The Tradition of Not Celebrating Christmas


December 25, 2013 by Katia

Seven years ago I’ve moved into a society where you either celebrate Christmas or you don’t. If you belong to the first group then it’s OK to wish you a Merry Christmas. If you don’t, and sometimes even if you do, they’ll opt for the safer all-inclusive Happy Holidays. And there you have it, plain and simple – two greetings for two groups.

Although I love being part of Canadian society and rarely ever feel like the outsider I was seven years ago anymore, this time of year tends to reignite my sense of dissociation. For me ‘tis the season when mommy cluelessness meets immigrant confusion and the two feed off of each other and make some dialogues with Four Year Old incredibly awkward for me, because here’s the thing – I don’t belong to either one of the above-mentioned groups. You see, if you respond to the question “do you celebrate Christmas?” with “I celebrate Hanukkah” then the logical assumption would be that you belong to a long line of non-celebrators of Christmas who have the whole non-celebrating thing worked out. You can’t stump them with questions like “does Santa not come to visit me because I’ve been naughty?” The traditional non-celebrators would simply turn to a mental filing cabinet and pull out the “things that zaide and bubby told me when I asked about Santa” folder instead of hitting the “oy vey” panic button.


Despite the fact that I celebrate Hanukkah, my personal biography won’t fit into the mould imagined by my well-wishing genuinely curious local neighbours, friends and random acquaintances. I do not have a zaide or a bubby. I have a babooshka and babookshka didn’t slave over the stove to bake latkes on Hanukkah, she probably made a delicious borscht then sat down to  chain smoke and have a shot of Vodka instead, while my mom produced the greatest most delicious Latkes to ever be produced anywhere on earth.

My Jewish family moved to Israel from Russia where Christmas was celebrated not as a religious but as a national holiday. Growing up in Israel I always had a tree at home next to the Hanukkah Menorah. The tree did not cancel out my Jewish upbringing, it added a layer of family provenance to my under-construction identity. In our house today we have only a Menorah. But this post is not about that. It’s not about how do we raise our children to accept our faith in an environment that is mostly non-Jewish. It is also not about how we should avoid making assumptions and realize that everyone has their own fingerprint-unique story, even when it comes to things as seemingly cut and dry as celebrating religious holidays. It’s about that overlap area where being a mom feels like treading the same unexplored terrain trodden by the immigrant.

– Mommy, will Santa put me on the naughty list?

Hmmm. Never stepped on this land before. Not even in my thoughts.

What DO I tell Four Year Old about being put on Santa’s list when anything I come up with just seems so harsh? This is where I could really use good ol’ solid non-celebrating traditions. Some elderly wisdom.

As I contemplate these parenting conundrums raised by a holiday I only celebrate vicariously, I am realizing this. I will feel less dissociate come next Christmas. This Christmas my personal and family biographies blended with the city’s and that of our neighbours. We’ve all woken up to crystal trees on Sunday morning and felt compelled to gather outside and wonder and laugh. We’ve all lifted up our gaze and planted our heads a little deeper into our shoulders when the branches creaked, cracked and fell.

crystal trees

We all felt sorry for the trees for their broken-ness. And we all shared a collective first.


43 thoughts on “The Tradition of Not Celebrating Christmas

  1. I totally get this, Katia, and I can relate. Well written.

  2. It’s a difficult topic to discuss, but you did it so well. Really love your writing.

  3. How confusing for an a adult … I can’t imagine trying to unravel the madness that is Christmas/holiday time (in America anyway) to a four yr old. I’m terrible at lying about Santa… My four yr old has my skeptic genes. Good luck?… And happy Hanukkah 🙂

  4. jasteck says:

    Beautiful post, Katia. I’ve never thought much about what you tell a child when others are celebrating holidays that aren’t part of your beliefs. It’s a good reminder for me to honor and respect the various ways we celebrate.

  5. The oddest thnig about having the perspective of ‘Outsider’ is that even as you interact with people you do not feel like an outsider, yet this status is irrevocably conferred only upon the thought that there is *a difference*. This *difference need not be obvious or dramatic, in fact, most of the time it is subtle and entirely subjective. Once it is ‘noticed’ it is too late, ironically, this is usually only noticeable the person becoming aware of this outsiderness.
    Very enjoyable Post…as iatm. Posts usually are.

