Thinking About Christmas

Christmas tree in Berlin, Germany

Image via Wikipedia

I stopped celebrating christmas a few years ago. My kids grew up and stopped enjoying it. We are raising our family in the jewish faith and christmas was always a bit of a ‘dad thing’ anyway

We’ve been doing these big two week trips to other parts of the world over the christmas/new years break and I haven’t been home for christmas in seven years. For a while we timeshifted christmas to early December and that worked well but probably led us down the path that ultimately got us to where we are now

I don’t miss christmas much to be honest. I certainly don’t miss the materialistic parts of it. I’ve been getting gifts that I don’t want or need since high school and it always bothered me. I am so much happier to be done with that. I don’t like material gifts very much anyway. And I hate shopping.

I do miss getting the tree, putting it up, and decorating it. I don’t miss taking it down and cleaning up the mess it made.

I miss the big family dinner and the excitement on the little kids’ faces. We don’t have any little kids in our family right now but when we do again, I’ll want to figure out how to get that back. Its the best thing about christmas in my mind

I also miss going to church on christmas. A few years back we were in Siena and I went to the Duomo for christmas mass. That was great. I don’t subscribe to any religion invented by man (which is all of them), but I do enjoy the sounds and smells of church on christmas. And it was better for me to go to church in a foriegn country where I didn’t understand a word the priest said.  I got to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of it all.

Even though I’ve given up celebrating Christmas, it still means something to me. Its a time of year when we stop doing what we do, take a break, spend time with our family, think about others, and give them gifts. That’s a pretty special list right there.

I’ve been very fortunate in life. I’m only 47 but have obtained most of what I’ve wanted out of life; a wonderful family and a work life that has been financially and intellectually rewarding. We’ve done this in our own way and on our own. We’ve been incredibly lucky and we’ve also worked hard at it.

I get gifts all the time like the bottle of wine sitting on my desk in the office or the box of chocolates. I honestly could care less about that stuff and getting it sort of annoys me. I’d love it if people stopped giving me stuff like that.

The gifts that matter to me are the emails I get from people sharing a personal story with me, or the comments on this blog and others that make me laugh, think, or cry. Or the contributions to Donors Choose you all made in October. Or the ideas you share with me about how we can work together to fix this broken world and make it better.

I’m going to spend this christmas with my family in Berlin, seeing art and history and then we’ll go to the Nutcraker this evening and finish with a family dinner. So I guess I’ve not given up celebrating Christmas entirely after all.

Merry Christmas everyone, including all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other faiths out there. Have a wonderful holiday and let’s share some gifts with each other that really matter this year.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. gregorylent

    i have been in china and thailand this christmas season … christmas cannot be escaped anywhere! … relentless music, amazing decorations (the asian touch) and asian kids working in malls wearing santa hats … yikes 🙂

  2. denmeade

    i hope you and the family have a wonderful holiday. thank you for all the thought provoking posts you have shared with us this year. you have created a great space for interesting discussions.

  3. Rachel

    I think for most of my family, Christmas has never been about the religion, but about getting everyone around the table, eating turkey and loads of other food whilst watching bad family telly (this is in the UK). In the US, they do that at Thanksgiving, I think which is why I notice a different approach to the holidays.

  4. fredwilson

    We used to do that before we had kids. Our variation was we’d do a doubleheader movie

  5. Jerry

    Amen, my friend. No one could have said it better.

  6. Kenosha_Kid

    Nice post, Fred. What I particularly like about it is the gradual transition from “christmas” with a small “c” (something I had also noticed in another post previously) to “Christmas.” Didn’t that feel better and more natural? Merry Christmas to you and yours as well. It is a universal holiday.

  7. Shivering Timbers

    Fred: For someone like you, I heartily recommend the traditional Jewish celebration of Christmas: Dinner at a Chinese restaurant followed by a movie.

    1. kenberger

      That’s exactly my plan: Ben Buttons and Slumdog (gonna be a long day/night)

      1. fredwilson

        How was benjamin button ken?

        1. kenberger

          Plenty of hollywood blockbuster cliches (which I don’t tend to go for, Slumdog is much more my speed), but certainly a must-see.Maybe not a must-see for today or yesterday’s Christmas Day debut: the nyc theaters were overwhelmed.Has a Gump / Joe Black vibe too.

