Christmas is on the way; some of my Facebook friends have been reminding me of this fact since, oh, I don’t know, JUNE. It is a special time of year for my family (though I really don’t like to think about it until it’s actually close…like December…23rd..).
Twenty two years ago we immigrated to Canada, and every year for Christmas we have returned home to Germany to celebrate with our family. There are certain traditions that we follow each year too; I’m not sure if they are so much traditions as they are that my family feels the need to do the same thing over and over again. But it has become part of Christmas and it wouldn’t feel right without it.
When we arrive at my grandparents’ house, it is already mostly decorated. There is a candle pyramid in the window, Poinsettias on the window sills, and window stencils in the shapes of stars and snowmen. There is a lit-up shooting star in the dining room window, and a lit-up paper star in the living room. There is a beautiful glass ornament hanging from a glass stand. The Advent wreath is on the dining room table, with some of the candles already shrinking depending on what day we arrive.
We go buy a Christmas tree. We never chop down our own because we have always just gone to purchase one with our grandparents, and if they aren’t going to wield an axe, then neither are we! For many years we would carry the tree home, our Opa on one end, directing us where to go, and my sister and I complaining about the pokey needles at the other end.
We spend an afternoon struggling with the tangled lights, and then decorating the tree with ornaments that my Oma has saved for decades. It always seems mega stressful, but when the tree is finished it really looks and feels like Christmas. In the new year, we take the ornaments off carefully and put them back in their boxes for next time.
We visit Christmas markets. Not to buy things, but just to get that festive feel, take in the lights, sounds, smells, and walk the golden decorated city while hearing Christmas music from street performers or ringing out of speakers. There are mountain-cabin like huts set up all around the city, and we always stop at one that serves all the wonderful hot beverages of the season: hot chocolate (plain or with various shots), and mulled wine. These are served in REAL mugs; there is a deposit on them, which you get back so they can be washed and used again.
The radio stations never stop playing Wham!’s “Last Christmas”. Ever. And at home, we play Christmas records on my grandparents’ old record player to get us into the festive spirit.
Christmas Eve we get dressed up and eat a meal together.
That is what Christmas has been about for decades. Yes, it is on repeat every year, but it wouldn’t feel like Christmas without all of these things, but mostly the time we get to spend with our family; since an ocean separates us, we cherish those days.
It was never about presents. Presents were always a by-product of our Christmas traditions. But since my lifestyle has changed, so has my view on material gifts. I have tried to convince my family on a no-gift Christmas, but some members have been relatively reluctant (AHEMsiblingAHEM). I understand the feeling of giving a gift to someone, watching them open it, and living their reaction. It is a special moment, yes, but it is not exclusive to Christmas. Christmas, to me, is all those other things.
Now a lot of my family members have agreed that presents are relatively redundant, so our agreement has been to go and do something special, or to simply enjoy each other. Last year instead of gifts with my aunt and her family, we watched “Rock The Ballet”. Instead of things, my mom made us some really yummy treats. I gave some DIY gifts that were really well received, like a mint sugar scrub, and lip balm.
So instead of material gifts, make Christmas into what it should be about: being together, and creating lasting memories and traditions. Or think deeper about your gifts; make something for someone, or give them an experience gift:
- spice mixes in little jars that can be reused
- “Gifts in a Jar”; there are also endless cookie versions on Pinterest
- something knitted or sewn or crafted by you
- diy bath products, like lotion, lip balm, or scrubs
- food gifts
- any experience gifts: yoga classes, movie or theater tickets, spa certificates, or get cheesy and old school and make your own COUPONS so the person you are gifting gets to spend time doing something awesome with one of their favourite people: YOU! Or offer to clean their bathroom or something… My sister totally did that once and I LOVED IT. Acts of Service can be a gift!
Happy Winter to all, no matter what your traditions. Feel free to share some of your favourite traditions, or ways you gift or non-gift!