How to have a wonderful, magical, non-theist Christmas!

(This is reposted from an old LiveJournal post I made ages ago. I get asked for it again every year, and for some odd reason, July not-withstanding, it came up today on FaceBook. So here it is again!)
I have addressed this topic on some level nearly every December since I’ve had this journal, albeit sometimes only obliquely. It’s seemed to come up more this time around, so I thought I’d share my own idea of why I, a confirmed (some would go so far as to say ‘militant,’ though I like to think I am a bit more graceful about it than that, but I could be wrong…) non-theist, simply adore Christmas, and how and why it’s a meaningful holiday to me.
For me, it’s about celebrating family and friends, not so that we don’t have to the rest of the year, but to remind us that we should the rest of the year, because we all get busy, and we all forget. It’s about giving with a touch of merry mischief, for the same reasons. It’s about light and color and beauty and music and joy, and the fire that glows in the heart of winter. It’s as much Solstice as Christmas, but more than either. With that in mind, here’s my list of “How-to” for a merry and bright non-theist, non commercial holiday.

  • Make cookies. Lots of cookies! Give people cookies or other treats you make instead of purchased presents (set aside extras for Santa).
  • Tell stories, sing songs and recreate traditions from when you were a kid. What was your favorite Christmas show? Book?
  • Start your own family traditions. We have Santa Mouse who always puts a tiny present in the branches of the Christmas tree. And we have our little pickle ornament, and whoever can find it on the tree first (the person who trimmed the tree can’t play!) gets a treat. (We let the niblet win)
  • Take at least one walk on a dark, winter night. If your climate allows, I strongly recommend a cold, clear one, where the stars and the ice and the snow all sparkle with the same wintery fire. The silence of a cold winter night is so beautifully profound.
  • Get plain red stockings, and some glue, glitter, bits n’ bobs, and decorate your own stocking. Do this with friends or family!
  • Help your kids/nieces/nephews/cousins/neighbor’s kids gather up their old toys and take them to a mission or shelter. Let them feel the joy of making the holiday happier for a child less fortunate. Kids CAN understand this, and they will feel really good about it. My son was the one to remind *me* it was getting to be time to donate toys this year.
  • Learn some carols in another language.
  • Ask the older members of your family or community to tell you how they celebrated Christmas when they were young. You will hear some wonderful tales, maybe pick up a new holiday tradition with which you can remember that person every year, and learn some things about your own or your community’s history, too.
  • Go caroling. Better yet, go caroling in an old folks home or children’s ward of a hospital.
  • Make your own ornaments from paper or clay. Make colored paper chain garlands and put them everywhere.
  • Make hot cocoa from scratch, and put peppermint sticks in it and drink it sitting on the floor around the tree with only the tree lights on. (This is a really good ‘ritual’ to get the kids chilled out for bed on Xmas eve.)
  • If your kids or kids you know write to Santa, make sure he writes back. We always make up a long letter, full of funny stories about what’s going on at the North Pole, i.e. how “one of the reindeer got tangled up in the lights, and the elves got into the eggnog, or all the letters on the blocks for the little kids got mixed up, and it was quite a mess, but we’ve got it all straightened out now.” (If you’ve never read Tolkein’s Father Christmas Letters, do. It’s pure delight!)
  • Gather around, and read A Christmas Carol aloud with family or friends, or A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Whatever you do this time of year, I encourage you to make it personal. The celebration of light in the longest night is by no means limited to Christian or even western tradition. So enjoy!