          1. fredwilson


  8. DonRyan

    Well, celebrating or not I hope you and your family have a great trip, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I get so much out of your thoughts and posts all year, both as a small business owner and an investor (and a dad with three kids). It’s like the gift that keeps on giving.Again, Merry Christmas.

  9. Dan Ostermayer

    Merry Christmas to you too Fred. Since finding your blog six months ago I can honestly say I rate it as the top best written on the internet. Enjoy Europe.

    1. fredwilson

      Wow. That’s a big compliment and I appreciate it

  10. CLaRGe

    Just started reading you recently and this post caught my attention. My family stopped celebrating Christmas a few years ago because of the religious stuff. We are Christian and could not reconcile a pagan holiday with the birth of Jesus Christ. To each his own, that’s what my conscience chose.We miss the same things you do: the celebration, the big meals, the family stuff and the bright surprised faces on our children. We’ve replaced Christmas with birthdays and surprise gifts throughout the year. It’s lots of fun!

  11. Douglas Karr

    Fantastic post, Fred. Any holiday, regardless of faith, that can bring family together and create memories is a special one.

  12. Chris

    Amen, Fred. We feel the same about the materialism at christmas, but as much as we’ve tried, we’ve been unable to completely stop the wrapped packages arriving. Thanks for all of your real gifts this year in your blogs and your investments.

  13. Jon Knight

    Merry Christmas, Fred.

  14. Scott

    Great post and Happy Hannukah! For some reason, I’m picking up an Andy Rooney vibe from this post.

    1. fredwilson

      I take liberally from everyone I’ve read and watched over the years so there’s certainly some andy in there

  15. Scott Rubin

    Hey Fred. You don’t know me and I don’t know you. But being a compulsive reader of your blog I feel like I know you very well. I truly enjoy reading everything you have to say. I don’t comment much but I want you to know I am out here hearing everything you say. Thanks for all the great posts and happy holidays!

    1. fredwilson

      Scott. You are part of the silent majority, but not any more!ThanksFred

  16. Jason

    Merry Christmas Fred,Jason

  17. Greg Tseng

    What do you do when you’re only halfway through your life but have already achieved most/all of your life goals?

    1. thisisananth

      Well said Fred. Merry Christmas..lets make world better.

    2. fredwilson

      New ones and different ones. The great thing about entrepreneurship and venture capital is that there’s always something new around the bend. So that helps. I suspect that for me that last bit about making the world a better place will start becoming a larger part of my goals. I honestly didn’t care much about that at 21 yrs old

      1. Michael Lewkowitz

        I don’t think many of us did – but thankfully we are caring more now and more importantly our kids our caring more and earlier too. And in that caring is more opportunity to create and build great things.And I somehow think that the things we are creating now have much more of a ‘family’ feel to them — of caring and closeness.Quick personal note as I was typing… my wife just got a note from someone in a local online mom’s group who had posted anonymously about being in a tough spot for the holidays and being sad for the kids. The community rallied and help her make Christmas what she was hoping for for her kids. What mattered was the caring to help others with what was meaningful to them. It’s a big part of online connection… an openess to share ourselves and a desire to make meaningful connections.That’s magic and in this chaos makes me think of the classic Satchmo – “What a Wonderful World”.…Peace, love, and happy holidays to you and yours Fred and to the extended ‘family’ of friends and followers…

  18. fredwilson

    I hope you and your family are feeling better dan

  19. Guest

    A severe gastrio-flu has ripped through my family and it culminated today with all five of us laying on the floor after getting sick. When we finally made it downstairs to the Christmas Tree the little ones were so sick that they couldn’t open the presents on their own but there was one particular present that my five year old daughter opened that I’ll never forget. When she opened it she looked to the sky and said, “Thank you Santa Claus, I love you!” It was precious. There are so many ways to celebrate the holiday season and each has it’s own pros and cons and I think this year we’ve experienced some highs and lows but through it all I remain excited about the coming year, the gifts of love that I have received and the many daily joys that I experience including reading this blog. Thanks Fred, hope you and your family have a wonderful trip!

