The Hardest Christmas

I was unprepared for how difficult this Christmas would be. In years past, my husband and I have easily followed along with our family’s traditions because it was easier to grin and bear it. Before our son was born, it seemed senseless to ruin everyone else’s fun because we don’t believe Jesus was the son of god, or that people should spend obscene amounts of money on useless stuff in the name of Jesus. It never made sense to us, but we didn’t have a stake in any of it. And last year, Soren was too young to actually participate in the Christmas frenzy, other than being forced by my mother to wear a frock adorned in sparkly script letters that read, “My first Christmas.” This year, however, he’s nearly two, and we feel strongly about establishing how, when, why and to what extent we will participate in Christmas. I think we have been gentle, respectful, yet firm in communicating to our families and friends on this account, but now, as The Holiday is breathing hotly down our necks, so are throngs of Christmas-obsessed loved ones with questions, demands, concerns, and expressed disappointments.

Many people who love us are very concerned about our Christmas tree — the Christmas tree that does not, and will not exist. The Christmas tree we have never had, nor plan to have. Apparently, this is a great disappointment for at least a dozen people, many of whom have never even been to our house. They seem to think that not killing an evergreen and erecting it in your living room and wasting electricity on lighting is both a depressing way to live through December and neglectful of our son.

My husband and I have also heard many gasps in incredulity about the gifts we won’t be giving Soren for Christmas. People actually seem to believe that our son is going to suffer great damage if he doesn’t peel away shiny wrapping paper from new toys on the 25th of December. They seem to be confused that we aren’t kidding or being humble or cute because they plan to give us gifts despite our repeated pleas to the contrary. Let me clarify: we don’t need anything. We don’t want anything. And it’s not even a lack of want (as atheism is a lack of belief). We want to receive nothing. We aren’t being polite or humble. We aren’t kidding. We aren’t confused or simply unsure of what we would want if we wanted anything. We want people to not even consider getting us anything. Please. Just spend time with us. Set aside an afternoon and hang out with us. That’s all we need. Because time with the people we love is the one thing we don’t have enough of. But people look at us like we’re strange. They act hurt and disappointed. It’s like we have robbed them of the meaning of Christmas. Which is funny because we’re trying to give them back some meaning of Christmas. That’s ironic coming from atheists.

I am not going to show up to our families’ houses on Christmas spewing anti-Jesus rhetoric. I would never do that. I would never try to convince the people we love, or anyone, that their gods don’t exist. I would never ask people to foresake their (mostly harmless) traditions because I disagree with them. But I expect the same amount of respect from them.


11 thoughts on “The Hardest Christmas

  1. You sound more like a Jehovah’s Witness than an atheist! What has a tree adorned with tinsel to do with religion? (nothing), or gift giving? (nothing), or celebrating the mid-winter festival that predates christianity by several hundred years? (nothing). As an atheist for over 30 years I would no more detach myself from the shared cultural festivity that is christmas than I would from any other shared cultural festivity such as Burn’s Night, Hogmanay, birthdays or holidays in the summer. Lighten up. I have managed to raise two children(so far and working on the 4 year old)into highly skeptical teenagers with very little effort at all. And (g.o.d. forbid) should they turn to religion as adults it will be their choice, and nothing I have indoctrinated them into (and that includes atheism).

    • Gift giving and trees adorned with tinsel may not have anything to do with religion, but my husband and I are choosing not to partake in either activity. While that may not be your own personal choice, it’s our choice. Your response is the perfect example of what I object to: people failing to accept that other people might choose to do things differently. I am simply asking for friends and family to respect our family’s decisions. Nothing more, nothing less.

  2. What I object to is your dressing your decision up in atheism when its got nothing at all to do with religion. Perhaps if you were more honest about your reasons your friends and family would be more accepting of your choices?

    • Why does my rejection of Christmas-related traditions bother you at all? And how do you know that my decision has nothing at all to do with atheism? Because you’ve decided that Christmas has nothing to do with religion? It might work that way for you, but it doesn’t work that way for everyone.

  3. Me? Hell no I think the secular word and the religious world would pretty much agree that christmas has nothing to do with religion anymore (or more accurately once more).

    I’ve said several times now that what bothers me is your use of atheism to justify your rejection of a non-religious christmas. You are an adult and can do what you want but to be brutally honest, rejecting any and all association with a widespread cultural celebration on behalf of a child who has no choice will eventually mark them out as different and odd whether you like it or not.

    Your choice. Fairy Nuff.