    • Katia says:

      Aw, thank you so much, Clark, for the compliment. It means a lot! I totally agree with your comment. In fact I had a part I did not include in the post where I mentioned that I feel most disconnected when I see myself reflected in the eyes of others.

  6. Dana says:

    You’ll come up with your own traditions, Katia, if you haven’t already. My kids never asked why Santa didn’t visit; surprisingly it just wasn’t an issue for them. It’s tough to be a mom this of year – I totally get it. You put it into words so well, and it was a pleasant surprise to read this on Christmas Day!

    • Katia says:

      That’s wonderful that your kids have always had that inner peace. Having read your daughter’s post, though, I am not at all surprised 🙂 I hope my kids grow to feel the same way. I hope they feel a sense of belonging to their religious background as well as their country.

  7. Katia, this is beautiful, and while I kinda wish that you had a zaide and a bubba to reach to for answers, it sounds as though your family has a history of making things up as they go along, reaching for the different threads of traditions, and choosing how to make it work in a way which is right for them, at that time.

    I have every confidence that you will succeed at this. My dear, you have a heritage and a tradition of being a displaced person in an alien land, both personally and historically, and that immigrant spirit will stand you in good stead in this, and in other things to come.

    A beautiful post for Christmas day. Many thanks.

    (gorgeous pic of you, too, and sorry (and laughing) to see what happened to it on FB… XD )

  8. Nina Badzin says:

    It was so interesting to learn more about your background–religious and otherwise.

  9. Hoppy Lady says:

    This is a much needed perspective 🙂 We just had our best “Christmas” ever with a person who does not traditionally celebrate the holiday. It was refreshing.

  10. You have a fascinating background. I’m a first generation American, my parents escaped from Russia. It’s interessting to me that you had both a tree and menorah in Israel. I never had to worry about Santa because I knew he was not part of my religion and neither was he part of my childrens’.

  11. JudahFirst says:

    Katia, I loved this post! But I might have to be offended with this:

    “my mom produced the greatest most delicious Latkes to ever be produced anywhere on earth.”

    After all, I’ve made some pretty darn good Latkes in my time… 😉

    In fact, I couldn’t find anything in your words to take offense at and was surprised when you said, “I’m so glad it’s relatable and hopefully not offensive to anyone.” Very relatable across the board of ALL religions (non-ones included), I think. Not offensive in the least.

    God bless!

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much for such an incredibly kind comment. I held my breath there for a second until I found out it was the Latkes I offended you with 🙂 I’m sure yours are on par with my mom.Since my mom reads my blog they can’t possibly be better… 😉

      And thank you for reassuring me. When it comes to religion I never know if I might have touched on anyone’s particular sensitivity. It’s nice to hear it doesn’t seem that way.

  12. Eva Stoyanova says:

    Hello, Katia,
    i found your article very interesting. I grew up in Bulgaria , and when i was a child nobody selebtrate Cristmas day. Just New year, and there was no Santa, there was Diado Mraz. Right now for my daughter the things changed. There is Santa and we have to selebrate Cristmas day. We have to put on the table 7 dishies and some other “traditional things” witch i dont feel like this. Generally i dont like Crismas day, my mother too, most probably because it is not part of our bihaviour.
    I am really glad you wrote this artcle, and will be great if more people think on your way.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Eva! I think I might have made a mistake here and perhaps they just celebrated the New Year in communist Russia as well.It makes more sense, but I do know they had a tree and a Ded Moroz. I’m sure it must be strange for you celebrating a holiday you’re not accustomed to celebrating and laying out traditional dishes when there is no actual tradition. This is all very interesting to me. I take it you’re no longer in Bulgaria.

  13. I’ve never had a latke but always wanted to try! I imagine it is difficult to explain to your 4 year old why Santa doesn’t come to your house- hopefully you figure it out together. They should have a How To guide for conversations like these!

    • Katia says:

      Oh, a How To guide would be so useful for this, Kate! I bet there is something like that out there. I was just caught off guard when it came up. And yes, latkes are so good. Especially with sour cream. I can send you a recipe if you cook 🙂

  14. Brian says:

    I like this, Katya. Too often we try to pigeonhole people with the dichotomy of Christmas celebrators (most of our friends and neighbors) vs. non-celebrators (Jews, mostly). I think I understand your precarious location, even though I’m firmly planted on the traditional-Christian-believer end of things, myself.

