How you celebrate or not? (Open Thread)

Holidays have a tendency to breed more Holidays.

Shepherds don’t sleep in the fields with their flocks in December. That means that what little information the Gospels do give on Jesus’s birthday says that it wasn’t this time of year. So why is Christmas nowish? Probably mostly because of Saturnalia, which could go on for days but was generally centered around the solstice. Celebrations of Mithras and the placement of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (The day of the birth of the Sun unconquered / The unconquered Sun’s Birthday) probably didn’t hurt either.

When Christians came to power they understood that they might be able to convince or coerce people into changing their religion, but they couldn’t take away their days of celebration. And since no one knew when Jesus’ birthday was anyway, they put it on December 25 thus giving new converts an excuse to keep their old celebratory days.

Why are Kwanzaa and Festivus celebrated at this time of year? Why do people mark the birthday of the famed alchemist and bible code fanatic Issac Newton on December 25th when by the current calendar it is January 4th? Why did Hanukkah become a much bigger holiday than its religious significance as a holy day historically merited? The answer to all these questions is Christmas.

Celebrations breed celebrations. Holidays breed Holidays. One could probably write an article (or a book) on this phenomenon as it relates to this time of year, but this is an open thread.

And the topic is simple: What do you do around nowish? Do you celebrate, do yo not? If you do celebrate what and how?

20 thoughts on “How you celebrate or not? (Open Thread)

  1. chris the cynic December 24, 2012 at 9:35 am

    For myself, I’ll probably be dragging the artificial tree out of the basement sometime between now and midnight, spreading out its branches so it looks like a tree, sorting out which strings of bulbs still work, putting working ones on the tree, and then adding ornaments. I also bought my mother a present (won it at a silent auction) so I should probably see about wrapping that.

    That’ll be the extent of my celebrations.

  2. froborr December 24, 2012 at 9:59 am

    For once there are no Christian friends or relatives of Viga doing anything we’re invited to, so we’re doing something at home. We couldn’t agree on a ham (she says pineapple is essential, I find it vile) so I’m making lamb. It rhymes.

    Our plan is to go see a matinee of Les Mis, then eat lamb, open presents, and watch the new Doctor Who Christmas Special. Replace the lamb and presents with Chinese food and you have the traditional Jewish Christmas my family used to do.

  3. anamardoll December 24, 2012 at 10:09 am

    We don’t put up a tree or any decorations at our house, because we have cats inside and outside is cold and potentially slippery and we are concerned about ladders.

    We do visit my parents’ house, where we always do Christmas early so that everyone can spend Christmas-proper with their other in-laws or whatever. This inevitably leads to me being confused as to why people are still talking about Christmas when we had it on the 15th already. 😛

    For three years in a row now, Husband has gone up to visit his children (now adults) for Christmas-proper and my parents have been out of town, meaning that it’s just been me and the cats. We have our own traditions: I wish to celebrate Yule by ceremonial food and drink and a reading of the Tarot for the coming new year, and they want to chew on the edges of the Tarot cards and/or lay right in the middle of my reading. Because attention.

    So this year I think I’ll bake myself a mini-chicken pot pie from scratch, eat it with some Welsh’s sparkling grape juice, and play Final Fantasy 7. Because traditions are important to me and that’s how the ancient pagans drove away the winter darkness, dammit. 🙂

  4. Firedrake December 24, 2012 at 10:29 am

    We tend to gather some (berry-free) holly branches and wind them through the banister posts on the stairs, with lights and such. Because it isn’t killing a whole tree, and fallen holly leaves are easier to clear up than fallen pine needles. This has been a tradition since, oh, two or three years ago.

  5. Brin December 24, 2012 at 10:40 am

    The traditional Chinese-buffet Christmas dinner is at about 1:30 PM today. It’s always Christmas Eve, but the buffet is question is merely somewhat expensive for holiday lunch and very expensive for holiday dinner. (We never go to the buffet at dinnertime anymore, even when it’s not a holiday. Better to have a big cheaper lunch and leave it to the individual whether to have even a tiny dinner.)

