Ideas for Traditions
December 12, 2012 5:05 PM   Subscribe

What are some non-religious family (winter?) traditions that don't have to involve children?

I feel like my husband and I could use some traditions. We're far away from family, don't have kids, and are culturally/religiously very different than our community, which, as far as I can tell, is 100% Christian (we're Jewish). Especially during the holiday season, things feel kind of empty in our undecorated, un-festive house.

We're not super into Hanukkah (we see it as a minor blip of a holiday that's been blown up to compete with Christmas). At this point, we're totally not interested in having a Hanukkah bush or putting up Hanukkah lights or whatever.

My family (and his) had great traditions growing up, but they were almost all totally kid-focused. I'm sure that we'll eventually work those into the mix, but they feel silly and forced without kids.

What are your secular, no-kids-necessary, winter (or all-season) family traditions?
posted by charmcityblues to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
We do Hanukkah candles and sometimes Christmas lights, but I'm really more of a Saturnalia person. Lights, evergreens, rich foods, feeding the birds, the usual. Saturn is the reason for the season!

We also go out for Chinese food on Christmas.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

This would completely be dependant upon where you live geographically, but my Mom and I have a tradition of going on a Christmas Eve snowshoe walk under the stars complete with wine! On winters where we haven't had snow, we do the same thing but hiking/a walk in the woods.

My partner and I go for a holiday run together - we sign up for a 5k on Thanksgiving, Christmas day, whathaveyou.

Years when I've been single, I've volunteered on holidays - soup kitchens, shelters, etc. SO rewarding! You could totally do that together.

Travel? What if you take your vacation over Christmas? Good stories to be created!

My partner and I have a weekly ritual where we make dinner together every Monday night, don't turn on the tv, and make ourselves some tea and take a walk around the neighborhood afterwards. Such great bonding!

My partner and I have a silly game (year round) where we hide this goofy turtle that I bought in Mexico years ago on each other. When we find it, we hide it where the other one finds it. :)
posted by floweredfish at 5:12 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Get a wreath or a poinsettia or some holly.

Go ice skating!

Make holiday cookies.

Drink spiked apple cider or egg nog.

Buy a gift for a child in need (tons of programs like this available this time of year) or volunteer at soup kitchen.

Spend a day at home in your flannel PJs playing board games.
posted by murfed13 at 5:15 PM on December 12, 2012

My winter traditions:

- Knitting lots. Usually somewhere around Thanksgiving I get a bug up my ass to Knit People Stuff. My eyes are typically bigger than my stomach on this, but I do enjoy the sort of seasonal wool frenzy of it all.

- Crafting and decorating stuff in general. Even if you don't get a tree-like object around this time of year or celebrate any particular holiday to decorate "for", it's still fun to make things and spruce your place up a little and satisfy the magpie-ish craving for sparkly stuff. Since when is making things pretty a religious activity?

- Food! Oh, food! My family has a lot of non-religious holiday food traditions, and I've carried that over into my adult life. I especially enjoy crafty food projects that I wouldn't otherwise do at other times of the year, like making marmalade or hot sauce, mulling wine, and cooking involved dishes that require low and slow cooking or long hours in the oven. These can make good gifts for people, or to serve at gatherings, or you can just sort of "put things up" for yourselves. Or make a crazy elaborate meal just because it's fun.

Also, not the answer you were looking for, but as a goy, I'm envious of the Hanukkah tradition wherein you get to eat lots of fried things like latkes and doughnuts. Fried carbs are also a great "winter tradition" in general, because it involves feasting and warm nesting type activities.
posted by Sara C. at 5:17 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fireside snuggling, indoor or outdoor. Hot cocoa and marshmallows. Mulled wine and classic movie night.
Can you still decorate the house festively for (non-religious) winter?
posted by anonnymoose at 5:18 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Consuming whiskey and sliding down steep hills on garbage bags.
posted by mannequito at 5:38 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

We're a household of a humanistic/secular Jew and an Atheist, and we have a nominally "Jewish" household. We have adult-oriented Hanukkah and winter traditions that you might enjoy:
  • Dreidel drinking game
  • Making art together
  • Shopping for Hanukkah foods and cooking Hanukkah foods (frying!)
  • Procuring and wrapping gifts for the needy
  • Board game day
  • Yearly re-watching of the Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Fancy coffee creamer during the holiday season
  • Baking cookies, and bringing them in to our respective workplaces so we don't eat them all

posted by juniperesque at 5:49 PM on December 12, 2012

...I've favourited the garbage bag sliding but would recommend a sled (there are things hidden in snow that could rip you a new asshole).
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:49 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Traditions don't have to be housebound. If you're anywhere near a major urban area in the Northeast, there are probably some good holiday concerts around - not just Christmas music, either. For example, the Zamir Chorale in Boston holds Hanukkah concerts in the metro Boston area this time of year. I'm not particularly religious in any direction, but I do love music so I'll probably get to at least one concert before the holiday season is over.

The single thing I miss most about holidays with my family is the communal cookie-baking. My mom would bake and I would help decorate the cookies. So, seconding Sara C.

