Non-religious Christmas Traditions

Updated on December 22, 2010
A.C. asks from Columbus, OH
24 answers

Any recs on Christmas traditions or for books for a toddler that are non-religious but Christmas orients? For example, we want to have a Christmas tree but we won't be celebrating as a Christian holiday necessarily. I would like to hear from other families who celebrate it non-religiously. I also thought having some books to read about various traditions (like the Christmas tree) would help. We already have the Grinch Stole Christmas, but we're introducing a tree this year, and I want some way to try to help our 2yo understand (in his fashion) a bit about it and why it's there.

***Thanks to for all the good/helpful responses. :)

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So What Happened?

Some more background/explanation: I was raised Catholic, but do not consider myself a Christian. I view with respect all the major world religions, as I think we can draw much from each of them. I view Jesus as holy and blessed man, but I don't believe "he was born of the virgin Mary" and I firmly believe that we are all children of G-d, not just Jesus, but every person. There have been religious/cultural traditions around the end of December/beginning of January for many many years prior to it becoming a Christian holiday. The yule log is one of those traditions that pre-dates the Christian holiday (it was used in the celebration of Winter Solstice), and is still part of some people's current holiday traditions. We will be teaching our son about Christmas being a religious holiday for many people, and what the general gist of it is (as well as the other major religious holidays for other religions). But that is far down the road at this point.

What I'm looking for is information on other family's traditions that are not necessarily focusing on Jesus Christ being born on Dec 25, and more on the spirit of giving. We read a lot, so books are a good way to start the ideas percolating in his little brain, along with talking about it with him, too, of course.

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answers from Cleveland on

The pickle ornament! It's hidden on the tree every Christmas morning and the first person to find it gets a very special present. My brothers and I are all adults and still fight over finding that pickle every year!
Also I agree, we focus on the spirit of giving to others so we have the kids each pick out a gift for a child on an angel tree.



answers from Dallas on

Elf on the shelf is the cutest book I have ever seen. I just wish it was out or I knew about it when my kids were little. I would have had so much fun having him move around the house and the kids find him.

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answers from Modesto on

I'm a Christian and love, love, love my Christmas tree but since you arent-- if you want to have a holiday tree for Yule, then go right ahead and have one. Decorate it in the way that speaks to you, and enjoy your holiday -- after all, the Winter Solstice and Christmas only comes once a year!
Decorate with nuts, toys, popcorn.. and leave out the angels, mangers, and OUR Savior.
Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer arent considered what you would call can add those stories along with the Grinch who "tried" to steal Christmas, even though he was unsuccessful ;)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My husband and I were both raised Catholic, but neither one of us is Catholic or any other religion now. We took the best of what we tradtionally celebrated from our childhoods and created our own little traditions.

We always put up a Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving (comes down the weekend after New Years). All our other decorations go up as well. The kids get their own Advent Calendar that has chocolates in it. I get them from Trader Joe's at 99 cents a Calendar. We also have an advent tree centerpiece on our dining room table that the girls take turns putting ornaments on. I have tons of Christmas CDs so we're always listening to music. I have one that is hymns in German, which everyone just loves. It's truly beautiful.

We build a gingerbread house from a kit. We make cookies and bring them to the neighbors. We send out Holiday Cards (although one year, we sent out Happy New Year cards because we did them so late). We read "Twas the Night before Christmas." We put out cookies and milk for Santa. And open gifts on Christmas morning. I always make cinnamon rolls and they're done after the kids open their presents.

Have lots of fun with it!

ETA: Christmas is only a religious event if you believe it is. We do not. Otherwise, it's a fun holiday with plenty of good cheer to go around to everyone!

