Ask Jo: Christmas

Every so often questions and comments come from readers that I think others would like to hear my response to.  That’s when I feature them on the blog.  This is one of those days…

I recently got a question from Donna.  She wrote:
I have an “Ask Jo” question. Hope I haven’t missed the answer on some past post…but why do you dislike holiday decorating?
Don’t get me wrong…I dislike it too, but if I ever mention that to someone, it’s like they can’t even believe it and like I must be dysfunctional.

I just resent the time it takes to set up and later pack away. I don’t enjoy doing it and as a mother of only sons (now adults) I have found they really don’t notice stuff like that very much.
Now a special meal and a seasonal dessert they do appreciate and I like planning and cooking.

I guess I am feeling g a bit guilty and maladjusted seeing everyone’s Halloween decorations.

How did you phase out seasonal decorating g and does your family mind?
You don’t even do a Christmas tree, right? I might give that up this year.”

Oh my…I’m sure you had no idea when you asked the question, Donna, what my response would be.  It will likely be a long one so grab a cup of coffee…here goes.

I’ve told you all that I’m the youngest of five siblings.  My sister is 16 years older than me and there are 3 boys in between.  When I was little, this was my Christmas….


It says Feb ’68 on the photo so that means this was taken when I was two.

I am dumping out my Christmas stocking.  Our family celebrated Christmas at that time.

Second grade was the last year our family celebrated a “regular” Christmas.  After that, my sister and her family joined a church group that didn’t acknowledge Christmas.  My parents ended “regular” Christmas for us all.

We didn’t have a tree.  We didn’t have a huge meal.  We didn’t have decorations.  We still had Christmas candies and treats and my Dad continued to candlelight church service but that’s about it as far as celebrating Christmas goes.

There never was Santa even when my parents allowed “regular” Christmas.  My parents believed Santa was a lie and they didn’t lie to us EVER!

So for me, Christmas became totally non-commercial.  On Christmas Eve I went to church with my Dad.  My brothers and their families often still came on Christmas day.  There weren’t any presents.  We ate food.  We played games including cards.  Christmas for me was the birth of Jesus.  It was a candlelight service.  It was family.  It’s was food and spending time together.

As a teen and early adult, I was resentful to my sister about this.  I wanted parts of the commercial Christmas I could see so many enjoying.  I blamed it on my sister and her family.  I felt like they stole it from me.  She got while she was growing up.  She ruined it for me.

As a twenty-some-year-old, I had a family and kids.  I could do what I wanted in regards to Christmas.  I talked to Kramer and he was on board to not do Santa.  I tried having a tree.  I tried some of the more commercial non-religious things people do for Christmas but it all seemed like a show that involved a lot of work and money.  After a few years, I told Kramer if he wanted to do a tree to do it- I wasn’t.  He said he didn’t have a tree growing up unless he brought the classroom Christmas tree home from school.  He agreed.  A tree and lots of decor wasn’t our thing.  A Christmas tree wasn’t meaningful to us.

When Kalissa was a teen she was insistent on a tree.  We had one a couple of years…but after she had to take all the decorations up and down, she quit too.

Christmas isn’t about decorations for me.  Christmas for me is about family.  It’s about a candlelight Christmas service.  It’s about special foods for the season…a couple of practical presents and that’s it.  The other stuff doesn’t bring me joy.  After living so many years without it, the other stuff seems frivolous and expensive.

Now that the kids are all adults… we’ve done things that make things easier for them.  No presents are exchanged between everyone-no one can afford it.  We don’t get together.  Two of the girls are nurses.  They work overnights and weekends.  It is so hard to get together.  Buck has done snow removal for many years.  If it snows more than 2″, he can’t be here or has to leave early.  Besides, all of them have “the other side of the family” and have grandparents that want to see them.