    Mom and I also go Boxing Day mall shopping, which is making me a bit nervous because while I personally feel I’ve fulfilled my sickness quota for a long time, the fates may not agree. I plan to use the traditional sanitary method of touching shiny-but-germy things only with my non-dominant hand and eating and touching my face only with the dominant. (I don’t think it would really help to not go at all; I wouldn’t be able to convince Mom, and if she gets sick it’s not feasible to quarantine her (or anyone else in the household).)

  6. Lonespark December 24, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Cranky Heathen in Christian/Agnostic Household returns!
    There was a Yule celebration I could have gone to, but the whole weekend was just so f***ing busy and everyone else was sick. And yet, my mom goes to all her church stuff, regardless of these things.The harder/more complicating part is that I did take the kids to church…and these UUs are waaaaaay more Christian-y than I am used to. I would mind that much if they were also Solstice-y, but they aren’t. It’s a small church, old-fashioned, and very much a thing where if you want something to happen you have to build it from scratch. Maybe I should. It could be awesome. But it takes so much effort.

  7. Timothy (TRiG) December 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    My Christmas tradition for the past three years is to hole up alone in my parents house with their cat and BBC Radio 4. Should be heading up there shortly, actually. They’ve gone off to England earlier this evening, but they said the left a meal behind for me.


  8. Timothy (TRiG) December 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Actually, I’ll repost here something I wrote for h2g2: First Christmas, Last Christmas, Best Christmas, Worst Christmas…:

    I was brought up Jehovah’s Witness, so I never did Chrismas as a child. And, contrary to many people’s expectations, I never missed it either.

    I remember enjoying the Christmas lights in town, and insisting that my dad drove through the town centre, not the side roads, so we’d get to see them. For Christmas itself, though, we went to England. My parents are English, and every year we went back to visit the grandparents in Bedford and in Chatham. We got a quiet ferry, because most people make the opposite trip: there’s a lot more people going home to Ireland from England for Christmas than there are making the reverse trip. Christmas Day itself was usually with my dad’s parents, in Bedford. Getting up fairly early, and walking down the icy streets to the park to feed the ducks and to play on the rather good children’s playground (why are British kids’ playgrounds so much better than Irish ones?), with the sound of church bells echoing over the streets. And then we might visit my dad’s sister, or some of their other friends in Bedford, and usually have a large meal, often turkey.

    We didn’t do Christmas, except that we did: no decorations; no tree; but it was a good time of year to visit family, and we kids would get small presents sometimes, of the type you get when you visit your grandparents once or twice a year, and why not have a big meal? And turkeys are in the shops that time of year anyway.

    Actually, we’d often have turkey with my maternal grandparents in Chatham too.

    The childhood Christmasses tend to meld in my mind, but that’s true of many of my childhood memories. I have some very clear memories of specific incidents in my childhood, but often no clear recollection of how old I was at the time.


    Despite spending the vast majority of my childhood Christmasses in the UK, I always called the day after “St Stephen’s Day”, not “Boxing Day”. I might have English parents, and a mainly English accent, but I am still Irish!


    I’m an atheist now, but I still don’t do Christmas, largely because I have no one to do it with. I did keep up the tradition of visiting England over Christmas for longer than anyone else in the family did, and I added in my relatives in Brighton, who do celebrate Christmas. I was never there for Christmas Day itself, but I did get to pull a few crackers. I like my Brighton relatives, and don’t see them often enough. I have only one grandparent left now: my mother’s mother, and she’s not talking to me, because I’ve left the Witnesses.


    The last three Christmases, in fact, I’ve spent alone. And that’s okay. Last year, I was looking after my parents’ house because they were in Beijing. They year before, I was looking after my parents’ house because they were camel-trekking in Morocco. And the year before that I was looking after their house because they were … I forget. I think in England. They’ll be in England again this year, for Christmas itself, and then are flying out to visit a friend in Mombassa for a couple of weeks.

    So I can curl up in their house, turn on the satellite radio, and catch up on BBC Radio 4. And go for long walks in the woods. And not turn on a computer (or, sometimes, phone) for two days.

    Best Christmas? Worst Christmas? Meh. I don’t keep score. I don’t do Christmas.


