Yikes. Just the word Christmas makes my heart pound.
My mother always made Christmas very wonderful. It wasn't religious for us, but it was spiritual. The gifts that we she gave us were practical and very well thought out. There was a lot of making things ourselves and singing and seeing family. We also lit Chanukah candles and did a little for that (no presents) since my father is Jewish.
When I grew up I picked Judaism and went into it in a big way (if anyone wonders how I did that with a non-Jewish mother, I converted). I wrote off Christmas, which made my mother sad and totally crushed my in-laws (my husband was also a convert). We allowed "holiday gifts" for a year or two but then even that got too weird for us.
Many years and two children later, we woke up and realized that Judaism was not for us. But neither was Christianity. We didn't feel we could deny our parents the pleasure of our company at pr
around Christmas anymore, but it still had no meaning for us. Chanukah still had more meaning to us than Christmas. Add to that that my two daughters' birthdays are December 18 and 20 and then that while we are decidedly not pagans we are still attracted to pagan ways of celebrating the earth's cycle, and December becomes a jumbled mess of confusion.
I don't know how I feel about any of these holidays, except my daughter's birthdays, but on top of their celebrations, I feel compelled to go to my in-laws super-materialistic Christmases (they are awful), find a way to celebrate somehow with my mother, pay some homage to my Jewish past with Chanuka, and recognize the solstice.
This past year my mother came up with the brilliant idea of not doing Christmas at all and having a family solstice party instead. It was wonderful, and I was so grateful to her. I really hope this becomes a tradition. It took the pressure off of finding some Christmasy way of relating to her as well of finding some way of fitting a solstice celebration in with all the other things going on. It's funny because I think she's always wanted to move what we do on Christmas over to the solstice, but was always afraid of the rest of the family's reaction. But we all loved it. We had a lot of family over, a bonfire, a festive meal, sang carols that weren't explicitly Christian (i.e. Deck the Halls), exchanged just a few thoughtful gifts, and it was great.
Of course then I still had to go to my MIL's over-materialistic Christmas celebration. No amount of talking to her will get her to buy fewer toys and focus less on them as the meaning of the day. I'm not looking for Christian meaning, but for an overall feeling of love and kindness and sharing, and that's definitely not what's going on in MIL's house.
With all the gifts my girls get in December from family and friends between their birthdays and the holidays, I don't give them a single object that month. I have learned instead to give them things during the year if and when I find something that is right for them at that time. They never even miss the gifts from me.