Fill in the gap. It’s December and try as you might, if you live in the Western world, you cannot escape it. Everyone expects something different from Christmas, some expect presents, some expect spending time with family and friends, parties and Christmas dinners.
I expect all of the above. Growing up in the communist Czechoslovakia, Christmas was for me never about God, or the birth of Jesus. Yes, I had a vague idea that Jesus was born on that day, and we had a little cardboard nativity scene on the piano every Christmas at my grandmother’s house, which we stood around and sang carols, which also had reference to Jesus, however that just seemed like part of our Christmas tradition and nothing to do with religion.
According to some historical accounts, the origins of Christmas have been combined with the pagan traditions that preceded it. The birth of Jesus was timed to coincide with the 25 December because that also happened to be the time of the Winter solstice celebrated by the Romans before they converted to Christianity. Similarly the Christmas tree, originated from a pre-Christian practice.
Later, when my family celebrated Christmas together in our won house, we got rid of both the nativity scene and the Christmas carols and all that was left were (in this order of importance for me) presents, food, decorating the Christmas tree, baking Christmas cookies and visiting friends and relatives to admire their Christmas tree and their presents, usually in an unspoken competition about who had better presents/Christmas trees/more variety of baked cookies on offer. Some people went to midnight mass on Christmas day, also as a tradition, but our family almost never did, because the church was too far away and everyone had probably drank too much by then to drive a car to the church.
The traditional Czech Christmas dinner meal takes place on Christmas Eve and it consists of carp fish fried in breadcrumbs served with potato salad and as dessert, there are usually the Christmas cookies that are on the table for the entire Christmas period. It’s a more simple meal than the English Turkey with all the trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding.
Many Czechs, including our family sometimes still buy the carp alive and keep it in their bathtub and then kill it themselves on the morning of Christmas Eve, a task always performed by my dad, as no one else wants to do it. The Christmas tree is not decorated until the morning of Christmas Eve, the presents are put under the tree and opened on Christmas Eve and it is baby Jesus that is believed to bring the presents as opposed to Santa.
This year, I have made arrangements with my family and boyfriend to not buy any Christmas presents for each other. Instead we are going on holiday together and not wasting money on presents that often go unused or shoved to the corner to the draw because they are not what you wanted anyway.
So for me the spirit of Christmas and the associated traditions are just a part of my culture, and not about anything religious, rather it is a good excuse to have party or lunch with my friends, spend some quality time with my family, have fun giving and receiving presents, cook, bake and make use of the holidays to just relax and do nothing, or go away without having to take it out of my holiday allowance.
What does Christmas mean to you? And how are you going to spend it this year?