Personal column: no correct way to celebrate winter holidays


Cassie Barnes

An evergreen tree with shiny ornaments hanging from its branches is often the staple of Christmas time. However, this tradition is not the only way the holiday season can be celebrated.

Cassie Barnes, Online Editor

Christmas is a time to be shared with family and friends and witness the smiling faces of everyone you pass by when you say “happy holidays.” Every year, I look forward to assembling the tree and hanging every ornament stored in the attic on each available branch while screaming the lyrics of “Last Christmas” by Wham! and driving around neighborhoods to see the twinkling lights and inflatables other families have used to deck their homes. These beloved traditions are why it is my favorite holiday.

However, an experience I had in fourth grade changed my perception of Christmas. A few days before Christmas break started, my classmate asked me where I put my Nativity scene, mentioning that her parents placed small figures of desert animals surrounding a woman holding an infant around her house and front yard. It was a scene of the birth of Jesus Christ, I learned, and apparently, most people who celebrate Christmas usually have at least one. I did not have a Nativity scene, and I did not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ because I wasn’t even religious. 

Suddenly, I felt like I’d been celebrating my favorite holiday the wrong way. Every Dec. 25 was filled with the excitement of Santa Claus, his reindeer and the beautifully wrapped presents he would bring for us to open in the morning. In that fourth grade classroom, I felt like my experiences of Christmas were invalid because they were all centered around being with family without the addition of believing in God.

Even then, I knew there were other winter holidaysHanukkah and Kwanzaawhich none of my classmates celebrated. The only acknowledgement of a holiday other than Christmas in school was the game of the clay dreidel played during Hanukkah. For years, up until high school, I knew winter break as “Christmas break,” and our annual class winter celebration before the vacation was always labeled the “Christmas Party” where parents wore cherry-red Santa hats, passed out peppermint candy and played videos of children’s choirs singing Christmas carols.

With 39% of Fairfax County’s population identifying as Christian, the religion’s ideologies are so abundant in schools that we tend to overlook its influence. Only recently has Fairfax County Public Schools created cultural observance days for other holidays, like Yom Kippur and Diwali, as well as the separation of spring break from being affiliated with any religious holiday.

There was always the assumption that everyone who celebrates Christmas does so in respect of their religion, but I never conformed to that rule. Of course, it wasn’t that deep in fourth grade when all I cared about was my ability to multiply by 12, but looking back, the assumptions were harmful. Christmas is a celebration anyone can take part in. I do not have to believe in anything I feel is untrue, and I wish younger me knew that.