Being an Athesit during the holidays
I have never publicly put that statement out there. In my family and in the Evangelical Christian community this expression of myself would be an abomination , so this forum is akin to me coming out of the closet so to speak (as I have told only my closest friends, and one relative about this). And here we are, in the midst of the holidays, the war on Christmas, with me facing another trip to my family and the uncomfortable feeling of it being assumed I agree with everything they say and support.
A little background on this: I grew up in a small town, went to the same evangelical Southern Baptist church that my grandparents went to. Initially, when my grandmother chose the church, it was less because of support for the particular faith, but a matter of convenience; as she had 5 kids, no driver license, and had to walk the mile or so to and from the closest church. As a result, we are now in our 4th generation in that very same church; my parents devote all day Sunday to the church, but also to meetings 2-3 nights a week each, and financially with their tithes.
It was to this very same church that I went to every Sunday from birth, until I went to college (Even on break, I would attend, at the urgings of my mother). When I was 6 months old, my mother and father dedicated me to the church, pledging to raise me in the ways of God, and not according to their own ways. Some of the responsibilities include teaching and training me in God’s word, demonstrating an example of godliness, disciplining according to God’s ways, and praying earnestly for me. And in all honesty, I have asked my parents questions about religion growing up – but only about the Baptists and Christianity; we never had a discussion about Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam… only Christianity.
Now, I always had questions, doubts, and general unease (Satan trying to plant the seeds of doubt, I was told on multiple occasions) – I remember thinking around the age of 15 that there are so many religions out there, how can I be sure this particular version of God is the right one? I pushed that down; After all, most of the world is Christian, it is all the same God, and Bible (so I was told on both of those) therefore, it must be right. At 16, I was told in a theater group about the changes that have been made in the Bible, through translation to English. Again, I repressed – if changes were made to Gods word, it must have been under Gods control, and not by man’s will – right?
Shortly thereafter, there was a massive shift within my parents’ church; a split that very nearly shuttered the doors. I saw how much the will of man influenced religion, how the devotion to man over God could lead to ruin; however, neither side benefited from this struggle. It was at this time I stopped attending regularly, stopped praying, and attempted to look at the world from a different level, through a new set of eyes. With new focus, I saw all religions under the same light – that none were more right or wrong compared to others. I stopped attending church when I visited my parents, much to the dismay of my mother. I stopped praying, stopped giving any focus to religion whatsoever. Now – normally, this isn’t an issue at all; for about 330 days a year, religion is not discussed or even thought of – it isn’t until about Mid-November when it becomes a real issue.
First off, there is no war on Christmas. Atheists do not, and have not declared war in any way, shape, form or manner on the holiday – we honestly do not care. We will say “Happy Holidays” to cover any that you might or might not celebrate; however that does not mean we want to take over Christmas or give any political correctness to it – We simply may not (Or do not) know what holiday you celebrate. We have bigger issues with the combining of church and state then we do with a one-day holiday precipitated by a 5 week run up of sales for a single day of giving. Anyone whom honestly believes the notion that any Atheist is out there trying to ruin their Christmas simply because Atheist do not follow religion is so engulfed by ignorance, that they need reevaluate their own beliefs.
Most Atheists tend to do one of 2 things on this holiday (for the most part). Group 1 spends it alone, boycotts it as an entirety, enjoys a day off from employment (when they can) and does nothing, enjoying quiet time by themselves. I know several people whom prefer this method, and before you say to yourself “that’s so sad” remember – this day does not hold particular meaning to them. It is just day number 358 on the calendar – so not being with friends and family celebrating is not only normal, it is planned. If they have a day off, it might be spent sitting in pajamas watching old movies; or getting Chinese food; or an afternoon/evening at the movies; or – if it is a banner day – all of the above.
