Friday, December 11

magic, (mostly) without Xmas

So, we don't do Xmas around here. We're not Christian, I don't go for the commercialism, mounds of presents, Santa, general craziness around the shops/stores, Advent thingies, or anything really. For me, gifts are for birthdays or spontaneous giving. I'm not even sure what's been celebrated by non-Christians. And I really dislike the pressure many feel to do something, despite it not being their holiday.
When I reveal all this to people, they say 'ooh, humbug', which is very annoying. I'm not anti-Xmas, I'm respectful of everyone's traditions and beliefs, and I don't not celebrate it out of spite or humbugness. It just has no connection for me, and what I do has to have meaning.
People can be really weird about such things, as if what I did or believed had anything to do with what they did or believed.

However, I do recognise the magic that springs up at this time of year from the collective minds of those who do celebrate, Christian or secular. The Xmas spirit as it's known. Also, my own honouring of the Winter Solstice is at the same time.

I've always done my own quiet thing for the Solstice, and eventually added a special meal to include the Husband. Now, with a child, I'm starting to wonder about doing more.

I'm not one for making a huge deal out of these things. However, there is only one other time of year that we celebrate - just had that in England. It's a huge family thing. But even that is religious and we're not religious. And it doesn't involve decorations or anything magical.

Anyway, my point in all this is that I'm liking the idea of having a really special, fun, big deal, celebration, once a year. In fact, perhaps twice, with the Summer Solstice being the other. Except, that at this time of year, we can tap into that collective holiday spirit flitting around in the air.

I know that there are many people in a similar situation. They're not religious but they're spiritual. They have kids and what didn't matter before matters now. They want to do something special but don't want to be dragged into someone else's beliefs or ways. They want to make it real.
I know many who mix Xmasy ideas with secular ones. Whatever works and means something.

Here is my Big List of Solstice/Yuletide/Winter Ideas*

* candles
- as this is a time about light, candles are a biggie. Making them, decorating them, finding new (and safe) ways to display them. Decorating holders and jars. Gathering them and spending a family day putting them about. Garden candles too. Perhaps also even a few artificial lights for areas needing more safety or for a permanent light.
* food
- part of every celebration right? But it should never become a chore or a stressful activity. I'm a believer that the cook's emotions go into the food, and I can't believe how stressed people get around Thanksgiving or Xmas, and how much they over-cook!
My emphasis is going to be on special but simple/stress-free. That is, we don't need 20 different dishes. We just want good food and 1 or 2 things we wouldn't normally have. Perhaps a special main course and a special dessert? I like the idea of a special cake, or such, that we would make each year, becoming traditional.
* Preparing the home
- unlike most ideas of 'the house has to be spotless because we're having guests', I want it to be a ritual. Where together, as a family, we clean the cobwebs away, making way for the new cycle. If something doesn't get cleaned, it doesn't, no problem.
- clearing out a specific thing; toys, books, boxes of stuff, etc
- collecting things for recycling and charity
* Making things
- not everyone is creative with bits of felt or yarn or paper, but there are kits and such where you simply put things together or paint by number, and so on. But EVERY child can stick and glue and cut and spread glitter.
- make decorations, cards, gifts. It's all about re-using, being creative, and spending time together.
* Gifts
- one small gift for each family member (or names out of a hat for large families). We live in abundance, we don't need more stuff. But giving gifts to our loved ones gives us a wonderful feeling, no less for children. If the emphasis is on small, then the focus remains on the joy of giving.
- one gift for a homeless/poor/disadvantaged child (whether local or in another country). I want to instill this idea of giving, instead of more and more receiving.
- gift of time. Volunteer work. Soup kitchen, or see if an elderly neighbour needs some work around the house. If you can't find any or it's impractical, bake cookies, make mini bundles, and visit all your neighbours, especially new ones or from several streets away!
* Special moments
- a picnic, or story-telling, in the middle of the living room surrounded only by candle light.
- a ritual of letting go of the old and opening up for the new. (like writing down past hurts and disappointments on slips of paper and burning them. Perhaps have a special vessel for this, or make a bonfire!)
- tell/read stories about the Solstice, or Winter season.
- a 'ritual' bath with essential oils of the season (make your own soap with the oils!) A way for each family member to prepare themselves in a special way for the main dinner.
- sing! Many holiday songs are secular.
* Nature activities
This could be an endless list really, I ought to create a post for this alone. Some ideas...
- make a crafty snowman or snowflake or Winter game
- Winter collage mixing natural items with paper and paints, etc
- learn about Winter animals
- okay, just go google 'winter activities' I guess. I'll add more here if I find something solstice specific.
- every day from the 1st Dec, go on walks and bring one item home to add to a solstice table.

