Separating Secular from Sacred   6 comments

This week, the Open Book Blog Hop is sharing what we do to celebrate Christmas. You know, there are all sorts of Christmas traditions out there and there is a wide variety of ways to celebrate – religious, secular, Jewish, Christian, kwanzaa … check out my fellow authors to see what they do.

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Our family are evangelical Christians. My husband grew up back East where there is a strong Jewish tradition. I grew up 14 miles from North Pole, Alaska. My father’s folks were Swedish, so there are some traditions unique to that. The biggest influence on our family traditions, though, come from my mother and grandfather both being born on Christmas Day.


I’m in the midst of my Christmas education series, so if you have any questions about what I believe and why, go there and start reading. This is about the celebration, not the theology of it.

Christmas season starts on Black Friday or that weekend for us. We don’t celebrate it before Thanksgiving because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it deserves to be celebrated.

That weekend coincides with the opening of the Ice Park in North Pole, a Christmas-themed town to the southeast of Fairbanks. If weather cooperates, we often will attend.  North Pole is all about Santa — with Santa Claus’ house, reindeer and elves. Yes, that vaguely candy-cane photo shows a street light. It’s Christman 365 days a year in North Pole.

We decorate Thanksgiving weekend, unless something comes up, which it did this year. I love evergreens, though we can’t take them from the wild here and bring them into our houses because they’re frozen, so they drop their needles when they warm and become both unsightly and a fire hazard. So, we raise an artificial tree and hang artificial garland and then we get some trimmings from a local live Christmas tree shop to fill a basket that sits behind the Christmas tree to fragrance the air. Usually this is the weekend when we watch It’s a Wonderful Life to remind us of why we love this season.

We have collected a lot of ornaments and other items over the years. The Nativity scene gets a prominent place on the hearth of our non-working fireplace. Our tree is very eclectic without really a theme. My supervisor at my long-time job with mental health gifted me with a Santa every year, so that I have a collection that sits on the wide sill of the front window. There is old St. Nicholaus braving the snows to take gifts to children, skinny Victorian Santas, and a jolly old elf pulling a sleigh full of gifts (somehow without reindeer). We have a stocking for each of us and a shared one for the pets. There is rarely anything in the stockings, except on St. Lucia’s Day. I used to put candy in the kids’ shoes when they were little and we lived in a small house, but since we now live somewhere where there’s room to decorate for Christmas, I’ve shifted the candy giving to the stockings.

Norwegian FattigmannAlthough I bake bread regularly, I don’t bake sweet stuff much except at Christmas. I’m not sure how fattigmann cookies, which are Norwegian, became a family tradition in my father’s Swedish family, but I make them for St. Lucia’s Day (which was Sunday December 13 this year).

Our woodstove is usually going all the time this time of year, so we usually have a big pot of mulled apple cider going. It’s non-alcoholic, but delicious with cloves, cinammon, nutmeg, etc. It just keeps getting replenished and it makes the house smell LOVELY, but it’s also a great hot beverage when, baby, it’s really cold outside. True winter starts just after Thanksgiving, so Christmas can be brutal. Outside. Inside, it’s warm and fragrant and sparkly.

My husband was raised Irish-Catholic, but many of his neighbors were Jewish, so he enjoys doing some Hannukah things. He has been known to go through great exercises to find those cookies with the blue jelly. Fairbanks does have a resident Jewish population, but it’s small so stores don’t really cater to them. It’s sort of hit and miss, but Brad loves those cookies, so …. He usually tells the story of the Macabbeans sometime during Hannukah. He wants a menorrah, but we can’t even remember to do Advent candles at home, so I think he’s dreaming.

When we put out the Nativity scene, it is family tradition to put the Wise Men across the room. One of us moves them closer to the fireplace on a daily basis. This year, my husband and I have realized that our son is doing a lot of the moving. He’s almost 17 and it is fun to realize that Christmas traditions do mean something to him. As part of this slow progression, we talk about the events leading up to Jesus’ birth — the angel’s announcement to Mary that she was pregnant, Joseph’s decision not to put her aside for adultery, why Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census.

With North Pole Santa-crazy, Fairbanks does more traditional things. There are Christmas concerts and a do-it-yourself Messiah singing. Some years we participate with Jewish friends for Hannukah, but we don’t usually do all the nights.

