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Why does my multi-ethnic family celebrate Christmas, even when we are non-religious?

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

Seeing my cousins run up the stairs with huge smiles and knowing we had hours on end to play, would have my heart pumping and bursting with joy every Christmas Eve.

In México, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December, with a big feast and the traditional exchange of gifts.

Though neither one of my parents had gone to church for years, Catholicism was highly regarded by my maternal grandmother, as well as other extended family members.

Because of that, and the fact we had the 'biggest' house in the family, we ended up hosting Christmas for many years.

To this day, Christmas is my favourite holiday of the year, even though I don’t considered myself religious. (I’m a very spiritual person though)

My grandmother, the matriarch of the family, would always give a speech just before dinner.

The religious part of the night included doing a Posada and singing a lullaby to a Jesus-figurine, just before being placed - exactly at midnight - on the nativity scene.

The nativity scene was a whole other event! My mum would create the most majestic ones, and I remember how I loved imagining stories, as its fairy-lights twinkled all night.

I particularly liked the 3 Wise Men, though, I always wondered why the Queens never arrived!

Then there was the adult conversation. Even if I didn’t understand it all, there was always a lot of laughter. That thrilled me.

We don’t have snow in México City, but during my early 20's I got to spend a few white Christmases in Upstate New York, which were just magical.

Forward a few years, and I found myself living in Australia, where Christmas is in the middle of summer!

Where extended families are not ‘the norm’, and where people are very casual about a lot of things, including Christmas!

I went from spending, sometimes, a whole month planning Christmas with my family in México, and eating delicious-smelling, traditional food and drinks - prepared for that one night only - to spending my favourite holiday chatting to people I didn’t know, and will never see again.

Often eating sushi and prawns, while sweating.

Are you feeling me? :)

Our first Christmas as a family with our baby was spent in México. The only gifts my son received then, came from family members (children's books in Spanish, thank you!) and of course he was mainly interested in the wrapping!


But then, the time came to spend our first Christmas in Australia.

Here was an opportunity for us to create something that was ours, and to take the best of all worlds!

“Tradition is a transmission of beliefs and activities.

When those beliefs help move creative people toward exploration,

they’ll benefit creativity.

Tradition hurts creativity only when presupposing what can and cannot be done.”

~ Jared Volle, M.S

Traditions for me are not static, they are dynamic. And in my view, each family gets to create their own.

Children are born creators, and they would have fabulous ideas to contribute, and improve on, stiff and dusty traditions when needed!


For us this meant that, if we couldn’t be with extended family, we wanted to celebrate Christmas with dear, close friends.


As a child, setting up the Christmas tree meant being physically close to my mum, and when she was in a good mood!

In our household, Christmas trees have taken many forms though.

From putting together branches found nearby, to an orange fabric one. The decorations are handmade or craft items the boys have made at school, over the years.


While I grew up with the idea of Santa Claus, (though I have to admit the way I found out 'all about him' wasn't my ideal), the tradition didn't enter our household until both my sons were older (3 and 5 if I remember correctly).

I understand the controversy between 'lying' to our kids versus igniting the power of imagination and creating magic in their world.

I sit in the magic, uplifting camp but most definitely without the manipulation nor coercion of the Elf on the Shelf.

This Santa story resonates with me.

The gifts my sons receive, to this day, are:

- One main gift. Something they really, really, really want (and aligns with our philosophy and budget) and, that comes from us: their parents.

- A second 'something' they really want, from Santa. Just one!

And again, it needs to align with our philosophy - and budget (so for example, even if they want to ask for an Iphone, it ain't gonna happen for this reason)

- Little bits and pieces of things they’ve been asking for, or we know they need, such as socks or a school backpack or clothing (and this can be pre-loved: our bit for the environment).

Oftentimes, it's foods they would not regularly eat at home, like chocolate.

My husband grew up finding a mango on Christmas day inside his stocking. Remember, it’s summer in Australia!, so we have kept that tradition too.

- Anything extra gift-wise is what their paternal grandma wants to give them. Sometimes she asks them for a wish-list and she chooses one or two things; sometimes it is a surprise, sometimes a bit of both.

- If we are spending Christmas with other people, they may receive something from them, or through a Kris Kringle/Secret Santa arrangement.

- We make gifts and cards for family and friends. One year it was the ingredients and recipe for my eldest's favourite chocolate milkshake. I still get comments about it.

This year, I will encourage my sons to get/make something for each other - with their own hands/money.


This I discovered while living in Australia, and the ones I have created, have also taken many forms over the years.

My boys absolutely love them and look forward to them.

Sometimes it is second hand/ pre-loved books wrapped for each day, leading up to Christmas. Other years I've had envelopes either hanging or stuck on a wall with activities to do for each day such as:

- Finding toys they are not using any more but are in good condition. We either donate them or give them to younger kids, friends and neighbours.

- Choosing 3-5 friends and make them a card.

- Making something for their teacher (this can be cookies or a drawing).

-Walking around the block at night, seeing the Christmas decorations.

- Calling our overseas relatives.

- Setting up the nativity scene.


The first time I took the figurines out, I was happily surprised to see my boys playing with them for hours!

I knew then, this tradition was not meant to be static, but indeed, very dynamic :) I’m getting a bit teary just thinking of that moment.


Yes, the piñata tradition stayed, because they are always fun! But of course, with a twist.

We can’t find the magnificent ones made of clay and gorgeous decorations we get in México, so, we make our own.

And yes, they are lopsided and the decorations are all over the place, and that is perfectly perfect.

When we are in the mood or we are hosting a Christmas gathering with friends at home, we also make Christmas crackers and bonbons, something I also discovered in Australia.

HOT TIP: Newspaper or non-precious kids' drawings are fabulous to make these, as well as for the paper 'crowns' inside.


We do read children’s Christmas books during this time.

My sons often have questions about Jesus, and we have answered according to our understanding at the time.

This understanding has changed too as I go about doing my own inner work; as I go about my own evolution as a human being.

When we speak of Jesus, we speak about a kind human being, a teacher, a healer, whose message was to love God and love one another. Someone who was ahead of his times.

And these questions open the door to many more conversations:

- What is God*?

- What does seeing God in each other mean?

- What does it mean to be ahead of one’s times?

There are fascinating topics indeed.


In a nutshell, some of reasons why our family celebrates Christmas are:

- We embrace the coming together and sharing of food, gifts, and ourselves, with others - we are for community. We see friends we haven’t seen in a long time or live faraway.

- We believe in giving and receiving - abundance! And this doesn't necessarily have to do with buying anything. Our full presence is a gift worth a million dollars.

- We take the opportunity to talk about what we appreciate about other people.

- We take the opportunity to be creative in many different ways.

- We love experiencing new things with different people.

- We think about our priorities.

- We create a bridge between the different cultures we love.

- We take the opportunity to talk about human beings who have devoted their lives to helping others.

- We learn new skills (baking, wrapping, writing, drawing, expressing ourselves, designing, making piñatas, thinking outside the box, observing other people’s ways of doing things - their traditions).

- We embrace the warm weather (I finally accepted it!). We eat seasonal fruit (lychees, cherries and mangoes). We give thanks for the abundance and the privilege of food.

- We give thanks for being alive, and have the good fortune to celebrate life with loved ones.

Happy celebrations!


*My definition of God has become more sophisticated, but paradoxically, I have simplified its meaning, as well.

If you'd like, or need some support, in crafting an answer to this question I'll be happy to share what I have told my sons over the years with you. You can get in touch with me here.

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