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You Don’t Celebrate Christmas?!

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Apollo XIV (17 months)

"You don't celebrate Christmas?!" was the most common response we got when Chuck and I announced, early in our marriage, that we didn't plan to put up a Christmas tree or exchange gifts. It amazed us that by simply choosing not to participate in one tradition (tree with presents) the rest was disregarded. We did and do celebrate Christmas, it just doesn't involve a tree or presents.

A couple of readers asked if we don't put up a tree for "religious reasons". Wow, that's a loaded question. I suppose the answer is yes and no. Yes, because I don't think we'd celebrate Christmas if we weren't Christians, and no in the sense that we don't believe it is "wrong" or "sinful". We're not offended by anyone's tree or presents or belief in Santa.

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It comes down to our basic philosophy on family and parenting. We didn't want our children overwhelmed with stuff. We wanted them to appreciate the small things in life. We didn't want our traditions to all revolve around getting stuff. We wanted to focus to be on Christ and his birth, not buying gifts. Or making gifts. As a result we've put a lot of thought (and effort) into making the entire month of December a celebration of Christ's birth, which culminates, on Christmas morning, with "stockings" for our children.

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I put stockings in quotes because most years it is the children's rubber boots lined up. In them are small gifts…a orange, a candy cane and a few other small things. Nothing big, but enough to make the day special. 

Someone asked if we had a Nativity scene…we have three. All set out for the children to play with through the month of December. Tilly blogged about it here. Two sharp readers found this post for me. I searched in vain for a post I know I made showing how we had the Nativity scenes out in baskets with books about Christmas, but I can't find that either. 

Any other questions? I'll do my best to answer.


  1. Kate Alva

    Love it. We haven’t firmly solidified any Christmas traditions yet. We’ve been moving, or visiting out of state/country at Christmas since we got married. V grew up without Santa, so he doesn’t want to encourage that tradition in our home. Now that A is almost old enough to start ‘getting it’, we need to decide how we’re going do this. I really like your approach.

  2. Emily from NZ

    In my family Santa was never really part of the picture, we new ‘who’ he was but none of us were interested in visiting him at the mall. Gifts aren’t the main focus here either, but most gifts we do give are practical, like a pair of sneakers, a new drinkbottle or a pencil case. The main focus throughout December is Jesus, we have a Jesse tree (one bible story per night, starting with creation and ending with Jesus’ birth on Christmas eve) we also have an advent tree (2-3 verses per day starting with the prophecies of Jesus birth right up to them fleeing to Egypt) and we read those each day. I love how you fill up the kids boots 🙂 I don’t know if I could do Christmas without a tree and lights though. Just seeing the joy on people’s faces as they walk past the house admiring the lights.

  3. Joolzmac

    Renee, your Merry Christmas (December 25, 2007) post certainly describes you celebrating Christmas – in the very best possible way. Your children will look back in years to come and remember very special times spent doing stuff together (reading, baking, playing) which is a lot more important than ‘what they got’ for Christmas. Enjoy your Christmas with your beautiful family!

  4. TKLMT

    I have always wanted to celebrate Christmas in the way you described, but we have immediate and extended family members who don’t (won’t) respect this. They insist on setting up Christmas trees (I don’t see anything evil in this either, just saying) and putting presents underneath. They have even gone so far as to do this at our house. For the sake of peace we only argue mildly (then try and train our children in the real reason for Christmas).
    How do you deal with family members who insist that kids need to have a tree, tons of presents (we have 7 kids), and an emphasis on getting and giving? Do you run into those problems?

  5. Samantha

    I think that’s a wonderful way to celebrate Christmas. My wife and have been working hard on how to focus on the gift of Christ and not the gift of money–especially now that we have a child.
    Our new traditions as a family focus on exchanging a couple small gifts and celebrating Advent (an important part of the liturgical year in my tradition) during the month of December with various activities–most focusing on serving Christ and appreciating the world as she goes to sleep for the season (we live in Upstate NY so winter means LOTS of snow).

