How to Handle the Holidays if Your Family Doesn't Celebrate Christmas

A man and child on a sled in the snow

Verywell / Photo Illustration by Amelia Manley / Getty Images

It's no secret that Christmas is a popular holiday. In fact, it's celebrated by over 2 billion people in over 160 countries around the world. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 93% of Americans reported that they celebrated Christmas that year. Commercialization of Christmas often begins before the weather changes, with tree lights sometimes hitting the shelves as early as August or September. By the time Halloween is over, ornaments and gift wrap are in full view, if they weren't already on display.

But for families who don't celebrate Christmas, being surrounded by holiday decor for months can be overwhelming. It might even feel exclusionary, particularly if you have young children who are wondering why they don't participate in the same customs as their classmates. We turned to some experts to dig into the trends surrounding the holiday hype, along with some tools for how to cope if your household isn't a Christmas-celebrating one.

How to Discuss the Holidays With Your Children

If you have young children at home, it can feel challenging to explain why they may not engage in the same traditions as some of their peers at school. If most of their friends celebrate Christmas, they may be wondering why they don't get a visit from Santa or have a tree in their living room like other kids.

Janika Veasley, a Pennsylvania-based licensed marriage and family therapist suggests parents have a discussion with their child to communicate that all families have different traditions, celebrations, and approaches to the holidays, regardless of their background or what religion they may celebrate. “Whether it's religious or not, an explanation helps externalize the experience,” she says. It is also important that kids understand that different doesn’t mean bad; every family is unique, and therefore, every household will be unique too.

If your family celebrates a religious holiday other than Christmas, it could help to explain that your children will be getting presents for Eid, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or on another special occasion. You can also talk about the other fun traditions your family will participate in, such as lighting the menorah. As Veasley notes, this helps reframe the holiday experience overall.

Of course, not all families are religious; some don't celebrate any specific winter holidays at all. If that fits the bill for your household, consider highlighting some secular winter activities that your children can still participate in. Decorating the house with icicle lights, making gingerbread houses, or trying out family recipes are all fun things to do in the colder months that have nothing to do with religion.

Other Ways to Reframe the Holiday Season

The holidays are a busy time of year in general, but for families who don't celebrate Christmas, they may feel on the periphery of that particular type of hubbub. Once you've explained the reason why your family doesn't have the same traditions as others, consider finding different ways to connect with your children during this season. After all, the holidays are about more than lights or presents; they're truly about spending time with loved ones and cherishing the most important people in our lives.

Ahead are some suggestions for reframing the holidays and finding ways to connect with your family, regardless of what you celebrate.

Focus on Gratitude

It's easy to fall into the comparison trap by focusing on what others do. However, adopting an attitude of gratitude will help you focus on life's blessings. If keeping a gratitude journal all year is a bit high on the commitment spectrum, consider writing out a list of things you are grateful for and reading them around the dinner table. You could even make a game of it by shuffling up everyone's answers, and guessing who said what.

Create Your Own Traditions

You don't need to celebrate a religious holiday in order to create winter traditions with your family. Whether it's going ice skating as a group or building a living room fort and watching a favorite movie, returning to the same activity year after year will help carve concrete memories for your children that can undoubtedly last a lifetime.

Give Memories Instead of Presents

There's no doubt that there's a heavy emphasis on shopping amid the holiday season. A 2021 report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) shows that consumers who observe a winter holiday will spend an average of $998 each year, ranging from the purchase of gifts to decorations.

But there's no rules dictating how much money you should spend—or if you should even buy things at all. Consider the value of surprising your loved ones with a memory instead of an object, which is how Katie Oelker, a Minnesota mom of two, approaches the holidays. "We’d rather use our money for travel and experiences," she says, adding that if they do purchase gifts, it's usually practical things that her children will need in the upcoming year, like roller skates or a bike helmet.

A Word From Verywell

If Christmas isn’t the focal point of your year, know that you are not alone. Help your children understand that every family is different, and each household has their own traditions and customs unique to them. Remember, different does not mean bad. You may find ways to establish new traditions that are also intergenerational and lively. If there are other non-observing children and community members in your area, try to spend time within those peers who are also navigating the holiday season.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gallup. What percentage of Americans celebrate Christmas?.

  2. Public Broadcasting Services. Making family traditions.

  3. National Retail Federation. Retail Holiday and Seasonal Trends.

By Nafeesah Allen, PhD
Dr. Nafeesah Allen is a migration scholar and multicultural communications expert, who transformed trauma from pregnancy discrimination into a new relationship with parenting, wealth, and serial entrepreneurship. Leveraging over 15 years of editorial experience, she has a passion for crafting diverse stories that challenge what we think we know about identity, money, and cultural iconoclasts. She is an expat wife and the proud mom of third-culture kids.