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answers from Oklahoma City on

how can you have christmas a 'non religious' way? the whole point is to celebrat CHRISTmas. GIVING gifts and not getting as christ lead people to do, family and just remembering christ. my family has gotten so involved in the true meaning of christmas we even do a birthday cake for christ (husband's ex wife did that, and i LIKE that idea)

maybe do a "gift a day" for everyone in the household....that could get expensive, so just do small things like a hand full of candy one day, no chores for the kids the next day, extra play time, etc then on the last day the grand fanalee of the gifts kinda like hannakua, OR to better teach your kids the value of GIVING which is what christmas is also about, go buy a small toy for each of your children that they are comfortable giving and give it to toys for tots, or find that family that is less fortunate and let your kids give the gifts to the parents to wrap for their kids

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answers from New York on

I'm not sure how you can celebrate Christmas without embracing all that it represents - it is by its very nature a religious holiday that Christians observe to commemorate the birth of Christ. It would kind of be like me putting up a menorah (I'm not Jewish) because I think it's pretty, instead of because of what it represents. I think what you're doing is confusing, especially for your child. Granted, Christmas has become overly commercialized and secular, and it seems that just about everyone celebrates it these days. But I just don't get how you would manage to celebrate a religious holiday in a non-religious manner. Couldn't you just call your celebration something else, like Winter Solstice as others have suggested? If you take the religion out of Christmas, what are you left with but a gift-giving frenzy that is devoid of meaning? I'm sorry, but I just don't get it :(

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answers from Dallas on

well, I would suggest if you want to focus on the spirit of giving- focus on Santa- the spirit of santa. I don't think it's too early to teach your child to be a santa to someone else. There are Angel trees that will be set up everywhere before too long- pick an angel from the tree and take your little one to help you shop for stuff for the angel. Explain that you are both being Santa's helpers this year. You don't have to focus on the commercialism of Christmas just because you don't want to do the religious side.
If you don't want to do the angel tree- find someone else in your neighborhood who you could be Santa to and drop the presents off at their house Christmas eve. We have also done Christmas elf plates- you fill a plate with goodies and a note attached saying that they have been hit by the Christmas elf(include a separate picture of an elf) and they hang the picture up on their door, copy the picture and the note- fill the plate up again and deliver it to someone else. We had one year where the whole neighborhood was filled with elves! It was a lot of fun!
You could also find out how other countries celebrate Christmas(or winter holidays) and do something from each one.

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answers from San Francisco on

As a person who was raised without religion, but who loves Christmas, I view the Christmas season as a time to connect with family and friends. Sort of a closure to the season, which begins at Thanksgiving.
The present buying may be commercial, but I certainly spend a lot of time thinking about friends and family, some who I don't see a whole lot during the year, as I try to find a gift they would truly like. This year I tried to include my son, asking him what his great grandmother would like, his aunt, his uncle. Writing cards to family, also something you can have a young child help with, my son colors/draws a picture on each card as we talk about the person we are sending them to. Christmas is about connecting again with my larger family, and finally on Christmas morning with our immediate family.
We also take every opportunity during the season to help others...buying the Christmas tree from a lot that supports a charity we care about, my 2 year old pick out a toy and took it to the fire station to donate to toys for tots, I always pick out a charity to donate to. And this year, I have tried hard to include my son in all these activities, so he can appreciate how much we have and how lucky we are.
As for books, I always loved the night before christmas, and my son loved that one this year, but there are tons of non-religious christmas books out there. Many focus again on connecting with family and friends. He also watched the old Rudolph movie and loved it.
As for the tree, I don't think you need to explain why it is there. It is fun. It is about spending the time together picking it out, putting it up and decorating it. In a busy world filled with tv, computer, ipods, etc., it is a wonderful activity that slows the world down a bit and brings the family together for a common and fun activity. Not to mention the ornaments can bring back so many memories and start up great conversations.

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answers from Stockton on

The Christmas tree's origin is based on religion. I would stick to telling your 2yo why you personally put up the Christmas tree. T'was the Night Before Christmas is non religious and has a nice rhyme for the little ones. **Okay, so I just edited my answer since I realized how snotty it sounds when someone says "hate to tell you this" and for that I apologize, totally not my intention! Took that part out but if you read it before I did, I'm sorry. Too many people on here with attitude and I don't want to come off as one. : (

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answers from Columbus on

If you think your child is old enough to understand, you could pick a name from one of those angel trees and buy gifts for another child. My son likes picking out things to send to a specific kid and talking about what they might like to get. It's a good way to teach them early on about the spirit of giving.