  20. Ben Paris

    I don’t think the true meaning of the Xmas tree and Santa Claus distributing presents was really considered as the religious part of the celebration, for all Chrsitians celebrating Xmas.It has always been more of a family holiday, marking the end of the year, and engraving so strongly a beautiful and poetic tradition in kids mind…it was for me at least, and I am Jewish. But I live in Paris, in a Roman Catholic country by tradition, so we adopted Xmas and it never contradicted in my mind with my faith, nor with Hanukka, which I celebrate too.The materialistic part in Xmas and the consumption frenzy around this time of the year is just the result of our social behavior, more than because of Xmas itself. And I just need to look around me here to realize that the Christian celebration of Xmas (the day Jesus was born in the Bible), is still vivid and that presents come second!Now, let me be very honest, concerning the fact that people send you gifts for Xmas. They do so very likely because you are a role model for many people following your blog, and they want to come closer to the sun…Merry Christmas

  21. fredwilson

    Thanks alexHappy holidays to you and your family

  22. fredwilson

    Thank you and thanks for the story and the link. That’s exactly the kind of gift I’m talking about

  23. Alex Iskold

    Fred,You said it so well in this post:There is meaning that is forced down our throats that is actually meaningless and there is meaning that is innate to use and grasped by our intelligence and souls. The second one is what really matters in life.

  24. Ed

    “Merry Christmas everyone, including all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other faiths out there. Have a wonderful holiday and let’s share some gifts with each other that really matter this year.”

  25. Aruni S. Gunasegaram

    Merry Christmas Fred. Yours is one of the very few blogs I read religiously (yes, I used the term religiously on purpose)! This is the first time we have celebrated Christmas at home. We’ve always traveled to other places to visit family. It’s been a fun time with family and friends who stayed here as well.I was raised Christian but have similar beliefs as you. I enjoy Christmas more now than ever before because our kids’ eyes light up and they get so excited about it. They are stll young and I’m in such awe of them and their enthusiasm and excitement about life!Here’s to continued luck in 2009 and beyond…

  26. Scott Chait

    “I don’t subscribe to any religion invented by man (which is all of them)”Pretty arrogant statement there. Not, “I believe they were invented by man,” just the definitive statement. And, more importantly, rather dismissive of other people’s beliefs. Totally undermines your wishes of Merry Christmas and holiday spirit.

    1. fredwilson

      I didn’t say anything about other’s beliefs. I just said what I believe. You are reading too much into my words. I am fine with what you believe but you are clearly not fine with what I believe

      1. Scott Chait

        Perhaps I was reading too much into it, but it sounded dismissive to me. Oh well, you can’t please all the people all the time!

        1. fredwilson

          I guess it is dismissive of religion for my personal subscription. But not for others. My mother is very religious and gets great joy and comfort from it. I believe in religion’s powers but I prefer a less defined spirituality for myself

  27. minicrivera

    As our kids grow, we see how they have shifted from asking too much gift to just one gift each this year. But more than the gift, we still celebrated the 9 masses before Christmas mass (a traditional Filipino way) and the usual family dinner. It’s about the family.Merry Christmas to you Fred and to all your readers.

  28. SamJacobs

    Fred-Good stuff. Happy Holidays. I’m curious as you survey that past 47 years, and really the past 25ish that you’ve been working, what strikes you as the most challenging/difficult period and what lessons you learned.Anyway, I continue to enjoy the blog.All the best,Sam Jacobs

    1. fredwilson

      2000 to 2003 for sure and I learned that easily made money is easily lost, you can’t change what you had for breakfast, and survival, persistence, and tenacity are the most important skills in difficult times. Most of all I learned that working with the right people on the right problems is the most rewarding thing you can do in business

  29. Gotham Gal

    Every day in our house is Xmas. One day, in the future, we will return to the tree, which (besides the mess) I always did enjoy. It is the celebration of the season not the holiday.

  30. fredwilson

    Thanks davidI need to visit HK. I’ve never been and feel like I am flying blind a little bit because of my lack of personal experience with that part of the world

    1. david n

      Youre not alone, Ive made it a personal mission to get as many people from NY/LA out here to see HK and the rest of Asia for themselves. I grew up as a fairly closeminded NYer and around plenty of them, and not one of my family/friends that has visited has left without being blown away.Asian cities are going thru tremendous development, have some of the most amazing buildings around mostly because they can accomplish more for much cheaper and with govts that are well-capitalized. Pollution and clean water are the biggest problems, but are driving forces behind the alternative energy projects.Will have plenty of suggestions for when you start thinking about an Asia trip in the next couple years.