In contrast, we make a big deal of Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving day and the kids all come then…that became my tradition growing up with my family.  Being my sister didn’t “do” Christmas, she did do Thanksgiving so Thanksgiving became the big family celebration when I was growing up.  The “other side” of the families have been very good to our family and often celebrate Thanksgiving for their families on the weekend before or after letting us have a special Thanksgiving being Christmas isn’t as a big of a deal for us.

It’s unusual but it has become our family thing.

For many years I had some trouble with depression over the Christmas season.  How I grew up and not having Christmas weighed heavily on me.  I was mad at my sister and her husband.  I was mad at my parents.  As a child, I wanted “the” Christmas.  I felt it was stolen from me.  Every time Christmas came around, so did those feelings.  Trying to provide “the” Christmas for my kids was taxing.  Giving up and not giving my kids “the” Christmas made me feel like I was stealing it away from them.  No matter what I did, I didn’t feel good.  Christmas was depressing.

It took from 2nd grade until about the time I was 48 for me to finally come to the resolution that I’m actually comfortable with Christmas and how we celebrate.  I spent years and years always doubting myself and wondering if what I was doing was “okay”.  I finally realized that I didn’t think God was going to think I was terrible for not putting up a tree and in the end, that’s the only one who counts.  I’ve always given my kids the freedom to choose for themselves what they wanted to do and I’ve apologized to them if my “trouble” with Christmas was a problem for them.  I guess there isn’t a lot more I can do.  I’ve forgiven everyone, including myself, and moved on accepting myself for who am flaws and all.

Christmas to me is a candlelight service with the celebration of Jesus, time with family, fun, games, and good food.  I’m finally okay with that and have gotten over being resentful.  I’m sad it took so many years.

I do a tiny bit of decorating…not much…about a half hours worth and that’s it.

I do want to point out that I am completely accepting of whatever anyone else wants to do.  Everyone can do whatever is right for their family.  I don’t care if people are Jewish, Jehova Witness, Muslim, Lutheran, Catholic, decorators, not decorating…it makes no difference to me.  I’m solid in my beliefs and I’m comfortable-FINALLY.  What a good feeling.  I wish everyone could be comfortable in their beliefs and traditions regardless of what they are.

Some of our kids have Christmas trees and the whole decoration thing with lights and all.  Some don’t.  I want them all to make choices as to what is right for their family.

I do want to note that Kalissa and her family typically are always home for Christmas…as is Karl.  We typically exchange a present with each other…nothing fancy and gag gifts are even okay.  We play games and hang out for the day.  It’s very enjoyable…even without a Christmas tree and decorations.  We still go to candlelight services and take part in what feel is the true meaning of Christmas.

Sorry, that got long Donna…but that’s the answer…All of that wrote is true but also, I plain out don’t enjoy decorating.

As always, if I missed your “Ask Jo” question, feel free to ask again.

12 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Christmas

  1. Joy

    I grew up getting four or five presents, two or three were always clothes, one big present ($15-20), and the others were always an inexpensive toy or art supplies. I was happy with what I received and honestly I had no idea that other kids got tons of presents. We always had a real tree, usually lopsided, but one we would bring back from the woods. We opened presents on Christmas Day and had a big dinner at my grandmother’s house afterward. When I married, his family were extravagant for Christmas! Tons of gifts, lots of materialism, and the feeling that whatever you bought wasn’t nice enough. What really killed it for me was when I asked my then four-year old niece what she wanted for Christmas, and twenty minutes later she was still reciting her list. When I remarried, I was chided for not decorating outside as I only put up a tree inside and little else. There was a dinner and tons of gifts too, but no real feeling of a family as everyone was in a rush to leave once the gifts were open. Fast forward a few years and I find myself doing some of the more traditional Christmas things, like wassail, decorating the tree on Christmas Eve, and just enjoying the moment. We only buy for the kids and our parents and my husband and I exchange a small gift of about $20 or so. We have never went into debt for Christmas.