It's not all what I would necessarily do myself, but it's there for other readers, and for me to refer back to for inspiration. Please let me know of your own ideas.

I have to leave you with books, glorious books, right?


The Winter Solstice Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Animals in Winter, Amazon USA
Amazon UK

The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice, Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations Around the World Amazon USA
Amazon UK

The Night of Las Posadas Amazon USA
Amazon UK

A Solstice Tree for Jenny Amazon USA
Amazon UK

The Friendly Beasts Amazon USA
Amazon UK

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Lucia and the Light Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Owl Moon Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Winter Tree Finder (Nature Study Guides) Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Grandmother Winter Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth Amazon USA
Amazon UK

The Mitten Amazon USA

[I do get a few cents/pence if you purchase from my links. A little less to Amazon. ;)]

And for those of you who do celebrate Christamas, I wish for you an amazing, magical, and stree-free build up too.

* it will be a big list eventually.

p.s, new video on my sidebar.


  1. I have been battling with this one.. boy oh boy.. this is especially true to the little ones entrance. I waited for some *signs* prior to acting then received a handmade ornament which gently nudged me.

    Interestingly, I purchased a small 'real' table top tree and decorated it with bows with handwritten inscriptions of wishes for close family members and friends who are struggling with issues in their own lives.

    In Gratitude~

  2. 4 years ago I celebrated the Winter Solstice for the first time. I decorated the fireplace and bought 3 presents, 1 for warmth, 1 for love, 1 for family. All this was for my boyfriend, who was a practising druid. I made a form of Solstice cake, (never did get that recipe quite right!) and cooked his favourite meal, amongst other things.

    I'm Christian, love Christmas as the birth of my Saviour remembered, and Rich helped me celebrate it in the same way I helped him.

    This year, he's not here. In July he was killed in a bike accident. Originally I had planned to scatter his ashes on the Solstice, ready for the rebirth, but his brother took them, and scattered them without telling me. It was a tricky time.

    This year, I don't know what to do. But I think I'll know at the right time.

    You will too.


  3. I absolutely LOVE this post! My husband and I are not into Christmas...we also are not religious and feel no need to shower people with expensive gifts out of a feeling of obligation to the time of year. Now that we have a child, I feel that we should be 'marking' this time of year because it is a special magical time. We have played around with celebrating the solstice, but I was on the lookout for some specific ideas for celebrating as a family. WONDERFUL post!

  4. When I first started reading your post, I admit it, I was scowling. Not celebrate Christmas? For me, this is a magical time of year. For me, it's not commercial (although we DO buy each other presents) - it's a time for extra family time, giving, sharing, enjoying. But then you spoke of creating your own celebration - and not only did I soften I got excited, reading your list and I wanted to celebrate with you. So, I suppose it's all about celebrating with me - not celebrating Christmas, per se. And the fact that people are out there celebrating - whatever the holiday - sharing love, creating kindness, giving hearts -- is good enough for me.

  5. This is so wonderful and inspiring. Though we are BIG on Christmas, both the religious but less and less the commercial side, your decision to celebrate something and join in the merry, merry (in your own special way) is heartwarming. The Christmas or Holiday spirit is my favourite part of the season and it's nice to hear you recognize it and have chosen to join in...wherever your spirit comes from. BTW, thanks for the book list. We just celebrated Lucia here so Lucia and the light would have been a great addition and one I will pick up next year. Merry Special Time of Year to you and yours!

  6. Thanks so much for the book list. Looks like so many good ones to choose from. I think it's wonderful that you want to celebrate the spirit of love and life during this time of year. It can really be a renewing time of year if we don't get caught up in all the secular pressure to buy, buy, and buy. I'm going to use some of your ideas to make my holidays more authentic and inspiring. Thanks Mon :)

  7. Great book list thank you. And your celebration ideas sound wonderful. I am BIG into Xmas, although we are not Christian. But I do kind of fall into the 'wisdom tradition' philosophy that there have been great spiritual teachers that have come along through the ages in all the different cultures and that Jesus was one of them, so we have a nativity scene and all that, and do talk about his life, etc., just nothing to do with organized religion and the like. And I throw myself into the Xmas tree, and cookies, and lights, and all of that...kind of hedge a bit on Santa, but go along with it...I do personally feel the 'magic' at this time of year is 'real' in the sense of not just being created by the human hype - that there is a special energy available at winter solstice time, so for me, joining in the Xmas stuff is just part of that...will 'tweek' the message as the kids get older...Enjoy!

