I struggle because there are too many conflicting sources of symbolism, ritual and custom to choose from. I grew up with a completely secular Christmas celebration. Now my mother celebrates Hanukkah, and in the Waldorf community many people celebrate both Advent and the Twelve Days of Christmas/Holy Nights.
One year before the kids were born, we combined Advent and Christmas by putting up a live (in a pot) Christmas tree at the beginning of Advent, and each week added decorations based on the kingdom for that week (mineral, plant, animal, human). That was nice, but impractical now.
With the kids we’ve started having an Advent calendar, and on their nature table I will be adding the kingdoms each week until it’s time for the Nativity figures. We’re not religious, but the Nativity is such a basic image of life, birth, light, family, etc. that we’ve chosen to incorporate it.
The symbols of Christmas are so rich, and so full of ancient wisdom. I love to sing old songs like “Green Grows the Holly”, “The Holly and the Ivy”, “Deck the Halls” for the kids because they are so full of winter images, pictures of the triumph of life over death. And then the more religious songs are wonderful too. Rebecca sits oh so still and gets a far-off look in her eye when I quietly sing “Silent Night” to her. Even if she doesn’t understand all the words, the mood of the melody says something to her.
Then there’s Santa Claus. Not an image that has remained unscathed in our materialistic society. However someone once reminded me that he could be seen as a visitor from the spiritual world, flying about the starry heavens bringing gifts from above. So for now, Santa brings the little things in our stockings, and the presents under the tree are gifts for each other. When the kids get a little older I’ll bring in the relation to the gifts of the Magi a bit more.
Now that we live in a cold climate, we’ve started to focus more on snow and winter. Last year we made borax snowflakes, a very cool craft. Candles and strings of lights pop up all over the house to drive back the darkness of the winter.
Another part of the struggle is that we have been away from home every Christmas. We’re always with one set of grandparents or another, so it’s hard to feel that the home celebrations are complete. We’re not home for the last week of Advent, or the week after when I would put the Holy Family and the Three Kings on the nature table. The Advent calendar goes unopened, unless we bring it with us. We’ve not had a Christmas tree since we’re not home to attend to it (and it would just become a big, messy cat toy.)