Thursday, December 15, 2011


As a secular family, we celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday. For me Christmas is a time when we really focus on spending quality time with family and friends, letting them know how much they mean to us and how grateful we are for all that we have in our lives. It also means reaching out to those that are less fortunate and giving to them as well, making the bleak days of winter a little brighter. It is also a time to celebrate the innocence of childhood, the magic and joy of a season that would otherwise be filled with cold dreary days and longer (and even colder) nights. It is a time to carry on traditions as well as make new ones, ones that will be carried on through the years and bring back fond memories.

I do not dismiss that Christmas is an important religious holiday to Christians. And to that end, I do explain that to my children and teach them about it. I want them to be exposed to all different religions, particularly Christianity since it is so prominent in our society. I want to be respectful of other beliefs and teach my kids to do the same. But I personally don't feel that celebrating Christmas in a secular fashion is disrespectful and if anyone disagrees with me, then I'm sorry but they are not being very respectful of my beliefs in return for the same courtesy.

But that was not the point of this post. The point was that the Advent calendar has done a remarkable job of keeping me accountable and as a family, we were able to do quite a few acts of service over the last few weeks and I hope that I taught my kids that the best part of Christmas is not the gifts Santa leaves for them but the ones that they can give to others, both those we know and also and maybe even more importantly, those we don't.

Last week we focused on those we don't know. We donated blankets and towels to the animal shelter to keep the dogs and cats warm during the winter, we picked out toys and dropped them off at the toy drive at the fire station, we left canned food out for the mail carrier to distribute to those in need and purchased more non-perishables to drop off at TLC's Stuff the Bus for local families who might not otherwise get to have a a nice dinner this holiday. Lastly, we treated ourselves to Starbucks and just because, we paid for the order of the person behind us.

This week we focused on those we do know. The kids helped me stuff, seal and affix labels for holiday cards, made crafty gifts and cards for their teachers, bus drivers and grandparents, helped put together "snowman soup" kits for all their classmates and picked out gifts for good friends. They also helped wrap gifts for family members and each picked out a Christmas/birthday gift for the dog. Next week we will finish things off with a day of baking, taking plates of goodies to some of the neighbors.

I am not writing about all this to give myself a pat on the back or brag about all the great things I did with my kids the last few weeks. In fact I am rather embarrassed. Because although I have thought about donating and volunteering and instilling that in the kids many times, it is quite rare for me to make a concerted effort to make it a regular part of our lives. Why should it only happen around the holidays?

I don't want to dismiss the things I have done because I do volunteer quite a bit of my time for the organizations my children are involved in - school, sports, ballet. And we do frequently donate items, money and when we can, time to the local animal shelter. But that is not good enough for me. Not anymore.

Because I think the greatest gift I have gotten this Christmas is a deeper understanding of the values that I want to teach my children, of the person I want to be. And while to some's disappointment that may include a further cemented decision to remain a secular family, I don't think anyone can be disappointed with my decision that I want to give more and teach my kids to do the same, not only at Christmas but all year long.

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