RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

Merry Christmases

Posted by Robin Abrahams  December 20, 2012 08:36 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

During yesterday's chat, the seasonal question came up of what those of us who aren't Christians should say when asked what our Christmas plans are: "Do I tell them I don't celebrate, that I'm Jewish, that I'm eating Chinese?"

I responded,

I do. Not everyone who does movie and Chinese is Jewish, either. In fact, I know a Christian minister who will be doing the same thing on Christmas Day, after service! It's a federal holiday that over 90% of people observe in some way, so I think it's legit to ask; it's also not, like, confrontational to say, "I'm helping out at a soup kitchen and seeing 'Les Miz' in the evening."

Later discussion of "spiritual Christmas" versus "Santa Christmas" led me to write the following:

One thing that keeps me fascinated about Christmas is how many different Christmases there are. I guess that's why I don't consider the "Do you celebrate Christmas?" question to be a particularly relevant one. It's more a question of which Christmases you celebrate, or don't!

Let's look at some of the different Christmases on offer in 21st-century America:

Pop-Culture Christmas: Phil Spector's Christmas Album. "A Charlie Brown Christmas." "It's a Wonderful Life." The Rankin-Bass specials. Christmas episodes of your favorite sitcoms and dramas. The local theater's annual production of "A Christmas Carol." There's a huge amount of dreck out there, but American pop culture has produced an outstanding canon of Christmas art and entertainment, and it's one of the few canons almost everyone is familiar with. Fatemeh Fakhraie and I were earnestly discussing the Christmas episode of "The Office" yesterday: A Muslim and a Jew discussing a television episode about  blackface in the German/Scandinavian Christmas traditions of a character played by a Ba'hai actor. Because this is America. 

Also, Belschnickel was hilarious. Impish or admirable?

Family Christmas. Family Christmas is about kids, and traditions. Family Christmas is the first image that comes to mind, for most of us: a family gathered around a Christmas tree. I'm going to go out on a pine tree limb and say that this is the Christmas that probably causes the most problems. Because people who don't have kids and/or a big family (which is more and more people) get the message pretty loud and clear that they aren't having a "real" Christmas. Those who do have kids and/or a big family have ongoing challenges keeping traditions strong yet flexible--families are inherently dynamic as people grow up, move, marry, die, convert, and so on.

Yuletide Merriment. White lights and pine boughs and mulled wine. The Christmas of choice for the religiously unaffiliated but aesthetically intense, the Christmas that is more tied in to nature and pagan traditions. These are the folks who like to point out that every culture has a festival of lights during the longest nights of the year. Accept an invitation if you get one: The Yuletide Merriers tend to be excellent cooks, although they may insist you refer to the house punch as "wassail." It gets easier after the first flagon.

Spiritual Christmas. More inward than Yuletide Merriment, but similarly focused on the universal theme of darkness overcoming light. In light of the tragedy of Newtown, I think many Christians--and probably non-Christians as well--are tuning in to Spiritual Christmas this year. Hanukkah is very close to "spiritual Christmas," focusing as it does on the need to hunker down and keep your light burning throughout difficult times.

Religious Christmas. Advent and Christmas services and Epiphany and celebrating, not the renewal of the earth or the hope in the human spirit or anything vague like that, but particularly the birth of Jesus as the Christian savior. Not all Christians observe Religious Christmas.

Decadent Christmas. Spending too much and drinking too much and eating too much and being a lazy, regressive couch potato just because you can. Making virtuous New Year's resolutions. Decadent Christmas can be destructive, of course, but it can also be wholesome fun: staying in your pajamas all day and having cake for breakfast. Tends to be the Christmas Day observation of choice for childless folk who don't have to work; also, tends to be somewhat hard to avoid for everyone. 

What versions of Christmas do you tend to observe the most? What versions have I left out? 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

Need Advice?

Curious if you should say "bless you" to a sneezing atheist? How to host a dinner party for carbophobes, vegans, and Atkins disciples—all at the same time? The finer points of regifting? Ask it here, or email

Ask us a question


Browse this blog

by category