I was raised in a Conservative Baptist household. Christmas morning began with breakfast followed by a birthday cake with candles over which we sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. (Yes, I am completely serious.)
I left the church as a young teen. Christmas is still a wonderful time of year, but I feel pretty vehemently that Jesus is not the “reason for the season.”
I don’t overtly celebrate Christmas: I have nearly zero decorations at my house, and I don’t do cards or gift exchanges (except I often send end-of-year chocolates or such stuff to my clients).
But although I don’t “celebrate” it, I love the holiday season as an interested bystander: you could say that I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I do celebrate Xmas. I wish this wonderful time started in September and lasted through February. I love how everyone is in a good mood and little kids are beside themselves with excitement. I enjoy how all the world is playing old familiar music (especially nice instrumental versions, and blues/jazz/funky variants).
I love how work slows down and everyone is forgiving about co-workers and colleagues taking tons of time off. I love all the lights, but have long since tired of the santas and snowmen. Don’t get me started on the silly manger scenes.
Well, one of my neighbors had a Darth Vader nativity scene in his yard a few years ago. That was funny.
Reinventing the holidays
People used to be sufficiently wrapped up in holiday cheer that they wouldn’t go hyper if you said Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. But in the early 2000s that seemed to change, and by 2002 I was fed up with people answering my “Happy Holidays!” with “No, it’s Christmas!”
I could go off on how, actually, it was a Pagan holiday long before it was taken over by Christianity, but there’s really no point. The truth is that the holiday is whatever you want to make it. So why not make it something new just for us?
It was about this time that my family was enjoying a new holiday tradition: getting together to see the Lord of the Rings films. In 2002, we gathered for a weekend at my brother’s house on the coast to watch the DVD of the first film, then we went as a tribe to a theater to watch the second film. That was when we talked about formalizing our own alternate holiday tradition.
The next year, we were back on the coast, this time watching DVDs of the first two films before heading off to see the third, and now we were earnestly discussing the parameters of our new home-grown holiday.
Things morphed over the years, and frankly we are still figuring this out, but here is where we are with it so far:
The official name. Honoring the Lord of the Rings origin of our tradition, we first called it LotheR day and finally settled on Lothersday.
The official date. Keeping with the LotR theme, we wanted to honor J.R.R. Tolkein’s birthday, but as it is January 3, it was a bit too far away. The original trilogy of the LotR films were released in the U.S. on December 19th in 2001, December 18th in 2002, and December 17th in 2003. Looking for more significant dates in that range: Arthur C. Clark was born on December 16, Beethoven was born on, well, sometime in December, and to us the most important birthday in December is that of Sir Isaac Newton on December 25. We chose December 17 as the official date for Lothersday. We treat the range of December 16-25 as Lothersday season, and generally choose the weekend in that range that is closest to December 17 to gather.
The food. This is something we’re still figuring out. If we stick with the LotR theme, then we’d need to observe the meal schedule observed by the Hobbits:
- Second breakfast
- Afternoon tea
The traditions. We’re a family of video watchers. Lothersday began with us gathering to watch the Lord of the Rings films, but as the franchise grew to include six films it became a bit much. After all these years, a few of us go hard-core into it and watch the director’s-cut DVDs of the first three films, but recently we’ve started choosing other franchises. While the films are on in the background, some of us sit in the room with knitting or other hobbies, others with their computers, and still others come and go, catching scenes of the films between quick hikes and kayak voyages.
So it is that we have been celebrating our alternative holiday for more than 15 years.
It’s nice that our holiday spirit coincides with the general theme of merriment in the world as others are celebrating their own holidays: Christmas, Xmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and the winter solstice.
In the beginning we were reacting to the hyper-Christian backlash we were getting from the world, and then we were just having fun by doing something outside the norm. But after more than fifteen years it has become a serious family tradition and is our uber-holiday of the year.
So this December 16, if people scowl at you for wishing them Happy Holidays, just wish them a Happy Lothersday. Instead of them feeling self-righteous for you not celebrating their particular flavor of holiday, you can leave them wondering as you walk away, whistling the Lord of the Rings theme with holiday cheer.
[This post was originally published in December 2017, then greatly revised in October 2020.]