Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmasy Stuff

DISCLAIMER: The following post contains frank discussion about my beliefs and feelings regarding religion. I don’t often discuss serious things here and I’m sure I’ll go back to posting silly stories soon. Please read with caution.

I knew in elementary school that my family was different from other families because if a sleepover at a friend’s house ended on a Sunday morning I would be dropped off at home early so my friend could go to church. Sometimes though I tagged along; I sat on the hard backed benches and watched the people around me. They were always dressed up like they were going to a wedding. It made me uncomfortable because I was not and I knew that I was the odd one out. I stared at the stained glass windows in awe at the beauty of them. I followed along with what my friend did. If she stood or sat or kneeled, so did I. But I didn’t understand a thing.

I knew who Jesus was. We celebrated his birthday every year. And I played with the Nativity every year. I loved the little sheep and donkeys. I loved moving baby Jesus around, trying him out in different places before finally putting him back in front of Mary. I knew the basic story – I watched all the Christmas specials each year and Linus explained it succinctly every single time. I loved Christmas time. It was the only birthday party I knew of where the guests got all the good presents! And boy did Santa bring me great gifts.

I started paying a bit more attention in middle school. My friends talked about church and I listened. They went to Sunday school and confirmation classes. They spoke of accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I wanted to understand. I wanted to belong. One night, I took my mom’s old King James Bible with its fancy thou’s and ye’s and I read it. Well, I skimmed it to get the general idea.

But I was skeptical about the whole Jesus is God thing. Actually, I was skeptical about the whole book. None of it made sense to me. Right about that time I was big into archaeology and paleontology. I was dumbfounded that the bible made no mention of dinosaurs. That it didn’t explain cave paintings and artifacts from civilizations that came ten thousand years before. I put the King James Version away and left it at that. It didn’t make sense and therefore it was of no use to me.

By eighth grade I knew. Well. I didn’t know, know. I had an inkling, a tickle in the back of my mind that I was somehow different from my friends. I didn’t know there was a name for it but I knew. I was a nonbeliever.

In college many of my friends were quite open about their religious beliefs and after learning about my skepticism, encouraged me to attend church and mass with them. I willing went along. I wanted to understand and maybe, back then, I wanted to believe. I mean I believed in aliens, Bigfoot and the possibility of a Loch Ness monster so why was it so hard for me to believe that an all powerful, all knowing, all loving being watched over us? Why was it so hard to accept that Jesus was the Lord and Savior? There wasn’t any real proof of aliens yet I readily jumped on that bandwagon. So what was the deal? It wasn’t until I dropped out, pregnant with Ashleigh and moved home that I really started looking at my beliefs.

Maybe I was searching for a meaning. Maybe I was confused by my sister’s sudden interest in the church when we were raised to look for answers in ourselves and in facts. I tried to understand. I went to midnight mass at St. Joseph’s on Christmas Eve that year thinking that I would find something in the pomp and circumstance of the night. And though I was near to bursting with excitement over the holiday and Ashleigh’s impending arrival, I felt more awkward then ever before. I didn’t belong in this building, I thought, with all these believers. It was hypocrisy. I didn’t…couldn’t…wouldn’t believe and yet, there I was.

When Ashleigh was three and I went back to college I decided to study religion, philosophy and history alongside with my English curriculum. Maybe, I thought, if I understood religion from a factual sense, then I…I don’t know what I expected. But the more I learned, the more I questioned and the more I questioned the more I realized that religion would not be something I would ever benefit from.

History showed too many problems sprouting from religion, too many misunderstandings, too many battles, too many deaths. It didn’t matter what religion or beliefs one espoused the end result was bad. Philosophy introduced me the Euthyphro dilemma – is something good because it is inherently good or because a god says it is good? My religion professor, a deeply religious man himself, made us dig for the historical aspects of the biblical text and asked us to question each verse.

Studying made me question all over again but this time it wasn’t about finding faith it was about how I was raising my daughter.

I gave a few brief thoughts about not celebrating Christmas anymore. I thought if I could eighty-six it when Ashleigh was young, she wouldn’t feel like she was missing out on anything. But then I thought about all the fun that Christmas is: the decorating, the celebrating, the presents. Sure there is a religious meaning behind it all, but Christmas is a conglomeration of different traditions that early Christians adopted to get the so-called pagans to convert. What farmer leaves his flock out in the fields on a winter night? Where in Luke does it mention an evergreen tree lit with candles or a Yule log? Guess who else was begot by a god: Hercules, Helen of Troy, and Julius Caesar.

Once I started thinking about Christmas in that sense I felt better about celebrating. In fact, I probably celebrate Christmas more enthusiastically now then I did before I got a degree. I decorate the house, I make ornaments and gifts, I love giving presents and spend a good part of the year thinking about and planning for Christmas. I start singing carols as early as August and despite my very vocal complaints about stores putting Christmas displays earlier and earlier each year, I secretly love it.