  2. Susan

    I think whatever makes you happy and content is fine. I decorate fir all the seasons, using tablerunners and special items that I have collected. I always put up a Christmas tree as my ornaments are treasures gifted to me by people who are no longer with us. They ‘are with me’ again. It’s funny but my mother put up a tree but criticized how we hung ornaments,etc. I guess it was all fir show. I let my grands put all the ornaments at their height- their happy little faces mean so much more than a perfect tree.
    I’m not a fan of gifts either…..I buy my kids a subscription to Amazon Prime. They get all the books,shows and free shipping. We live waaaay out in the country so I know they use it all. I try to gift my grands a special trip or event- they have enough’ stuff’!
    I think every family celebrates differently and that’s ok.I am definitely more interested in the meaning of Christmas,the gathering of loved ones and the traditions than a roomful if gifts, but that’s just me….

  3. Donna

    Not the Donna mentioned above but I figure I’ll put in my two cents. :-)
    Christmas was a big thing in our house from when I was growing up to these past few years. You could often find me sitting in front of the tree in a darkened room just looking at the lights. After Mike and I married, we did it up big for the kids and they loved it – not the present part but the decorating. As the years went by, and the kids grew, Christmas continued but the decorating and all the trimmings never “felt” the same way. Then there were the grand kids. It started up all over again. ;-) Now that everyone has moved on or away and we’re on the road, Christmas is in storage until November. Decorations are less, we still give gifts though not as much anymore. But, the “Spirit of Christmas” is still here and that spirit is the Reason for the Season – the celebration of the birth of Christ. That will never change.

  4. Ruth

    Growing up, we always had a real tree and decorated it as a family – well, Mom and 6 kids decorated it. Dad was always busy. We also decorated with a manger scene, and some garland and bells on the overhead beam between the living room and the family room. We hung stockings above the fireplace.
    We didn’t have many presents under the tree. Our living grandmother bought and sent us new flannel pjs each year and we opened those on Christmas Eve and were presentable for the Christmas morning picture. Often carolers would come and sing to us. We had a special Sunday church meeting.
    For our own children we had a real tree which we trimmed as a family. We didn’t give many presents to our children, mainly one or two of their top desired presents, also something to wear, a book, plus a family game.
    One year my husband (who remembers not getting what he wanted for Christmas Ever), took a part time job at Radio Shack, and bought a remote controlled car for each child. That’s the Christmas they all remember. Great Christmas gifts occurred when we were living in France and my husband had a trip back to the States in November. The kids decided what they really wanted for Christmas and he took a list of one item each and brought them back. When they opened them on Christmas, they were so Happy! From the daughter who asked for a telescope ($100) to the sons who wanted balsa wood rubber band airplanes ($3 each), they were happy! There were other gifts as well, but those were the ones on their lists.
    We’re in our sixties now, no kids, and I finally said last year, ok, we’ll buy a fake tree, when we couldn’t find any real trees for sale 10 days before Christmas. He put it together and we both decorated. I did buy a real wreath so I could have the pine scent and real needles.
    It’s important to pay attention to what makes you remember Jesus Christ, and the Gift He gave us – His Gospel, Resurrection and promise of Eternal Life. It is pleasant to translate God’s Love to giving gifts to others, family, friends and strangers at Christmas.
    Jo, thanks for sharing your feelings about Christmas through the years. And Kramer’s. Life is good when we can live it for God and for ourselves, helping others along the way.

  5. Hedy

    Christmas was a really big deal with my childhood family: a big tree, food and presents, cards sent and received. Family get together with the aunts, uncles and cousins from out of town, a huge celebration. I kept it up all these years, sometimes with 3 Christmas trees decorated. I loved all the baking and visiting friends and family, giving them my home made banana bread, fudge and cookies. My last remaining sibling died in 2017, my childhood and adult friend, how I miss him. And that Christmas I got sick and only the tree went up, no baking, no visits. I tried to do it all in 2018 but my heart wasn’t in it, my adult grandsons had other things to do. So I stopped all the baking for others, no cards sent either, Christmas in 2019 had the tree up for us and a lovely meal. This year we are going south in December for 3 weeks and may stay even longer. Christmas at my sons house is not enjoyable as they spend so much money, DIL thinks it’s ‘love’. I think each person needs to do Christmas the best for them. Mine is keeping it simple now.