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answers from Detroit on

I have never and will never "do" christmas... I am a christian, go to church and am active in our church... BUT the things that are "normal" for christmas time have no basis in the bible... Actually, the bible talks against many of the "traditions"...

I am confused about how you can keep a nonreligious christmas... So I will be checking the responses you get. :-) Since the whole premise of "christmas" is based on the birth of the messiah (who was not born at that time of year)I am unsure if there can be a disconnection between the two... Maybe if you call it a "winter solstice holiday" But I doubt they would mention the things that are traditional today... Would taking the messiah out of the holiday mean that its all about the gifts?

Hope you do find something... I am all for holidays that bring the family together and foster a spirit of love and hope.... For us its just easier to NOT "keep" christmas than to try to navigate the "this is right, this is wrong, and this is just plain made up" road with the kids...
Good luck and have a GREAT day!!!!

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answers from Chicago on

Do you allow your kiddo to watch movies? The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is a really good movie (and book) that illustrates how Santa came to be and why he gives gifts. It is pretty difficult to find, but the movie is a really good animated classic. It down plays the extravagance associated with Christmas and gift giving as we see it now.

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas is truly fantastic as well. It is compiled of three short cartoons that show generosity and kindness as well as the meaning of a gift, helping those less fortunate, and what it means to believe.

There are no religious connotations with either and they are very heart warming tales. It also helps that our 2yo loves both!

Hope this helps!!! :-)

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answers from Dallas on

Twas the Night Before Christmas?

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answers from Washington DC on

when my almost five year old asks me about a nativity scene or something along those lines i explain to her what many christians believe about the holiday. this is no different from when i explain to her about the menorah and the miracle that jewish people believe happened around this time. we attend a unitarian universalist church and she is in their religious education so that also helps.

our traditions are pretty much separate: we have a tree, santa visits and we spend a few cold days with warm spirits and our family and friends around. lucky us.

thanks for asking this question.

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answers from McAllen on

I'm not sure I understand your question, specially that Christmas is a religious event, and it is there for such religious motive.
But you could introduce it and celebrate it as a time to be with the family and be together with those who love and you love and spread love around.. maybe?
Hope this helps.
Good Luck!

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answers from Los Angeles on

I'm also searching for Christmas books to introduce my 2 year old to the Christmas spirit of giving and togetherness without the religious aspect. Favorites so far are Christmas Delicious by Lyn Loates, and Santa's Stowaway by Brandon Dornan.

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answers from Cleveland on

I'm Jewish and my husband has no religous offiliation(raised christian) anyhow, he has wonderful childhood memories of food,family gettogethers (the traditions not the religion) this time of year so we try to give that to the kids. His family is in Chicago we live in Cleveland. We celebrate Santa's bday and the spirit of giving, and sharing love and joy that he represents...we are more Jewish religion wise....we have a tree we trim christmas Eve, the kids open stockings xmas morning we have brunch and then the presents relax play outside and i cook hubby's traditional family christmas dinner. We call everybody under the sun watch Polar Express and go to bed! Tradition is what matters...I don't know if this helps, Happy holidays!

