Growing up, my mother approached Christmas in much the same manner as Halloween. If you’re scratching your head and wondering why a devout Christian would despise the day which most of the world celebrates the birth of her savior, I’ll solve the puzzle for you.

1. According to my mother, it is ridiculous to celebrate the birth of Jesus on a random day that almost certainly is not his birthday. Almost all religious historians will tell you that Jesus was most certainly not born in winter. More likely he was born in late September. But of course, there is no way of knowing exactly when he was born. Furthermore, ancient Christians tried to appease new converts by incorporating their pagan traditions regarding Winter Solstice into their new religion: hence the adoption of symbols of winter solstice such as decorating evergreen trees and hanging holly and mistletoe. The last thing my mother ever wanted to support was tolerance or acceptance of anyone whose beliefs differed from her one bit, so this last bit seemed particularly abhorrent. IF — and that’s a big if — she was going to allow us to celebrate the holiday, there would be ABSOLUTELY no tree or other “pagan decorations”.

2. Any redeeming value the holiday might have once had, it was obliterated long ago by the raging consumerism and secularization of the season. As much as she hated the holiday, she hated even more to see others “abusing” it by using it as an excuse to overspend. And do yourself a favor — don’t ever get her started on store windows or Christmas cards that displayed Santa and snowmen rather than nativity scenes. She claimed that these icons were distractions that took away attention from the true meaning of the holiday. And, as she was very fond of pointing out, Santa is an anagram of Satan. (Later, when I was older, I tried to explain that this meant exactly nothing since the icon’s name is not Santa, and that Santa simply means Saint, and it is a title given to hundreds of people. My argument went over as well as you are imagining.)

So, in our house, Christmas was treated much like Halloween. Not only did we not celebrate, but my mother used the season as an opportunity to impose her brand of religion on all those we encountered. If you think people dislike being told they should not celebrate Halloween, try to imagine how they react to being told they should not celebrate Christmas.

All of my extended family celebrated Christmas with gusto. My cousins all looked forward to a month of decorating, singing, and shopping culminating in an orgy of presents. Obviously, as a child, I envied the gifts. As I got older, I envied the traditions. I wanted to make a big family breakfast each year, which I would eat in my new Christmas pajamas. I wanted to exchange gifts and wear bows on my head. I wanted to decorate a tree with ornaments that told a story of Christmases past.

As Christmas approaches, JP and I have the opportunity to create our own holiday traditions. (As a side note, I’ve always thought it was ironic that I had to become an atheist before I was able to celebrate Christmas.) We’re excited about decorating our first tree and hosting our first holiday party. But as you may have gathered, JP and I are not religious, so a lot of the religious traditions that seem inherent in the holiday — going to church, etc — don’t appeal. But one Christian tradition I’ve always loved is the advent calendar. It seems like a wonderful way to prolong the joy of the season, increasing the anticipation day by day.

So this year I decided to make a calendar of my own. I followed the wonderful instructions found here and made a calendar of tiny envelopes. I used a variety of beautiful scrapbook paper, which is great because I had tons left over for my scrapbook. I love the mini clothespins — they are so adorable. And I filled each envelope with instructions for a Christmas activity. Some are big — like a road trip to see the Lake Lanier Nights of Magic. Others are small — like making a Christmas list or writing out ten things you are thankful for. But each is something special we can do together. And thirty days of activities that bring us closer together…that’s a tradition I’m proud to start for my new family.