Holiday tradition without that old time religion

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Even without a morning church service, it's not uncommon for many families to celebrate what has become a standard secular Christmas tradition: gathering the kids around a tree flanked with presents from Santa, pulling small gifts out of a stocking hung on the mantle, and later, a nice meal with the whole family.

But many people in Oak Park also celebrate the less time-honored holidays, while others take on the traditional, and leave out the religion.

For Oak Parker?#34;and pagan?#34;Laura Studebaker, the winter solstice, to most just the pesky darkest day of the year (yesterday as it happens), is a time to "bring light into your life that's normally not there." 

Studebaker described the solstice as a "minor" pagan holiday, but one that is important because it marks a major changing of the seasons.

"The solstice is one of the lesser holidays; it's not as much of a big deal," she said. "It's not like Halloween."

Studebaker said she usually celebrates the solstice at home, with a special meal, and some gift-giving. The only noticeable example of the pagan tradition in her house around solstice time, she said, are the real candles her family places on the tree.

"We're careful about it," she added. 

While Studebaker's solstice may be a more unique holiday to celebrate, some around town elect to continue with tradition, while finding creative ways to leave God out of the picture.

Lisa Lepine, a co-founder of the local organization Secular Jewish Community At School, which teaches children Jewish history and cultural traditions while not "identifying religiously," said her group this year hosted a Chanukah potluck at Andersen Center.

At the event, the group celebrates the holiday?#34;which is actually more of a festival, Lepine said, and by no means the most important in the Judaism?#34;with traditional foods and dancing.

"It's for me a sense of community history and tradition," she said, adding that at the event, the group does read blessings?#34;but without mention of God. "We've re-written the blessings to say that we rejoice in being together and in ourselves and in a sense as a people, rather than God."

"It's a bit of a substitute," she added.

No matter what alternative holiday you celebrate, however, there is one issue that those who don't celebrate Christmas contend with on December 25: They have the day off, and there's not much to do.

Sarah Kopp, an Oak Park native and practicing Jew, is coming home this weekend to enjoy the annual non-Christmas tradition she celebrates with her mom.

Though several years ago her family used to do volunteer work on Christmas,

Kopp said she now spends the day with her mom watching movies, relaxing in "special" flannel pajamas and eating either Chinese or Thai take-out. She added that movies must be rented at least three days in advance, otherwise there won't be much of a selection left, and the videos are an absolute must, because all that's on TV are "parades, Charlie Brown Christmas, and The 10 Commandments."

After dinner, Kopp said this year they plan to head down to the Loop to enjoy a quiet stroll past the holiday lights and window displays.

And even though she doesn't celebrate Christmas, Kopp said she enjoys the holiday as "a nice time to regroup, relax and rest."

?#34;Katharine Grayson

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