I grew up a Catholic schoolgirl in suburban California and my Christmas experience was deeply tied to the religious aspects of the holiday. I never questioned the ridiculousness of the Christian Christmas story as a child. I regret being such a late bloomer, and that is probably all the more reason I especially enjoy the "out of the mouths of babes" aspect of children expressing their observations on some of the accepted but, lets face it, weird holiday stories.
While not religious as an adult, raising my boys without god at Christmas was not a conscious decision, more a consequence of happy happenstance as in England, where they spent their earliest years, the piety of Christmas is found in eating Yule logs and Christmas pudding, watching The Snowman and Only Fools and Horses Christmas specials, pulling crackers, watching out for red foxes in the garden and snow. In addition, the lovely-jubbly bonus of the purely secular Boxing Day was something I never got to enjoy growing up. (Someone please write that legislation to make it a national holiday here!)
Because my husband and I ran a busy wholesale bakery in London, the smell of Christmas cake, mince pies and stollen ushered in the season early. Baking hundreds a day, we wore the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg, apples and marzipan from mid-November until sometime after New Years. From school, West Acton Primary, my boys came home covered in glitter just as I did as a child. But instead of the nativity scenes and angels of my childhood artwork, their efforts were of red robins and jolly santas.
Jolly, but suspiciously despotic, so observed by my five year old, Max, one particular Christmas. Excited with not only his drawing, but with his careful penmanship that he had been working hard to perfect, Max came home anxious to share his Christmas card to the family - not a masterpiece, but had a certain profundity. On thick cardstock paper, Max had drawn the jolly fat man in a golden sleigh, flying high across the night sky filled with glittery stars. Below, elves appeared to be wrapping gifts and assembling toys. At the top, in the charming script of a five year old, the piece had been entitled, "Santa and His Slaves".
We moved from London, England to Rosamond, California when the boys were 10 and 7. Their snowy English Christmases were hard to replicate in the California desert, but we did our best to keep the traditions and still do, even now as they're grown men making their own way in the world. I've no doubt they'll also create their own new traditions, cherished and ridiculous, and I look forward to it. I love this time of year, and so do my boys, and, aside from my oldest occasionally having irreverent fun, irritating the odd Christian with his comment, "Jesus was a little black girl", we are happy at this most jubbly of seasons without any need for religious reference whatsoever.