It started even before Bee was born – someone gave us a “Baby’s First Christmas” bib. Thankfully my Christian sister also has a little one and she gladly took it for use. Not that I would have thrown it away. Someone, somewhere would want it and get it through regifting, trade, or donation… But the point is, there are all these Christmas things geared towards babies and people want to give them to Bee. A family member wanted to buy her a dress for the holidays. I’m definitely not opposed to that. Red and green are very appropriate for the Winter Solstice, after all. Thankfully, this person went shopping with us and showed us a possibility. Sure enough, it had “Baby’s First Christmas” stitched across the chest. I tried to very gently remind this person, who should know better, that we don’t celebrate Christmas, though I’m sure the frustration in my voice was somewhat apparent. I don’t mean to come across as a big grinch, but it is tiring…
Now don’t get me wrong. I know these family members and friends are just being nice. Some might not fully realize that by embracing Paganism, I’m not celebrating Christmas. There are, after all, other Pagans out there who do for various reasons. But I do not. Maybe Bee will when she’s older, but right now, it’s not something we do in our home. Yes, of course, we will attend family Christmas gatherings, but that is out of a desire to be with family and not embrace Christmas. If Bee wants to get into it when she’s a little older, fine, but let me enjoy a few years sharing my beliefs with her first! To do otherwise just seems… disrespectful, no matter the good intentions. It would be like giving a vegan’s child a shirt that exclaims the virtues of beef. It’s poorly thought over, inappropriate, and a waste of your money!
I was listening to NPR on my way to work earlier this week and folks were talking about people buying gifts for their children, or buying gifts for other peoples’ children, and how it can be a tricky social trap given the steadily increasing diversity in our nation – and not just cultural and religious diversity, but also differing perceptions of what’s appropriate for genders, what materials are appropriate for their children, etc. It reminded me of the “Baby’s First Christmas” situation*.
People giving gifts to our children are, most of the time, completely innocent and just trying to do the best they can to brighten a little one’s day. Often they don’t even embrace the religious implications of Christmas; to them it’s merely another family holiday that celebrates love. Don’t misinterpret me; I’m all for love and am well aware of the similarities and shared attributes of Christmas and the Winter Solstice. I can forgive a coworker who literally doesn’t know any better, but for a family or friend to do so is just so frustrating and invalidating. I’ve been a practicing Pagan for years, and a Druid for about a decade! The grace period for forgetfulness has passed if you’ve known me most of my life! All I want is the same respect that I give to family who I know celebrate Christmas.
If people want to give gifts and celebrate family and friendship, then it’s so important to actually know your family and friends. Christmas and Winter Solstice both contain similar elements like gift giving, but neither are all about presents. The gifts are supposed to represent something greater – generosity, giving what’s needed, giving something that the person genuinely wants or would enjoy to demonstrate love and understanding. Instead, people in my family (with all the best intentions!) all too often just buy things to give. It’s like…tree fodder, I suppose. They want the space below the faux evergreen too look as festive as possible, and that means filling it with gifts. As I read articles about Black Friday, I know I’m not the only one whose family does that!
My husband and I are not fond of that at all. We’re also financially strained and have actually told family and friends not to buy us anything because we can’t participate this year. Reciprocity being important to me, my inability to also give gifts to extended family and friends would just make me feel awful. And honestly, it’s the natural continuation of something Weretoad and I started several years ago: reclaiming the Winter Solstice as a time of togetherness and fun traditions related to magic, rebirth, and winter rather than focusing so much on the gifts. We started a tradition of giving three largeish gifts and three small stocking stuffers – things we need, genuinely want, or could use. The small things are usually treats like organic chocolate or mustache wax. More often, our gift giving involves experiences like a trip to the theater or something handmade. We really put a lot of thought into our presents and we want them to be meaningful. Our gifts demonstrate that we truly know and respect each other. We’re not merely trying to give gifts for the sake of it.
So in summary, all I want is for those who know me well enough to know I do not celebrate Christmas, to respect that, and not turn my child into their Christmas cherub. Have faith in me that I will teach her about your holidays in time, that she will get to make up her own mind about these things eventually, but that I am raising her in a Druidic home. If you absolutely must give a gift to a Pagan parent’s child, put some thought into it and don’t make assumptions that a Christmas item is ok. Talk to the parent and really get to know his or her traditions. And before the little one gets bigger, ask about whether or not the parent will partake in the Santa tradition, and how, or if someone else from their religious background will be bestowing gifts. Nobody is asking you to memorize a narrative or understand every nuance – just enough not to put your foot in your mouth.
* I seriously relate to the gift-giving conundrum as I don’t want Bee to have a pile of plastic toys. But how do you politely tell people what you feel is appropriate for your child if they don’t ask? Especially if you don’t want to sound like you are criticizing others for where they shop and what they consume? And if you want to buy a gift for the children in your life that are not your own, here’s an excellent blog with dos and don’ts! Totally agree with the author.