My sister a year or so ago shook her head at my while I was decorating my house, making room on the shelves for ceramic Santas that my mom painted. I was singing, giggling and just about spazzing out with joy that Christmas was coming - something that I have never outgrown.

“What?” I asked.

“You.” She said. “I don’t get how you can love Christmas this much and not believe in Jesus.”

I’m not sure how I responded. Maybe I made a witty comment or just shrugged but as the years have passed I have come to terms with my love of Christmas. Christmas isn’t just about Jesus anymore. Not really. It's about hope. The story of Jesus offers people hope. You don’t need faith to have hope. And in the middle of winter when nights are long and cold it is good to remember hope.

I will never claim that Jesus didn’t exist. There’s factual evidence. And I will never claim that I know all there is in the universe because really? It’s just too big for us to understand. And that’s alright. Besides, who am I to pass up on Birthday Cake? Yes, I celebrate the commercial side of Christmas and next to my beautiful Nativity are Santa Claus’s, nutcrackers, mistletoe, a decorated tree and many other things associated with Christmas that actually predate Christianity. When the girls ask about them meaning of Christmas I explain to them the religious and the secular, the biblical and the incorporation of other beliefs. I may not believe that Jesus was or is the son of God, I may not believe in an omniscient god and my point with this post is not to spark religious debate; in fact, I’m pretty sure that this post has moved entirely too far away from my original point I wanted to make which is:



  1. Replies
    1. Thank you very much. I hope you had a good holiday as well.

  2. I'm an atheist who converted from beng a devout Christian. I've had many of the same thoughts recently about Christmas, but I don't need to believe to enjoy the holiday. I'm actually looking forward to when my kids are old enough to understand it enough to celebrate more.

    I loved this post, but then my blog is quite a mix of funny and serious too :)

    1. Thanks. I agree. Christmas with the girls is even more fun now because they really appreciate and enjoy it all the more. I especially love how much they are like me - they love picking out gifts for others and watching the reactions their gift-giving results in.

  3. I grew up Catholic. I knew by age 12 I was an Atheist. I do follow a lot of Buddhist practices but I am not Buddhist. I just know what brings me peace and helps me through life. My religious friends get peeved that I write Xmas, but it's not about christ for me and I feel weird even putting the word in there. I have always kind of loathed the holidays because my family are tough to be around. But I try to focus on the joy of being surrounded by my chosen family and my amazing boyfriends. This year has been better than most so far. I am missing gram something fierce, but wearing an R2D2 beanie is kind of helping that. :)

    1. I think that Buddha, like Jesus and and other prophets of old had a lot of good ideas. I just don't like to elevate wise men and women for that matter to godhood. I mean if that's the case why aren't Socrates and Plato demi-gods at least, you know?

      As for the "x" in xmas it is actually a Christian thing. It represents the Greek letter "chi" which is the first letter of "christ" in Greek. So you can tell your religious friends to back off! :)

      I lucked out in the family department I think. Mine are pretty cool and while like all families disagreements are arguments can crop up, for the most part we are pretty laid back.

      I remember the first Christmas after my grandma died - it is tough but I am glad that you have some pretty awesome friends and boyfriends (jeesh does that every stop being weird to write?) that are with you!

      Cheers my friend!! :)

  4. Hi Heather.

    This was all very well said. I come from a family with strong religious beliefs on both sides. Yet, I don't really hold any religious beliefs myself.

    I try to be understanding of whatever anybody wishes to believe in.

    At the end of the day though, if I can just be the best me that I can be, then I'm happy.

    Merry Christmas Heather. :)

    1. I try too. Sometimes I just have to shake my head and walk away, but I try my hardest not to say anything. I can have my opinions, they can have theirs and I see nothing wrong with it.

      I like to think that I don't need a holy text to tell me the difference between right and wrong. If I do good things then I do them because they are good not because a book or a man in a funny hat tells me to. :)

      Merry Christmas to you and yours Ken!

  5. Merry Christmas :) I don't see anything wrong with celebrating Christmas without believing in God. The two can be completely seperated, or they can go hand in hand. Whatever works for you and makes you happy is what I say!

    1. Thank! I agree. In fact, I've been trying to convince Scott to let me get a Menorah so we can celebrate Chanukkah as well. Maybe I'll just make one next year. Really it all boils down to two things:

      One - I love celebrating things.
      Two - I love learning about different cultures and traditions.

      So really why not combine them? When I taught I had a monthly calendar posted on the board and I made a point to write in all holidays. I also made a point to know the basic reason behind the holiday so if one of my students asked I could give a basic explanation.