Denise Etheridge Column Teaser

Since I am not Christian and therefore Christmas is not my holiday, I’ve observed how others who do have deep faith have celebrated this joyful and sacred celebration of the birth of Jesus.

As a kid growing up on Long Island, we had a big family of Italian Americans next door. The Gallis always went to the mountains in upstate New York for a huge live tree. They decorated it with a lot of tinsel. I liked playing with the large Nativity scene they had set up at the foot of the tree. I didn’t understand the story, or the meaning behind it then, but my favorite figure in the set was the little donkey.

We’d go over for Christmas Eve dinner. Papa Galli first gave each child a piece of coal. Then he’d say we tried to be good, and we’d get a real gift.

My husband, who grew up in Germany, said Advent was done differently there than here in the states. His Oma and Uncle Urban also had a live tree, and it didn’t get brought in or decorated until right before Christmas since they lit actual candles on their tree rather than use electric lights.

My husband’s mother Maria carried on some of these European traditions in her coastal Georgia home near Savannah. She sang in her church choir and was part of the women’s group. Maria was an excellent cook and baker, and her fellow congregants, friends and family members looked forward to her German Christmas cookies and German cheesecake. It’s a treasured family recipe.

Yes, she encouraged the younger grandchildren to enjoy the mystery of Santa Claus, but she made sure “the reason for the season” was properly kept. These gentle people in my life did not dwell on the size or number of gifts. If some years were leaner, that didn’t dim the joy of the holiday. They attended midnight Mass and engaged in charitable efforts at Christmas and throughout the year.

That’s not to say all the secular trappings of Christmas like the tree, lights, music, movies, presents and parties aren’t fun. They are. But I feel fortunate that I belong to a faith tradition that — with the exception of Hanukkah, which falls near Christmas on the calendar — does not have to deal with having religious holidays commercialized to the point of non-recognition.

Now, I don’t agree there is a war on Christmas. People can celebrate however they wish, or not celebrate if they wish. But, the holiday has been drawn out over too many days leading up to the holiday itself, and has been hijacked by the almighty dollar.

I saw anew how Charles M. Schulz had warned audiences of this nearly six decades ago when we gray-haired grandparents were little kids.

Frank and I watched my favorite Christmas classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” on PBS Sunday evening. I remarked the lesson the Peanuts gang learned back in 1965 is more relevant today.

So, whomever you’re with or however you celebrate this sacred season, I wish you and yours joy and peace. No gift cards required.

Denise Etheridge is a staff writer for The Walton Tribune. Her email address is

(1) comment


This is a great article if you wish to loose subscribers. Correct, I regret my subscription and will not renew for 2022.

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