had basic non-Christmasses. Any year I could get away with no presents at all, given or received, was a good year for me.
But now: a child. A toddler who is excited about the lights and the idea of parties and celebrations and unrestricted joy. So now I have to figure out what a perfect Christmas looks like with all the religion removed. No stars, no angels, no santa claus, no church, no carols … well, no baby Jesus. At some point I’m going to have to explain this to my son, but until he understands the concept of made-up things (like santa, or fairies, or God) it’s just hard.
Basically: I’m 36, and still trying to work out what a non-religious Christmas should be like. I look at everyone’s families, I read all these posts on Uborka, and everyone seems to have it figured out better than I do. We have a basic menu worked out (“All of everyone’s favourite foods! All at once!”), presents that we will work out, eventually, for the kid at least, if no one else. And plans to spend every minute from wake-up to lunchtime (the joy, and stress, of really loving your family from a distance) on skype.
And, through it all, there will be no mention of religion. Bar one – I can’t stop myself from singing ‘While Angels Watched Their Flocks By Night’ to its original tune: the tune of ‘Ilkley Moor Bar T’Hat”. None of it makes any sense to doozer: none of it makes any sense to anyone. But to me, it almost makes sense. Almost. And that will have to be enough right now.
So really, I’m saying: our Christmas is open. I would be overjoyed to adopt ridiculous family traditions, given that I have few. Please: tell me your most ridiculous, I will try and work it in…,