The second group, for which I happen to subscribe to – tends to cause people to get up in arms. I participate in the day with family, as I have for my entire life. I buy presents for my family, even on the years when I am unemployed, or short on cash. I travel home to my parents, and spend the entire day with them (usually 2, including Christmas eve). I help make a big lunch with my mother, including (usually) a pie to people ratio that is way closer to 1:1 then the Surgeon General would recommend. I tend to do much the same for Thanksgiving; while also a religious holiday in the eyes of Christians, I tend not to put them in the same category. While Thanksgiving tends toward being credited to the pilgrims, it is really similar to harvest festivals that happen all over Europe, and date back as far as the 16th century in Britain. In all honesty, what is wrong with a day to be thankful for all you have? To see family, and feel at peace, enjoying time together? It is about the only time of the year I see some of the family, and get a chance to talk to them – so I see less harm there.
This raises an uncomfortable conundrum – one I had never even considered until last Christmas Eve. You see, every Christmas Eve, my uncle and aunt, cousin, her husband, and their son come to my parents’ house for social hour before my parents and siblings run off to church (which – until recently I conceded as my one day a year in church) and my extended family off to their other Christmas engagements. It was in the midst of this revelry; direct off the heels of a gun control conversation that I sat through in awkward silence that the war on Christmas became introduced. My father – not being aware of my feelings – told a joke, of an Atheist man in court being told that he had an official holiday, and it was April Fools Day. As everyone chuckled and agreed, I simply smiled and nodded through clenched teeth – I realized that everyone simply assumed me to be a Christian, just as they assumed I agreed with their opinions on gun control and taxation (other topics for other days). Mind you, I never told my family I am an Atheist to save them pain; my father would be upset, but my mother’s heart would be broken. So I spare them – I simply do not go to church or discuss religion with them at all. Religion is so automatic with them that it is like eating and breathing; if they do it, then everyone that is close to them must also do it – it does not even cross their mind that someone close to them does not.
Yes – I realize it is my fault for not letting my feelings be known. Nor can I be offended by it – I 100% understand. I passively participate, which does not give me room to complain. However, it is only recently that I have felt like this, as a result of me coming to terms with the actual holiday as well as with who I am. I am an Atheist, and a part of a holiday system that not only doesn’t want me, but expects me not to be a part of, while individually – I am expected to be a part of. How does one reconcile one part of which they are to placate their family on a day that is not natural to them? I so enjoy the day – not for gifts, but for my family. It is rare I get to see them for two days and spend every moment with them – with out work for them, or myself. Without meetings, or agenda, schedule or timetable. Most of the time, there is some chore to do; wood pellets to store for winter, runs to the garbage dump, or recycling; lawns at 2 houses to upkeep – Or there is work, meetings, agendas, fundraisers, on schedules to keep. With such busy schedules, it does not leave a lot of quality time for us as a whole.
Honestly, doesn’t 2 days with family on a minimal schedule sound wonderful?
Yes, I am an Atheist that participates in Christmas for family time. I do not celebrate it; nor do I revel in it. I do not debate the real meaning of the holidays, or explain my feelings opposing the phrase “Jesus is the reason for the season”. None of that is my place, nor is it my business; I would be more than happy to discuss if asked, but otherwise – I have no business discussing or trying to change the hearts and minds of others. In the spirit of the season, the best gift you can give your fellow-man is to not subtly push your beliefs, nor to assume they think the same as you.
No, not all Christians are in your face about their beliefs, just like not all Atheists wear Atheism on their sleeves. I have friends that know I am an Atheist – and we do not try to change each other. We simply move forward as we want, and mutually respect each other enough to not debate or fight the issue, or – when appropriate – discuss like adults, presenting our feelings and facts. Though this rarely ends in a single mind being changed, it does show mutual respect whenever you are willing to listen to the other side, and not fight; this is the sort of repartee I welcome at almost any point, when the time is appropriate. However, Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas morning – these are not the time nor places; I will not enter into debate, nor will I entice you into one.
I realize the day belongs to Christians. I am not trying to step on toes – nor am I trying to take anything away from the season for you. My feelings are my own, as yours belong to you. I am not trying to abolish Christmas by simply wishing you a happy holidays – I am trying to be respectful. Just remember – when you sit for dinner, and someone says grace, it might be best not to open your eyes – as you might see someone at the table staring off into space, thinking about what they want to eat first, or what kind of pie they want for dessert. If they are kind enough to not disrupt your holiday with their feelings, please – try to do the same with your beliefs – because they might be compromising themselves just to be with you.
It just might make life easier for you all.