  6. liz

    The funny thing is the more I read the more I want to…it’s hard to read “part of a story” and not know everything. When you write a blog it is like being a celebrity in a way. In the sense you give the public a taste of what your life is liek, but then they want to know more and more. I sit here and wonder…do her kids watch stuff like Charlie Brown Christmas, did you see Santa as a kid, do you put up lights outside,do you light candles? Do the kids so any Christmas plays? Do you sing/play Christmas music that is not religion based like say “Oh Christmas Tree” or “12 Days of Christmas”. Do family members or friends buy you/kids gifts. .Do you send Christmas cards? Give to a charity?none of these things need just gets ones curiosity..
    Thanks for sharing all you do!

  7. lara

    I love this post. It gives me something to work toward. As our 6 children are getting bigger ( 8 years and under so not that big) Christmas has actually gotten simpler.This year they will get gifts but ones to share, a tool box and a craft box. Getting everyone individual presents seems more and more unnecessary and not what Christmas is about. We have told the extended family we wont be exchanging gifts although they will get something simple from the Grandparents but thats it.

  8. Lou

    I love your philosophy and your practices…except the tree!! I’m obsessed by my tree and the night I have each year decorating it with friends’ kids. My Mum was always (is still) a decoration lover, so I have things from when I was a kid. And I love unpacking them once a year and remembering where each one came from. Mind you this year, for the first time EVER, I have NOT put everything I have crammed all over the tree but just put blue baubles and silver stars. It does look nicer. Oh and my angel Gabriel which is tired and old and kind of crushed but I love! But I couldn’t agree more that loading kids up with lots of “stuff” is so harmful even withOUT it taking away from the message of Christmas. In Colombia a few years back, I bought this boy (staying with friends) some coloured pencils and a colouring in book. He was poor (very) and he was SOOO happy with them and coloured non-stop for days. It made me go home determined that if ever I had kids I would NOT buy them piles and piles of stuff.

  9. liz

    I agree with you lara. i have kids 6yr,4yr and 16 months. I don’t think the 16 month will get much if any as we already have enough baby toys. We bought the older ones crafts, books, an Early reader Bible, and some paints..Oh and a puzzle. All these gifts were very carefully selected so that they would bring the family together and not apart.My in laws bought the kids a Wii…I am writhing over it……The thing is my son has severe ADHD and I have seen him play at their house and he gets mad and yells and becomes frustrated..not sure the point…we may have to inetrcept it….we instilled a no video game for a reason…he just is not to the point that i think the controller wont be thrown through the tv

  10. Renee

    Liz, I've never enjoyed cartoons (even as a kid) so no, we don't watch anything like Charlie Brown Christmas. As a kid I didn't believe in Santa or visit him and I never felt like I was missing anything (though Chuck's family did Santa). No Christmas lights, I'm a minimalist at heart. Really. My husband isn't though and I have 11 children living at home so we have a lot of "stuff" but it drives me crazy. I'm not into decorations for the sake of decorations. Our walls are adorned with photos and that's it. Our kids haven't had the opportunity to participate in any Christmas plays, but would certainly be allowed to if they had the chance. We play all types of Christmas music. Most family members don't give gifts. My in laws donate money to an orphanage in our children's names and one brother sends a book or two to be enjoyed by all. We don't send Christmas cards,
    but for no particular reason than that sounds like a lot of work. We have a few organizations/people we give money to throughout the year, but not more at Christmas time.

  11. Renee

    TKLMT- It was really difficult in the beginning and the first year or two a couple family members gave our children gifts. At this point, with 14 children, I honestly think they are relived. We dealt with the issues by explaining our position and standing firm. It was easy, but I'm so glad we did. 

  12. kk

    We do have a tree and the kids get gifts, some fun things and a lot of clothes and toothbrushes and other necessities. We do not do Santa. My 7 year old is trying to reconcile this with his friends who are Christians and still do Santa. He finally came up with an explanation that works for him, “So Santa Claus was a real person, but he is dead, and some people pretend that he is still alive and gives them presents?” I had to agree with his explanation and was so proud of him for figuring it out!

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