As I said, my mother and grandfather were both born Christmas Day, which really sucks. Nobody remembers that it is your birthday. If you get birthday gifts at all they’re wrapped in Christmas papers. You never have a birthday party on your birthday … unless you’re married to my dad. My dad figured he could move a major holiday for the woman he loved, so we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. Alaska used to have a 1 to 4 female to male ratio, so my parents often hosted a huge meal for all the bachelors they knew on Christmas Eve. Dad was a professional chef and Mom was a diner waitress/cook, so our house was always packed for Christmas Eve. We would always open gifts right after the guests left. We would wake up late on Christmas morning, which was a very relaxed day and Dad would make a special meal for Mom. By getting Christmas out of the way on Christmas Eve, Mom could actually enjoy her birthday.

Since Mom’s passing, my brother and I continue to celebrate together on Christmas Eve. I make dinner and bake pies, Jeff brings his wife and usually something he baked (yes, HE bakes), and we open presents and share fun family stories (otherwise known as the times our parents’ embarrassed us, but you have to have a sense of humor about these things). Some years we go to a candlelight ceremony together. We used to go to view Christmas lights together, but electricity has gotten too expensive for people here to put them up, so we haven’t done that for half a decade.

For us, Christmas Eve is a fairly secular observance because Jeff and his family are not practicing Christians and we don’t want to make them uncomfortable. The candlelight ceremony attendance only occurs if his wife suggests it. Our church does one every year right in the middle of when we have dinner, so we’ve never been. We usually go to the Presbyterian church’s midnight service if we go because Brad won’t go to the Catholic church’s service (I might explain that someday).

Which brings us to Christmas morning. Jeff spends his Christmas Day with his kids and grandkids. We spend ours as a family as well (though if Christmas falls on a Sunday, we try to go to church). I’ve usually baked challah for Christmas morning and then we sit around having coffee. Maybe we play a video game someone got for Christmas. If it’s warm out, we may go for a walk with the dogs. If there are Christmas parades on television, sometimes we’ll catch one. Sometime between getting up and an early evening dinner, we read the Christmas story and we hang some angel ornaments from the fireplace above the Nativity scene. The timing of this is important to us. After dinner, the Wise Men arrive at the Nativity scene and we talk about the aftermath of Jesus’ birth — how King Herod tried to kill Jesus, how the family fled to Egypt and what happened in Bethlehem to the other children. Then we “remember” Christ’s sacrifice for us with a family Lord’s Supper of unleavened bread and juice and reading I Corinthians 11:17-34. One year we did it with leftover fattigmann cookies and apple cider because Brad forgot to buy the motza and grape juice. The symbolism of it is more important than the details.

For us, Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’ birth. Yes, we decorate for Christmas in traditional northern European ways, but we don’t worship evergreens, Santa or gifts. Although my parents had a wholly secular reason for celebrating on Christmas Eve, Brad and I have realized there are spiritual benefits to separating the Christmas Eve party from the Christmas Day worship. Santa Claus is not the reason for Christmas. Yes, we enjoy some of the Saturnalia elements of the holidays, but by segregating the gift-giving and party atmosphere to Christmas Eve, we make Jesus’ birth central to our Christmas Day celebrations.


Tracy Krimmer

Tracy’s love of writing began at nine years old. She wrote stories about aliens at school, machines that did homework for you, and penguins. Now she pens books and short stories about romance. She loves to read a great book, whether it be romance or science fiction, or any genre in between, or pop popcorn and catch up on her favorite TV shows or movies. She’s been known to crush a candy or two as well. Her first romance novel, Pieces of it All, released in May 2014 followed in December with Caching In, a romance mixed with the hobby of geocaching. She also has written several short stories.

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Posted December 22, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in #openbook

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6 responses to “Separating Secular from Sacred

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  1. Your celebrations sound wonderful; I particularly like the sound of the mulled apple cider! My parents never made much of a fuss of Christmas Day itself, but being EastEnders there was always a big family party in the evening with singing and dancing. It’s the parties I remember and miss with family members who are no longer alive.


  2. sounds like a wonderful Christmas! Especially the fattigmann! Haven’t had that since my Grandmother died, but we still make it along with sandbakles and rosettes!


  3. Sounds like your house is filled with yummy treats and a family atmosphere. Kudos.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful, many-layered celebration! I’m glad you had such a wonderful Christmas!


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