  8. My family celebrates Christmas, but this year I've decided to add the Winter Solstice to my personal celebrations (well, not all that *personal*, as I'm dragging my family and perhaps a friend into this as well... *Grins*), so I've been thinking about how to celebrate it and looking for inspiration. This post was great for that!! Like you, I consider myself to be spiritual, not religious, so although I love Christmas, love it's rituals and music and joy, I don't feel a connection to WHAT Christmas is celebrating. The Winter Solstice, however, I can totally get behind. Anyway, thanks for the inspiration! :-)

  9. Carla - it's isn't it interesting how having children makes us shift things around.

    s'me - love the three-present idea and what they stand for, lovely. It must be a difficult to thing, to have a celebration that is not initially yours and then lose the person you had it for/with. D we continue to honour it?

    Lyndsey - I look forward to hearing what you end up doing. Do post about it if you're inclined.

    Joy - I imagine I'll lose some readers, just because of these words and they have only your first reaction. lol Thanks for sticking it through. :)

    Jenn - Can't wait to hear how your family Xmas goes, what with the travelling and newness of the little guy too.

    Septembermom - Glad you liked the book list and some ideas. :)

    Lisa - It sounds lovely at yours! I wonder how Xmas being BIG at your home, but in your own personal version, will work as the kids get older? You know, and influenced by their peers, media, etc.

  10. We are quiet solstice celebrators here also - it's the day DH & I got together, so it's especially magical. We go to only one family event for Xmas, and it's not overtly religious...but it always reminds me of the dar williams song about the christians and the pagans!

    Thanks for the book list - adding them to Z's wish list..knowing that they will be passed over by the relatives!

  11. I love the Spirit feeling you are talking about. And I totally know what you mean about celebrating something that has meaning for you. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to focus more on the birth of Christ during Christmas, and doing kind acts of service to others. Giving always felt better than receiving. The over-abundance of presents and the focus on Santa (or anything else that took the focus off of Jesus) has always bothered me. But now I am feeling torn. Santa Claus is EVERYWHERE. I am struggling because I know how fun it is to believe in Santa.

    I'm giving Michael gifts that I would have given him anyway. I love the lights, the music, the food, the festivities--I've always loved to celebrate things. I want to learn more about Winter Solstice, too.

  12. Mon, this is great! Strangely, it was after my son was born that the lack of depth and meaning of this season - for me - seemed to hit me in the gut, and I couldn't get into the swing of it. I would ask myself, "Why do we decorate a tree? What is the whole thing with Santa coercing kids to be good? What is the point of giving gifts at this particular time of year?" and so on. It wasn't Scroogey; it was just deep questioning. Plus, I live in San Diego, so the fact that we don't get any semblance of winter weather doesn't help much.

    I do agree that there is an element of something magical about all the lights and the great food and gathering of friends and family. I just haven't yet hit on exactly what the meaning of it all is, or how I want to convey that to Lucas. The celebration of light comes closest.

    In the post that I will publish on Monday on my blog, I've included an interesting video clip that addresses a different, though still magical, way of viewing "Santa." I'd be interested to know what you think of it.

    Anyway, thanks for all your suggestions for rituals to mark the specialness of this time, regardless of our reasons for making it special. They're lovely. Great food, fun, glittery crafts, and baking special cookies are all some of my fondest memories of childhood Christmases.

    And S'me, I'm so sorry for your loss. I don't know you, but I'm sending you love, nonetheless.

  13. Oh, and PS,
    I do realize that the most popular meaning of the season is the birth of Jesus, and though I am not a Christian, I have a similar spiritual perspective as Lisa described above. While I honor Jesus as an awakened master, and have much to learn from his life and teachings, I don't agree with how Christianity hijacked the pagan rituals and celebrations. Who really knows when Jesus' birthday was, anyway. It's making sense of how the celebration of light in the midst of darkness, Jesus' supposed birthday, and the magic of Santa Clause all come together in one cohesive, understandable "seasonal story" that I just have issue with.

  14. I love Christmas as a celebration of love and family. We tried celebrating the Summer Solstice (we're in the south of course) but a family tragedy made that unfeasible. We listen to Christmas Carols and think about the spirituality of the time because the Christian story echoes so neatly the ancient pagan beliefs we grew up with. But now I have my child I tend to tell stories that are more focussed on the southern hemisphere seasons.