  9. That Other Jean December 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    We celebrated Not the End of the World/Winter Solstice on the 21st by toasting each other at midnight, and will go to Christmas dinner at a friend-who-collects-stray-people’s house. We don’t celebrate the overtly Christian aspects of the season, although we really enjoyed the carollers who came through our neighborhood last night.

    The outside lights have been up and the tree lit (a pre-lit fake tree, with no ornaments at the moment, because we didn’t have the spoons to find them and decorate it) every night since December 1, mostly to encourage both of us, who have been sick all month. We’ve been too sick to buy or make gifts so far, so we’re going to be giving New Year’s presents this year. I hope people like peppermint bark, sugared pecans, and gingerbread.

    Happy side note: it’s snowing! We may have a white Christmas yet! We do get snow in winter, but rarely for Christmas.

  10. storiteller December 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    This year, we’re celebrating Christmas on December 29. Sure, the rest of the world says it’s tomorrow, but for us – December 29. As Chris points out, that’s certainly not when Jesus was actually born, so the date doesn’t matter so much. This is because for the last three years, my husband has had to work on both Christmas Eve and Christmas. We’re able to celebrate it at all in a non-rushed way because for the first time in said three years, he actually has New Years Eve and New Years day off. He works in a restaurant and people like going out for the holidays. So if you happen to go out to dinner for Christmas, give a thought to the cooks and waitstaff – they’ll appreciate it. The reason we have December 29 is because that when we’ll be going home, and for my husband, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without extended family around.

    As for tomorrow, I’m going to make lasagna and we might go over to a friend’s house. We’ll also be watching the Doctor Who Christmas special.

  11. Timothy (TRiG) December 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    This is me posting a fixed version of the broken link above: First Christmas, Last Christmas, Best Christmas, Worst Christmas…. (My contribution is in Post 20, but it’s also posted above.)


  12. Firedrake December 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Something I’m very happy to see here is people being happy to be alone at Christmas. When I was in a job that allowed it, I generally volunteered to work over Christmas and take the time off at some other point – there was nobody I particularly wanted to spend time with, and I couldn’t do anything else because shops and such would be closed. This was often met with complete incomprehension by co-workers – surely I must be terribly lonely! Well, no, actually.

  13. froborr December 24, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    @Ana: That sounds reasonable. Certainly I can’t imagine the ancients (or anyone else) playing FF7 for fun, so it must have had some ritual purpose. =P

  14. anamardoll December 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    @ froborr, that sounds suspiciously like heresy. 😛

    I haven’t played it in years. I have to say that the graphics have not aged well. Sigh.

  15. cjmr December 24, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    At least in part because I’m a mom with kids, I’m having the most ‘traditional’ Christmas of anyone here (I’m guessing).

    Eldest and I are singing in the choir for Midnight Mass (which will end, not start, at midnight). Then it’s home to be Santa Claus and fall in bed for a few hours of sleep before kids wake us up. Presents, breakfast, and Christmas Mass in the morning. Hopefully children playing with toys/watching their new DVDs and letting parents rest/nap in the afternoon.

    After lots of mental debate about what to make for dinner, it is going to be pork roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, and glazed carrots. For the past 8 years (when we started staying home for Christmas, instead of traveling to the grandparents) we’ve had take-out Chinese for Christmas, but since I’m now gluten-free full time, that’s right out. Which means I’m *cooking* Christmas dinner–something I’ve maybe done once or twice in the last 22 years.

  16. Raj Bhosley December 24, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Hey Brin! Belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (It was in late November, yes? BTW, mine was November 3.)

  17. Brin December 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    (It was in late November, yes? BTW, mine was November 3.*)

    And thanks.

    *I know there are URLs for individual comments here, but I can’t find any way of finding them once they drop off the Recent Comments (congrats on comment #1337, by the way). (The one I wanted to link to is the second to last.)

  18. Brin December 24, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    (And it’s not as clear as I thought it would be that the two sentences link to different things.)

  19. storiteller December 26, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Eldest and I are singing in the choir for Midnight Mass (which will end, not start, at midnight).

    I wish the one we had gone to had ended at midnight instead of starting then. We kept falling asleep, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the chorus kept singing songs in Latin. The little girl next to us did much better at being energetic than we were, unfortunately.

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