    You put your blog updates out there on Twitter inviting readers so please don’t be surprised to find people who disagree with you out here. I just find you atheism so bleak and depressing and whiny.

    I’ve no idea why I’m reding it! I’ll get my coat.

    • MrsW, you’ve made me think and I appreciate that. You might be right that rejecting Christmas entirely could be very hard on my son (I’m putting words in your mouth here, but I don’t think this is far from what you wrote). I wasn’t receptive initially, but I will think about your last comment, which actually resonated with me.

      And by the way, I actually enjoy the debate and welcome disagreements.

  4. I dont see where atheistmother is using her choices to hide behind anything. I find this blog refreshingly honest and am glad to see someone who stands her ground and doesnt succomb to the peer pressure of other’s choices.

  5. interesting. I’d like to know how it’s gone for you since this was a couple years back. I made an executive decision to explain to my 4 yr old son that there is no Santa. I thought he’d be upset. but he just accepted it and right away he became excited at the idea that he could be sort of a real life Santa… I told him we would still decorate, because it’s fun! especially where we live, winter can be long and dark – to be honest, the tinsel and colour and lights is very welcome 😉 and that we would make a few gifts for people – he enthusiastically suggested we wrap them and hide them for people!

    this is definitely the first Xmas that *I* am excited to celebrate – in our own way. events to mark the passing of time are still valuable – but I want to make sure they also include valuable lessons too – like generosity, creativity, creatin a positive atmosphere, sharing, spending TIME together (I like the way you wrote how THAT is the one thing we don’t have enough of) ! as opposed to BEING A GOOD BOY BECAUSE OLD MAN IS WATCHIMG EVERY THING YOU DO AND WILL REWARD YOU WITH TOYS FROM A BOTTOMLESS SACK IF YOU ARE “GOOD”.

    and of course, I felt it was really contradictory to be trying to teach my son how to question absurd claims and think critically, while simultaneously teaching him about a magic man who flies through the sky etc etc.

    now… his dad (who I am not with) completely flipped about this and is very concerned about how our son will go to school and tell all his friends kids about there being no Santa.. thereby ruining everyone else’s Xmas.

    I can’t even begin to explain why that’s irrelevant.

    but in the meantime I’m also trying to teach him not to make claims (THERE’S NO SANTA, NO HEAVEN, or on the contrary, since his dads family is Christian… THERE IS A GOD) until he can also back up his claim with thereasons why. I’m certain that this lesson may take quite a bit of repeating to learn 😉

    anyhow that’s just my take. I don’t claim to be the most amazing brilliant parent either but i try my best to focus on teaching good values the best I know how!

  6. I can say I respect your choice. As a believer I have had the entirely same struggle with Halloween. After debating celebrating a holiday that in essence celebrates a different religion, we still let our kids dress up, trick or treat, etc….why? We figured that it did more fore their critical thinking to learn the differences and not be hindered by legalism in the way we relate to the world around us. Our kids haven’t left our faith because of it. In fact, I think it reinforced our beliefs by focusing on what was important rather than some perceived contradiction that the parents understood, but the kids didn’t get. I have seen many parents go the other way only to build resentment in thier kids.

  7. I really appreciate this. My partner and I have been going in circles trying to figure out this whole Christmas thing out. We are both humanist but theye always celebrated to connect with family, pointing out it is more of a family oriented holiday nowadays. I always declined. My view was that it IS a religious holiday and we are not of that religion. It’s always seemed to me a bit disrespectful to celebrate someone elses religious holiday just so you don’t miss out on the fun. Funny enough, the Christians in my life (i.e., everyone) don’t see it that way. Most were politely befuddled until we had our son, then the negative comments started rolling in. Now the season is rapidly approaching and we are still at an impasse. When I googled the problem to try and gain some perspective from likeminded peers, I quickly realized that most atheists, humanists and agnostics do in fact celebrate major religious holidays. I was so close to caving on this subject since apparently it is a cruel affront parenting. I am toying with the idea of adopting a solstice celebration, but with a few iron clad rules such as, no santa or mythology of any kind, it stays grounded in nature, a limit on the number of gifts, and I like the idea creating a tradition for our family in which we all exchange at least one homemade gift with each other. I still am not completely sure how this will go down, and it may take a couple of years to work out the kinks. I really do appreciate your approach and resolve. It is nice to know I am not the only one out there who doesn’t want the comfort of others to dictate their choices even though I might in the end try a compromise (as long as what I am compromising is not my core values). It’s weird, I have been a proud and “out” feminist, humanist and member of the lgbt community for years, so I never expected my most controversial and opinion provoking title to be “parent”!

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