    I have Jehovah Witness friends who don't celebrate Christmas and their children are quite happy and indulged.

  15. Since my children, I've definitely been questioning the meaning of so many things, including the winter holidays. We are bringing more and more celebration of winter itself/solstice in to our holidays. We spend every other Christmas with my parents and siblings, so the kids get Christmas then, but when we're on own, we do a much more low-key day.

    For Thanksgiving this year we did a "gratitude tree," which was a lovely way to bring some ritual to our day. Otherwise, we did nothing of the "traditional" sort. On Thanksgiving day, we walked in the woods and found branches. After lunch, we cut out leaf shapes from watercolor paper, and then after dinner, we wrote what we felt grateful for on them and then hung them on the tree. Next year, I think we'll have the leaves out all month, and then place them on the tree on Thanksgiving day.

    I'm thinking of doing something similar for Solstice... using stars and moons, and filling them with our wishes and hopes.

    Also, each year on New Year's Day, we walk down to the lake together. We dig a small hole, and choose two rocks each. Then we gather around the hole (I bring our big candle and try to keep it lit in the wind!) and then we either say aloud or to ourselves the things we're ready to let go of and "imbue" the rock with that, and place it in. Then we do the same for the things we want to manifest in the year to come, and place the rock in. We sprinkle lake water on it and bury it all.

    I think we're slowly finding our way toward the things that are meaningful for us...

    I am excited to check out all those books. They look wonderful!

  16. Having a baby at this time of year is great, it means so far I'm easily bypassing xmas stuff, which is not unusual anyway. I have not committed to anything xmas wise so far as apart from baby, I don't know what to commit to yet as I'm trying to work out this year what is most meaningful to us. Food is a definite one however, as a lot of our life surrounds the preparation of food and it would be nice to do something extra-ordinary taste wise. It is the first time I purchased a toy for my kids with the view to them being for 'xmas'. Purely for fun but I must also be sucked into a consumerist aspect of xmas to some degree this year, even though I have been anti consumerism at such times and the Nov/Dec issue of Adbusters has always been a good reminder to that. In a way it was almost a rebellion against my anti-consumerism and a self-critique of perhaps being too humbug! lol.
    Anyway, I watched the wee vid up there. I actually thought we were becoming less consumer oriented at the moment... but it seems actually consumerism is turning into a 'green' type of consumerism. But of course, consumerism in general still strongly exists, it's all people seem to know, it's how they've always done things! The funny thing is that I have never been into buying stuff for my kids yet Cgirl (2) has obviously worked out for herself that this is the way to get things - you buy them! So she has in the last month or so seen things that she likes and asks me to "buy it". She has also requested foods and if I reply no, we don't have any but you could have this, she replies "lets go and BUY IT". SOooo funny and bizarre and she certainly has an answer for everything now she seems to think. Amazing the power of marketing, and the whole power of consumerism in general, especially if it's affecting a 2 year old like this!

  17. I just started my spiritual blog. It is basically tons of ideas and things I find that I believe focus on the wheel of the year. Since this is something I have felt for a long time but never devoted my life to my children have already been exposed to traditional Christain holidays and do not think it would be fait of me to change that on them now. I am however embarking on a more spiritual journal and your ideas for the winter solstice sound amazingly similar to ideas I have myself. If you want some kid friendly ideas, check out my blog @ Being a kindergarten teacher just kind of extended into my thoughts on how to approach the my blog and my children.
    I am also reading a book for school about winder and adding a sense of wonder back into the classroom. I am going to extend this into my family like as well and will be doing a series of post on this thought as soon as I finish reading the book and try some of it out in the classroom.

    Thanks for the insightful post.

  18. I love reading how other people celebrate... whether it is Christmas, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah or just life in general. Celebrations are a part of living and saying thank you for this wild, wonderful, beautiful life we have.

    I love Christmas and the feeling of joy and magic that accompany it. I won't analyze why I feel this way this time of year... I just want to wallow in it. :) We also celebrate Winter Solstice... and take interest in so many other celebrations that occur this time of year.

    Thanks fo rthis post. It was beautiful. xx

  19. Love your list and how you're creating your own family traditions. :)

  20. Love this post. Finding meaning and magic in the celebrations are important to me too. We have two celebrations at this time of year; St Lucia Day (yesterday, which I have just posted about, and which I think echoes a lot of what you've said here) and Christmas. With the latter, our focus is much more on the Jesus story rather the commercial aspects.

  21. great post - and thanks for the wonderful book selections; its just what i am looking as i am not a christian but enjoy celebrating family and friends.


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