Also, see if there are some solstice activities in your area. There's a "solstice walk" in my neck of the woods this coming Friday (don't know why they didn't wait till the actual solstice, but I'm not in charge of the event!) Or just make your own solstice walk in a safe area with a group of friends and see if there's somewhere you can have a bonfire (or maybe just roast some marshmallows).
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:51 PM on December 12, 2012

You can celebrate the winter solstice, Dec. 21. Here's some ideas (you can ditch the ones that you feel are too close to Christmas traditions). I'm inclined toward the fire in the fireplace or bonfire, toasted marshmallows, hot chocolate or make mulled wine or milk punch, bake something, feed the birds, burn a sprig of something in the fire, walk under the stars, make your own luminaries .... (you can even invite some neighbors over if you feel like it.)
posted by gudrun at 5:54 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the suggestions! I probably should have made clear that "my area" is a small island in between the Bering Sea and the North Pacific-- there are few cultural events, volunteer opportunities, etc. But we'll save those kinds of ideas for sometime in the future!
posted by charmcityblues at 6:18 PM on December 12, 2012

Make a fire. Melt lead in an iron ladle. Pour the molten lead into a wooden bucket filled with water and snow. Exciting hissing sound! After the metal bits cool enough, pick them up and interpret them as auguring your fortunes in the coming year.

(A new year's eve tradition my family picked up in Helsinki.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:23 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

Hot Buttered Rum.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:29 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a fellow lonely Jew who doesn't get the hanukah thing, I feel you.

The best winter tradition I have is that my best friend's family, who live in Chicago, throw a big honking Solstice Party each year. It's just like any other holiday party, but it's explicitly non-religious and specifically for the solstice, and they try to pick a day when the most people can make it. You can have a solstice party too! Just find the most convenient day for all your friends, and have food and sparkly decorations (lots of little spots of decor and candles, instead of one big tree) and people having an excuse to wear something festive and colorful. It's nice because it's not like a family christmas party with all these weird inside traditions and gifting obligations, nor is it a boring workplace holiday thing. You can provide a place for people to blow off a little of that christmas stress steam with good food (but not a goose or a ham!) and drink.

Something that seems a little non-special but totally is is big breakfasts being a regular winter thing. Maybe one morning a week, try to have something special like pancakes or waffles or cinnamon buns or big eggs & bacon things, go crazy! It really staves off the whole darkness=sadness for me, and you end up making breakfast a special time for you and your family.
posted by Mizu at 6:29 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're in Alaska and there's no big solstice party? That seems unpossible. When I lived in northern parts we always did solstice as the grown up drinking party with all the winter trimmings: lights, skiing, bonfires, hot tubs, feasting, mulled wine, hot toddies...
posted by fshgrl at 6:48 PM on December 12, 2012

Every year I make a buche de noel (the one from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible), complete with meringue mushrooms, marzipan leaves, artistic decorating with powdered food coloring, streams of invective, etc. I do it myself but it would be a super fun project for a couple. And it is DELICIOUS.
posted by HotToddy at 7:38 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hanukkah's definitely a 'little blip' of a holiday. But I find lights and candles and fire and warm blankets and hot cocoa (maybe some peppermint) and cookies to be pleasingly non-denominational. Pretty much every culture has a way to handle the sad, dark days of winter, and most of them do warm drinks, fire, and light to do it. People just call them 'Christmas' traditions because they've renamed December 'Christmastime'.

I wouldn't want to do anything that your neighbors would mistake as a Christmas decoration. But long walks in the snow, enjoying light and warmth where they are available, heating up the house with baking and sharing good food with friends, lighting candles and eating hearty meals... there's nothing Christian to that.
posted by Lady Li at 8:25 PM on December 12, 2012

We always have hot cocoa on the first snowfall of the year. It's a little tradition, but it's ours.
posted by Andrhia at 8:34 PM on December 12, 2012

Christmas dinner has always been a secular occasion in our house. I don't know about the US, but in the UK the whole day centres around the meal, and my memories of 'Christmas' involve pulling the wishbone or watching my mum and dad carve and telling me off for pinching bits of the turkey. We're not religious, so the dinner is the centrepiece of the day rather than the Queen's speech or midnight mass.

I'm spending Christmas with my boyfriend rather than my family for the first time this year, and we're looking forward to choosing what we'll want as much as what's traditional.
posted by mippy at 5:04 AM on December 13, 2012

The Aleutians ... yikes! (never been but I've got friends and colleagues who are from there or do research there so I have an idea of where you are). Sounds like you may be a little homesick, on top of everything else?

I know Hanukkah is a little holiday, but it celebrates light (along with the rededication of the temple, of course). Lots of people celebrate light/solstice in the dark of winter, and big fires, hot liquids, bright candles, and good food are not out of order. In addition to that comment, I'm coming back to say that friends of ours always do some kind of fondue shindig around this time of year, so you might think of that as an option as a tradition, for just the two of you or for a group. I also like the idea of a nice breakfast, just the two of you, or, you could get more ambitious and invite neighbors/friends over for fondue or brunch (or even riff on Hanukkah and make some doughnuts - they have little machines that make half way decent ones these days - example here.)
posted by gudrun at 5:36 AM on December 13, 2012

We go for a walk on Christmas day after lunch. We have it early enough that we get to spy into people's front rooms and see them with the turkey and family and trees and all. Then we go for a walk in the local park - snow = bonus! and distribute BookCrossing books with Christmas themes.
posted by LyzzyBee at 10:58 AM on December 16, 2012

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