Festibond 2007 was a tremendous success. We all agree it was much better than Christmas and are eagerly anticipating the next one. In fact, we are considering making Festibond a semiannual family tradition.
Christmas, at least as it is celebrated in the United States, is a secular holiday. Santa Claus with his magic flying reindeer, the hanging of bright strings of lights, baked goodies, gluttonous consumerism, snowpeople, decorated indoor pine trees, sending greeting cards to rarely thought-of friends and family in distant locales, and spending time with family have almost nothing to do with the humble birth of precious baby Jesus. It is, quite simply, a secular holiday observed with silly traditions and symbols few people understand. Despite this obvious fact, many people consider it a religious holiday and, as an atheist, I wanted to distance myself from it as much as possible. Opting-out was an easy and natural decision for me. Kirsten, however, struggled with letting it go. She remembers fondly her childhood Christmas celebrations and wanted our girls to have similar memories. After many discussions we decided to let Christmas go and invent our own celebration and associated traditions.
Initially we referred to our new celebration as “The Danley Family Holiday Celebration”. Yeah, that’s like, way too long. One of our primary goals was to create a celebration that would unite the family. Therefore, Kirsten coined the term “Festibond” for our collection of traditions. So far, it has stuck.
We didn’t want the girls to be teased at school for being different or feel gypped because they weren’t getting presents like all the other kids. Our intention, therefore, was to make Festibond cooler than Christmas. This meant we were going to have gifts and we would do it before December 25th. Kirsten and I had many long discussions about what we wanted to do, what we wanted to avoid doing, and the lessons we wanted to teach the girls. We also had several family meetings to get feedback and ideas from the sisters. It was important that the gifts we would give each other would be small; that we would emphasize giving over getting; and that everything planned would foster love, appreciation, and cooperation.
The best idea came from Kirsten. She brilliantly suggested each person write a letter to each other member of the family. The letter was to include expressions and examples of why we love, appreciate, and respect the person to whom the letter was written.
At mid-morning on December 24th we ate at our favorite breakfast restaurant, Eggspectation, in South Portland. As usual, the food was excellent. After brunch we went to the mall for some last minute shopping before heading home. Kirsten, Hayley, and I had to finish our letters and Hayley had to wrap the present she had gotten for Kirsten earlier at the mall.
For the gift portion of our Festibond we sat on the floor of the girls’ bedroom, each of us next to the small pile of gifts we would be giving. On someone’s turn they would first read their letter, give a hug to the recipient, and give them the gift. After the recipient opened the gift they would hug the giver again and place the gift somewhere out of the way. Then the giver would give their next gift following the same pattern until all their gifts had been given and it was the next person’s turn to give their gifts. This went on, of course, until each member had given all their gifts and read all their notes. When it was over we each had an envelope of letters we had received from the other family members. It was indescribably heartwarming to listen to the girls read their thoughtful, sincere, genuine, and immensely kind letters.
For the remainder of the day we played together and snacked on candy, cheese, crackers, and a Hickory Farms Beef Stick. It was a wonderful celebration that I’m sure we’ll each remember for a very long time. Festibond is unique and it is ours. I’m sure our observance of Festibond will evolve, and that’s okay. It will always be ours and always be exactly the way we want it to be. That, I think, is a very cool thing.