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answers from Spartanburg on

I am currently working on the same kind of thing for my 4 and 2 y/o...we have family close by so just celebrating and sharing meals with them are part of our christmas traditions...I am doing a tree this year and you got me thinking about finding some child friendly stories about how our current american christmas traditions came about...I have some doubt the tree is rooted in chrisitianity..probably a celtic holdover that had to be chrisitianfied...but my oldest is all about "doing art" so I know we can handmake ornaments or garland every year. My mom and I baked and decorated cookies to give out to neighbors/teachers every year when I was young and she has continued the tradition with my kids...they LOVE it! We always read Twas the Night Before Christmas, my inlaws gave me Elf on a Shelf this year but I haven't actually read the book yet, so I don't know if it is religiously themed but I don't think so. The malls around here always have angel trees for needy children, you and your child could select another 2 yr old boy and shop for him. My oldest helps me go through her clothes and toys before her bday and christmas to donate to charity. We also take a drive on christmas eve to look at lights, something I did as a kid myself. I will say with preschoolers that our "Christmas season" is short, only a couple of weeks b/c they (and I) just can't handle/maintian all the excitement for two months!

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answers from Chicago on

Dear A.C.:

What a wonderful goal! I'm glad you asked this question. Hubby and I have been exploring this with our 2 year old boy. My brother, a Unitarian Universalist minister, sent us two excellent books about traditions held throughout the world at this time of year -- these books celebrate light, warmth, hope, the natural world, and coming together with the ones you love. The first is Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations Around the World by Heather Conrad and deForest Walker. The second is The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice, by Wendy Pfeffer. We taught our son the phrase "Winter Lights." Now, when we drive around the neighborhood and see a house decorated with lights, he calls out "Winter Lights!"

Best wishes to you and yours!

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answers from Dallas on

There are many great non-religious Christmas books out there to introduce the Holidays to your young one. Here is a list of some that my kids have enjoyed.

1. Bear Stays up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
2. Merry Christmas Mom and Dad by Mercer Mayer
3. Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
4. Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O' Connor
5. Olivia Claus by Ian Falconer

To read more about the Christmas Eve Book Tradition, see my article at the link below.

It Takes a Village...
Where Dallas Moms go for Food, Family and Fun

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answers from Columbus on

My kids are 7 & almost 4. Even when I was younger, our Christmas' were more about getting together with family. We are not religious & don't go to church for any of those services. Some of our traditions include talking up Santa & my husband & I love watching the kids open presents. As everyone gets up, we get to open our stockings. Then, we all have breakfast together-that includes the works, ie: pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs. Then, we open the presents & spend the day playing or watching football. We have a big dinner later in the day. My husband collects Hot Wheels through the year to give to Toys for Tots, so we also include teaching our kids about the spirit of giving. Our day really does just center around family & we try really hard to make a nice day.



answers from Minneapolis on

My husband is Jewish and I was raised Catholic but we're raising our little girl Jewish. In addition to celebrating hanukkah we too are looking for non-religious ways to celebrate the meaning of the season. I found this great wish tree at Red Envelope that is a fun way to share our wishes for others throughout the season. We also bake cookies, share great meals with family and give gifts. Do what works for your family and build your own traditions.



answers from Binghamton on

There is a wonderful tradition of Advent where I live. We decorate a wreath with 4 candles, one for each Sunday leading up to Christmas. Then on each Sunday we light one more candle and sing our favorite carols.

When they were little, we also had our kids chose a few good quality toys they had outgrown to donate to the local children's hospital or shelter to "make way" for the Christmas presents. Now they are too old for toys, so we chose a charity to make a donation to.

We also give the girls one Christmas ornament each year when we decorate the tree. Their collection plus mine from my childhood elicits stories of Christmases past when we decorate the tree the next year.



answers from Dallas on

I assume you are either Muslim, Hindu, or Jewish and want to celebrate the commercial part of Christmas? Besides having a Christmas tree, you can drive around nice neighborhoods and look at the pretty Christmas lights (which is what my family and I do). You can visit Santa Claus at the mall (don't forget your camera!) and build snowmen with your children outside, and you can buy a Christmas CD to listen to nice Christmas songs during the holiday season. Frosty the Snowman would be a good book. Also, you can try to get yourselves invited to a family's house on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (if they don't have local relatives, that is). You can bake Christmas cookies and decorate a gingerbread house, too. You can see the Nutcracker, if it is local to you. Or, you can see the Nutcracker in Chicago, which isn't too far from you. Have fun!

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