I experienced snow for the first time when I was 6. My family immigrated to Canada in March 1978. Having been born on a tropical island, it was certainly a lot of fun (up to a point) to be able to play in the snow.
My first Christmas was later that year. I didn't really "get it" -- the stockings with oranges, little toys and chocolate in it -- the gifts under a pine tree... I never grew up with that holiday being part of my life. For my family and culture, it is New Years where everyone gets a week off to visit and spend time with family.
So it was a bit of a culture shock moving to Canada. I didn't understand why people get so stressed out every December. I didn't understand why there is such a push to see everyone each December. I didn't understand why presents were given in such quantities in December? (Bible study filled in the real blanks)
I was brought up literally by my grandparents, aunts and uncles alongside my parents. So I saw and lived with extended family right from the start. There was no need to gather everyone together at a time where it is potentially very dangerous to be travelling because I saw them pretty much all the time.
Because my family didn't have a lot of money, I grew up making cards and crafts and gifts to give it to family and friends. It was just something I did. I would get little surprise treats throughout the year that gave me more joy than a big pile to open up on 1 day each year. How much each gift cost never came into the equation.
When there was a special occasion ie. birthday, holiday day etc, we would celebrate by all going out for dinner and the cost was split amongst the families. The evening would end with the cutting and eating of a cake from a local bakery.
There was no expectations of gift giving, gift receiving or spending lots of money.
Having grown up like that gives me a neat perspective on each holiday season. I've integrated aspects I feel are good and have rejected other things that I feel take away from the real meaning.
To be honest, it has not been the easiest for me to integrate into D's family's fairly "traditional" take on Christmas celebrations.
The driving 4 hrs or flying 4 hours to whomever is "hosting" that year. The pressure to spend money on lots of gifts (D's family really spend a lot) to reciprocate gifts received. The 3 nights spent in someone else's house. That one is the toughest for me.
I feel I've done my best to maintain a cheery demeanor and to be a great guest/appreciative family member. It is just not exactly "my thing". D doesn't come from a close family so there is not a whole lot of talking and 4 days spent in front of a TV is difficult for both of us (remember we do not have cable/satellite).
Some days I think my mother in law thinks I'm strange -- because I don't like to spend 8 hrs a day shopping -- because I don't want a house full of children -- because I don't come downstairs to greet everyone each morning in my pyjamas...
She, however, is fascinated with my travelling and how I am willing to do alone. She thinks that's really cool. She says she is really inspired by me. D's family live out in the country and they are considered the "world travellers" of their community because they have been to Cuba AND the Dominican. D's dad and I get along pretty well I think because I happen to like fishing, Guinness and putting together bbq's. We have an understanding.
I have seen my husband's family change in the last 5 years they've known me in ways I feel that have brought more joy, fun and less stress to Christmas.
They now will make one gift to me a charity donation. They have done away with the Christmas List. Instead, more quality time together has allowed them to understand one another well enough to come up with surprise gifts with a per person budget!
They are not "hung up" on the "day" anymore -- enough to be downright excited for D and I to be spending the holidays at our ski condo as our new Christmas tradition.
We now celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in late November and have our gift exchange and big family meal then (with no overnight stays).
It's working for me!