On the Bright Side
December 23, 2023
When I was a kid, I thought everyone celebrated Christmas the way my family did: we each opened one present from out of the immediate family on Christmas Eve, saving everything else for Christmas morning. Christmas morning (usually very early, much to my parents' chagrin) we discovered what Santa had brought, then we all got to check out the goodies in our stockings. Breakfast was next, and then we sat in a circle opening presents, one person/one present at a time.
Especially as a child, it was a joyous, happy time for me. For variety we spent lots of time, too, with grandparents, and aunts and uncles and cousins. There were lots of school events and concerts. We often spent Christmas Eve at church, and of course Santa always made a most welcome appearance on Christmas morning no matter where we were.
Funny thing, though – I don't really remember the presents I got through the years, although neither do I remember wanting for anything, but I really do remember and treasure the faces and places and smiles and memories of holidays past.
I was in third grade when I learned that not everyone celebrated the Christmas holiday. We'd moved to a new house in Omaha, and I'd joined the Brownie Scouts. Our troop leader was Mrs. Mayer, the mother of my classmate Carolyn. They were Jewish, and they celebrated something called Hanukkah. My own mother was very interested in learning all about the Jewish faith from the Mayers, who were very open to sharing, and consequently I learned a lot too. I don't remember all the particulars of Jewish traditions or Hanukkah that I learned that year, but I do remember learning and appreciating that there were different things and ways to celebrate during the winter holidays.
As the years went by, I learned that there were even more holidays during December than just Christmas and Hanukkah – Bodhi Day, Kwanza, Solstice, Yule, Boxing Day, to name a few – and I also learned the valuable lesson that not all Christians celebrate Christmas the same way, and not all Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah the same way. Many families have their own traditions that may or may not go along with the traditions of other families; other countries have their own stories and histories and practices. Most religions have a variety of subsets that have their own rules, standards and customs.
On a personal note, more and more years went by, and my own family traditions changed; some family members got married and started to spend more time with their new family; people died or left for other reasons, leaving holes where their part of the celebrations used to be. New people entered the picture, and with them new traditions were started, sometimes for fun, sometimes out of necessity.
So it goes. I love my old family traditions as I remember them, and I love the new ones my family came up with. Now, with no blood family close by, I don't celebrate the holidays nearly as much as I used to, but all the same, I do cherish the way my chosen family of friends honor the many holidays during the season, and I especially love when we can do so together.
Through the years I feel blessed that I've been invited to a variety of different celebrations and I'm still learning even more about the various winter holidays. I believe that learning about other people's customs and traditions opens my own mind and heart and makes me a better person, which seems to me to suit the spirit of the season quite beautifully.
Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate, however you celebrate, and Merry Everything to everyone regardless of how or what, or if, you celebrate.
May this season, however you think of it, bring you joy and peace.
And may that joy and peace stay with you through the New Year.
© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel, local writer/photographer and author of On the Bright Side, a Collection of Columns (available locally at Tehachapi Arts Center and Healthy Hippie Trading Co), welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.