    Also, I’m impressed once again with your candid expressions of uncertainty about motherhood and your (relatively) new home.

    I don’t know what I’d recommend telling your boss about the Santa Claus thing, except obviously that he’s not on the naughty list. I am sure you will handle it well.

    • Katia says:

      So good to see you, Brian! I’ve been to your blog a few times. Does this mean there are some new posts there for me to read?

      I’ve assured him, of course, that he’s not on the naughty list and told him we celebrate Hanukkah at home and Christmas in school. We ended up giving him a gift on Christmas but it wasn’t from Santa. It was from us 🙂

      • Brian says:

        That sounds like a nice compromise–one that should help him get along in the society you live in while staying true to your religion.

        I’ve not written on my blog in several months, but I plan to start again soon. Check back in a few days or a week from now.

        (And sorry about misspelling your name above.)

  15. AwesomelyOZ says:

    Yes I think I “celebrate” Christmas as a National Holiday not as a religious affair. I’m at a crossroads with my faith at this time so I am opting to be spiritual until I figure out what is what to me. Believe in what makes you happy and in what makes the most sense to you and your family – your family background sounds very interesting 🙂 Holidays are about being with the family – if you have religious traditions or faith to exercise during this time, great; otherwise, enjoy for what they are: special moments worth remembering. Hope you and your family had a great Hannukah and have a great New Years Katia! -Iva

    • Katia says:

      So wisely put, Iva! If you ever write about your religious search, I would love to read about it. Spirituality is a fundamental need that so many of us repress to deal with the “more urgent”. I’m trying to reintroduce more spirituality into my every day life.

  16. Lovely, Katia. I was thinking about this as I looked at our fireplace mantle on Christmas Eve – featuring the Buddha, Baby Jesus, and Santa. Oy vey!

  17. Mark Lopez says:

    At the moment, our oldest child is 7, so for her and her siblings (3, and 5), Christmas is still toys, lights, and cookies. When the heavy hitting questions come, I will defer to Christmas spirit, what’s left when you take out the rampant commercialism AND specifically Christian values…

    To this day, I argue that Santa is real. Perception is reality after all. Thanks for sharing!

    • Katia says:

      The funniest thing is I was so upset when I realized that my husband took it upon himself to explain to Four Year Old that Santa didn’t exist, you would think I’m an avid celebrator. I agree with you that Santa is (should be) real. At all ages.

  18. findingninee says:

    I think I read this from my phone and never commented but this is such a powerful, wonderful post! My son is not a fan of Santa, so I may have to let him in on the secret, too…
    I felt really weird this holiday, too. We were at my dad’s Christmas morning. My step mom is Jewish, so no Christmas tree or anything. I felt a little jealous of all the families opening gifts that morning. Happy 2014 to you, my wonderful friend!!

    • Katia says:

      Oh, I know, that must feel so totally weird to not open any Christmas presents on Christmas morning! I’d be bummed. That means double Christmas for you next year. Whatever that mean 🙂 And I love you. And happy 2014.

  19. Oh my. I owe you big apologies. FIrst of all- I read this days ago, and in my mind, I replied. Like, for real- I think I am starting to hallucinate things. My comment was: “I love this, and all posts that help me to know you better. Thank you for making me think about things I take for granted and don’t remember to think about enough. And then I may have made a big, big thoughtless mistake- in my holiday letter frenzy, I may have scrawled the perfunctory “Merry Christmas!” on the bottom of yours, and if I did, please accept my embarrassed apologies. I’m not saying I did, but if I did, good grief. What an idiot.” So today your gorgeous card arrived with words that made my eyes filled with tears, and I thought I’d stop back over here to see if you replied to my embarrassing comment. Which you haven’t, because I apparently dreamed that I wrote it, composing it in my mind but not actually typing it. I hope– for that reason and the possible holiday card idiocy– that you still love me. xoxox

    • Katia says:

      My dear! I can’t even remember if there was a “Merry Christmas” there or not, because it’s not something I notice. I would never ever take offense to someone trying to express a kind sentiment and I’m sorry you concerned yourself over this a second longer. I LOVE you! xoxoxoxo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Between 2014-2015:

BlogHer '13 Voices of the Year Community Keynote Honoree
Scary Mommy
The Epistolarians


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 15,945 other followers

No Instagram images were found.

Blogarama - The Blog Directory
Finish the Sentence Friday
%d bloggers like this: