Children: sons Abram, 17, Wilson, 12, and Leo, 10; daughter Olive, 15
The things that mean most to me are the traditions — religious, cultural and family — that help connect me to things that I value most. We do a lot of things at the end of the year. Oh, 50 percent of the time I'm derided for these things, but if I were to skip one, my family would be disappointed. Every year I start a bonfire on the 21st of December (the solstice). Some years I'm out there in the wet and the cold, and the fire won't start, but the kids come out, and they'd feel bad if I didn't build it. Every year I make a fruitcake. Even if they don't eat it, they'd be terribly disappointed if I didn't make one. We get a Christmas tree from Larry's Tree Farm, and it has to be Larry's Tree Farm. If somebody's missing, we just have to wait until everybody can be together. Because we spend Christmas Day with my wife's family in New Hampshire, we open gifts on New Year's Day at home. No matter how many people we spend the holidays with, New Year's Day is reserved for our family. There will be periods when the kids will be sometimes more and sometimes less enthusiastic about these things. Sticking with them year by year is important because they'll get the importance of family. They'll appreciate it in the end.
Children: son Miles, 12; stepson Cole, 8; stepdaughter Giovanna, 10; daughter Juliet, 7
The holidays mean the getting together of family, celebrating the importance of family and also the spirit of giving — celebrating each other and giving gifts to people you care about. I try to pass on that it's not all about the getting. It's about the giving, and it's a time to reflect on the year. My mother, a Unitarian, celebrated Christmas in our home growing up, and I remember my father, who was Jewish, saying that he celebrated Santa Claus and the spirit of giving. I have said that to my kids. For me, it's never been a religious holiday. It has been a family holiday. Sometimes we'll try to get the kids to make presents for each other, and they enjoy that, so that's not a hard sell. It's kind of fun to have one day a year when the kids get showered with presents. It's fun to see their excitement. As a parent, you enjoy seeing how happy they are, but you do have to be careful to balance that and not have that be an expectation.
Child: son Brendan, 4
I'm learning new meanings of the holidays with a 4-year-old around, rediscovering things like Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph, and all the songs that go along with those things. He's really excited, and it's contagious. For an agnostic like me, who's been almost opposed to the holidays for so many years, it's kind of nice to have the spirit of Christmas back. We try to make it about Brendan and staying home and enjoying one another more than anything else. We're definitely going along with Santa and stockings on Christmas morning. On the other hand, we try to make it not religious. For me as a kid, Christmas was quasi-religious. There were a lot of Jesus and angels around. [My son] certainly doesn't get that. He doesn't get the nativity. He doesn't get church. But we fought the Santa Claus thing in year one, and, frankly, there's no winning that battle. The other thing I've learned is that it's a lot easier to sit back and let it happen than get glum about it and boo-hoo the commercialism.
Children: daughter Violet, 8; son Sammy, 6
Because my wife and I are both freelancers, we don't have a regular schedule and vacations and stuff. So what we try to do, between Christmas and New Year's, is to really take that time off and ideally not go anywhere. Being Jewish helps with that, so not having the expectations of doing a lot of family stuff with grandparents and other family members makes it a really good time for us just to be together and actually relax and do fun things. On Christmas Day, we try to go someplace with a pool for the kids and maybe a hot tub for us. It's a special, quiet day to do something fun with the kids that's luxurious and relaxing. That's how we start it off, and then we do all the regular stuff that Vermonters like to do during the holiday period. We have a lot of non-Jewish friends, and they'll often invite us to different celebrations, which is great. Our kids definitely have a sense of their own identity, and I think they're curious and interested in what all the kids celebrating Christmas are doing.
If you're looking for a great camp where your child can play outside, check out Turtle Lane Art and Nature Camp at the Waldorf School. Campers build forts, fairy houses, and toy boats, play nature games, eat cherry tomatoes from the garden, make delicious whole-foods snacks, and create art from…(more)