Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What About Christmas?

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Back in the early days of my being an openly atheist parent I was far less confident about it than I am today. I was tentative, even apologetic about being a freethinker, especially with people that I didn't know well. I remember being highly aware of the reaction of people as I would reveal my skepticism, knowing that I was in the minority as a godless parent. My intuitiveness was a real bummer because I can read disdain, anxiety, and disapproval in an instant.

One day, some years ago, I was at a conference and I sat next to a woman named Cathy who became friends with me for a short period of time. She was over at my house in December and I was showing her the Kwanzaa candle holder I had just bought and explaining to her my plan to expose the kids to as many different holiday traditions as I could. I remember showing her a dreidel that I had picked up as well as a description of how to play the dreidel game and of its history.

Sitting there on my couch, in front of the huge tree with a star on top, she looked at me with her head tipped. With an obvious effort to keep the discouragement out of her voice, Cathy tipped her head and said What about the Christian tradition? Will you expose them to that too? I pointed at the tree and replied Do you mean like that?

Our friendship didn't last long. It became clear to me that she had felt it was a goal to get me back to the Christian side; I was quite happy to allow the friendship to fade back into nothing. Her constant disapproval and discouragement affected me, even though she tried to keep it very polite. I was highly aware of where she stood on the matter and, though I had my doubts, I was sincerely trying to make that friendship work.

What About Christmas?

So what about Christmas? If you are an atheist parent you are either constantly thinking about what to do and how to do it OR you are being questioned by believers around you. Living in this country where so many areas are so very Christian, many atheist parents are unsure how to move their families through December without some real emotional struggle.

This month tends to bring out the unabashed allegiance of some Christians to their belief system. This makes some interactions with them far more tense and ticklish. And still you have the right, indeed the responsibility, to maintain your freethinking ways of parenting for your children.

Let me start out by telling you this: You have every right to raise your family in the considered and deliberate way you have chosen to move through the world. 

Do you want to put up a Christmas tree? Go ahead! We all know that the roots of the tree is pagan, and still that matters none. The cultural traditions are all fair game. Use the things that you enjoy, discard the rest, and add anything else that interests you. Explore cultural traditions from around the world if you like, adopt as many as you like. And even more fun, create new and personal traditions of your very own.

Do you like wreaths? Playing the dreidel game and eating latkes? Singing solstice songs and hanging fruit on trees? Lighting Kwanzaa candles? Exchanging gifts? Giving alms to the poor? Celebrating the festival of lights, Hogmanay, or St. Nicholas Day? The December holidays and traditions are endless and incredibly old, some over 5,000 years old. Check them out, inform yourself, and freely incorporate anything that appeals your family. Light yourself a bonfire and enjoy the feeling of the season.

Remind yourself and remind the Cathy in your life that each of us has the freedom and the right to open our minds and our homes to the beauty of the month of December. Atheist are the luckiest people because we truly have the freedom to do just that.

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Kathryn Wants to Know: When Family Doesn't Support Secular Parenting
The Greatest Gift
Atheist Myths About Parenting: Morality, Ethics, and Santa  Claus


  1. Interestingly, it's because my Christian husband does not celebrate Christmas for religious reasons that I have had to really decide what traditions were important and what ones I could just give up. It kind of leaves me with a somewhat bare bones holiday but one that I enjoy more (when the husband isn't grumbling about my celebrating it to begin with and exposing our children to those evil pagan practices). And the kids are kind of in the middle wanting to please both parents and not quite sure how. I don't push them to celebrate with me but it is natural that they see their friends and cousins celebrate it and want to join in. I do get them presents because it's something I enjoy doing as well. It's not an easy time of year to wade through though living with someone who is very hostile towards the holiday.

    1. No it's not: we have a little bit of that here too. Not the Christian spouse part, but my husband does not enjoy the holiday. He tried to hide from it for the most part. Then, when it's all over, I ask him, "How was it" and he replies, "Actually, it was nice." :)

      Wishing you love this holiday, Janeen.


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