  6. Susan V

    My heart went to the same place. I got to thinking how the message of Christ really isn’t in all this commercialism. The church service is the important thing to me. I enjoy very minimal decorations. I don’t want the hassle, just a few reminders of the season. Doing something charitable is a better use of funds during the holiday season. Last year I put up a pretty tree in my mom’s house where I moved because my dad had just passed. She needed the lift. This year I will do something for her, but it will be smaller.

  7. Kate

    I like the way you celebrate Christmas. My mother and father did not have us believe Santa Claus for the very same reason, and it was the same for Easter, no tooth fairy, etc. We didn’t miss it. I do like to decorate, but I am with you, I want the Christmas Eve candlelight service, and then spend time with family on Christmas Day, if we can. Of course, there is always good food and lots of cheer. I also agree with you that each family is entitled to do as they wish – tree, no tree, decorate, don’t. God made us each uniquely different with different needs and desires.

  8. Karen

    I’m Catholic and we make a big deal about Advent-preparing for the coming of Christ on Christmas. So we have the Advent wreath with candles that we light each night. We gradually decorate our home to have it ready for the Christ child. Then we celebrate Christmas for eight days-the octave of Christmas. We go to Christmas eve mass and have a little party when we get home with just our immediate family. My DH warms up party food like pizza rolls, jalapeno poppers etc. The kids get to open one present on Christmas eve (it was always PJs when I was a kid) and then they get on NORAD to track Santa. Christmas morning we see what Santa has brought us and open our presents. We don’t go crazy with the presents though. Then I bake yeast rolls and pies and we head to my mother’s house for the extended family lunch. We usually stay over there until around 7 pm. Then we come home and finally get our Christmas stockings. Christmas stockings are fun because I always try to get everyone some cool candy and neat little things they would like. I enjoy Christmas because it feels so satisfying after Advent. Come Emmanuel, come!

  9. Janet Rice

    Christmas was a big deal at our house growing up. We didn’t get presents other than Christmas and our birthdays, so any item of clothing, shoes, underwear, etc was wrapped and put under the tree. It made it seem like you were getting a ton, but really most were necessities. We had a decorated real tree and not lots of other decorations. There were always card games after dinner.

    I followed a lot of that when I got married, although not to that extreme. We always had a tree and lots of decorations, but we also went to church and celebrated the birth of Jesus. A lot of the decorations were from Mom and Grandma, so they brought back memories. My children prefer board games, so we transitioned to those.

    As we got older, putting up the tree, etc has become too hard and our children have taken over hosting. I like to have decorations, but we simply can’t do it anymore. Whoever hosts pick what they want to serve. I don’t ask or expect traditional holiday dinner. One child decorates a lot, the other doesn’t. We usually play some sort of board game, but not always. They go way overboard for expensive presents and tons of them! It’s become overwhelming. I’d like to go back to a little simpler holiday.

    Now that the grandchildren are becoming adults, I suspect it will change again. Since family is important to me, I just hope I’m invited :-)

  10. Judy D

    Interesting to see how everyone celebrates Christmas.
    We had lots of decorations when my kids were little, but now I put up my snowmen/women quilts the day after Thanksgiving and one Christmas quilt. I enjoy switching my quilts out seasonally rather than for specific holidays.
    Last year I went through 10 boxes of Christmas decorations and edited it down to 2. The kids ( adults now) took what they wanted and we donated the rest. Feels so much lighter!

  11. Susan

    I have an “Ask Jo Question.” Jo, Is Neighbor Girl still your neighbor? Does she visit your home?

  12. Judith Fairchild

    Jo, I’m with you about Christmas church and a family meal presents for the Grands and my daughter and her spouse. Calls to my sister’s. And a few cards. Enjoying other people’s lights and decorations. But the Birth of Jesus first and always foremost.

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