    2. Giordano

      Yes, you must. And Shanghai too. And call me beforehand :)I had Christmas back home in Italy, even though we’re all atheists, because since I left several years ago I only get to see my family and friends a couple of times a year. As my parents get older, it’s very evident how spending some time with them become more important.Now back in Shanghai, off to HK for NYE. And at the end of January, a whole week off, spent on the beach in Boracay, in the Philippines. Being an expat in Asia has several perks, double-holidaying one of them :)Cheers, Giordano

      1. fredwilson

        I’m going to come soon. The big issue for me is asia is too far for us to invest wisely from NYC and I am not moving there any time soon. So a visit will largely be personal. Which is ok, but not as enlightening

        1. Giordano

          Understood, but still I think visiting Asia will be very enlightening and interesting, and add some perspective to the way you see things. It happens to pretty much everyone. Also, I say “Asia” but really there isn’t such a thing… every country is so different, and different places in the same country too. The ideal trip would be at least a month, and would include China (cities, rural, historical sites), Japan, Korea, India, Hong Kong and South East Asia (SIngapore for city life, Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand for beaches and sigths, Vietnam for sights). If you lack time, a 10 day trip to China can be enough to get a sense of the country, then you could go to Japan for a week for the next vacation, and then a further trip to S-E Asia, and one to India. I know it’s a lot of stuff, but the area is really so big, and so diverse, that everyone would be hard pressed to point to a single country or area to visit. Naturally, when the time comes, feel free to ping me: in the last couple of years most of my time was spent traveling around the region (mostly on business, but still…), so I can give you some pointers.Also, maybe talking with some people investing here in China could be interesting for you, even if you don’t plan to do it directly, to get a different perspective and a feeling of the market here.Cheers, Giordano

  31. david n

    Fred – you’ve been an important mentor in my life for the last couple of years. Ive drawn upon your wisdom in technology and business, but what Ive valued most are your insights on famly and life. Ive moved from NY to LA and now to HK, and one of the few constants has been AVC. I’ve been meaning to enter the discussion for a long time, this post motivated me to do it.Out here, the holiday season seems like its extended from Thanksgiving to Chinese New Yr (end of January). And I’ll continue to treasure the extensive time spent with friends/family more than any materialistic gifts. Gotham girl put it well when she said ‘everyday in your house is xmas’, and similarly, every day on AVC is xmas because the gifts, the thoughts, everyone shares here is truly special.Its been a difficult 2008, but Ive enjoyed thinking through it with everyone here. Cheers to 2009.

  32. isfan

    For many of us that are not particularly religious, Christmas seems to be about an excuse to celebrate with others. It turns out to be a tradition that brings people together.This year I started a tradition I would like to share with all of you. Each one of our three girls (aged 8-12) made a specially decorated box with a memory stick in it. The stick contained a message and a song for the girl’s mom (my amazing wife Quebec Girl :). Every year, the girls will add a new message and I hope this continues into adulthood. It will be a point of anticipation every year and we’ll end up with a wonderful sequence of messages in one place where we can see the girls grow up. It will be a privilege if this inspires you to do something similar.Here is a link to our youngest girl’s message. We weren’t originally going to post these but decided it might inspire others.

  33. fredwilson

    Thanks. This is super helpful

  34. Tim M

    Fred,Merry Christmas — 1st time reader & 1st comment. Found you from another VC blog. What a great post re: x-mas and all that comes with it.We took our boys to see the Nutcracker for the first time this year and had a wonderful time. Watching their necks crane upward with rapt attention, not wanting to miss a single step as the story began was priceless. As the first act wound down, my 11 year old slowly put his head on my wife’s shoulder the result of too many late nights hanging with the extended family; however after intermission (and a box of $3 dollar Skittles) he was ready for the pageantry and 2nd act zeal. I loved sharing this experience with my boys, wife & their grandmother. My Mom gave us this present of the Nutcracker & it was a great experience for all to share.Lastly, great article re: search vs. display advertising. Peace & Happy new year.Tim

    1. fredwilson

      That¹s so funny, josh slept through the first act on gotham gal¹s shouldertooAnd he¹s 12!