Growing up, Christmas was a weird time of year. Everyone was running around shopping and everything was decorated with Christmas decorations, but I of course didn't celebrate it. My parents didn't believe in giving channukah presents because that was 'too goyish', instead they gave us channukah 'gelt' (cash).
I felt like an outsider wherever I turned. Of course I didn't want it anyway; oh look at those people running around and worshiping at the alter of consumerism I told myself (Yes, I was anti-consumerism from a young age). It can't be that great. They don't even know what they're celebrating, they're just doing these stupid rituals that don't mean anything anymore. (Sour grapes much?)
My parents used to go on vacation over christmas, cause my dad had off from work. For 2 years in a row when I was in my late teens, my brother and I (a year younger than me) threw gigantic "Christmas for Jews" house parties, where 30-40 people came over and hung out and got drunk away from adult supervision. One year we almost got caught when my mom noticed some crushed chips on the floor that we had missed cleaning up. My brother said something like "Oh yeah mom, we had a gigantic party of 40 people here" in his sarcastic voice, and my mom was all "yeah right, like you have 40 friends" (come to think of it, my mom is not a very nice person).
When I obtained financial independence and moved permanently away from my parents house after college (when my dad could no longer force me to come home every shabbas by threatening to cut me off), for a few years some friends of mine would come crash by my place, and we would go get great chinese food and go to a movie. We did this entirely because of the stereotype of Jews eating chinese and watching movies on christmas.
Then I met B, and last year I celebrated my first Christmas. In a completely non-religious way. We went to his parents, I got to decorate my first tree, and I left all the Jesus-y ornaments off (although my future mom in law later went and put all of them on). B's mom, who is very religious catholic, goes to mass, but did not even bother inviting us. I probably would have gone just out of curiosity, since I've never been in a church before, let alone gone to any other religion's religious services. I'm like to see what goes on there, and how different it is from shul.
B's family has it's own christmas traditions. On christmas eve (so, tomorrow), they (we) have a dinner made up entirely out of their (our) favorite appetizers. Then they (we) all go sit around the tree and everyone takes turns opening one present at a time. His mom traditionally gives the kids (and now me) a calender and gift cards and one big present. Then on christmas day they (we) have a big turkey dinner.
I love it. I love getting presents, but I love giving them even more. My family isn't really a 'present' type of family; my parents gave us kids cash on their birthdays and chanukah, but never gifts per se. If I did ever get a gift, it was because I specifically requested something, so it was never a surprise. My friends were never really gift exchangers either.
But the whole gift exchange thing is so fun! For the past few days we've been shopping all over the place (2 malls and 2 other stores), getting gifts. We've been trying to figure out what specific people will like through subterfuge (usually by asking their spouse or parents), and based on what we know about them. It's like a giant scavenger hunt for the perfect gift. I love it so much I even mailed both my brothers gifts, making sure to write "happy chanukah!" on the one to my religious brother. We got christmas gifts for our cats (2 new scratching posts!) And one for B's sister's dog (an argyle dog sweater!). We're going to pick something up for our catsitter before we go back home this Saturday. I'm on a gift buying binge. I keep thinking of more friends I want to send gifts to. Next year I probably will.
Next year me and B are getting our own tree.
It still feels a bit weird to be celebrating christmas at all. Like, even though I celebrate it in a completely non-religious way, it feels as if I've joined another religion. I know that is partially because of socialization; my parents drilled into my head that christmas was something the christians do, even though people of many religions celebrate it. It's also partially because it's so ritualistic, even though the rituals are a conglomerate of several different winter solstice festivals, and most of the religions behind them have been dead for hundreds if not thousands of years.
But on the other hand, these festivals were created to stave off the depression that one gets from a long dark and cold winter when farmers didn't have much work to do. Christmas was something to look forward to. And you know what? I've had a pretty depressing and dreary fall semester. The past few months I've been working constantly. I too need something to look forward to. And having Christmas just makes this time of year that much better.
It's a guilty pleasure.