Atheist Christmas/Yule family traditions? (Pagan and other input also welcome) - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 15 Old 12-28-2011, 10:44 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I don't know if there are other atheists on the board;  I suppose it is funny for me to come here, since I am not "spiritual."  Still, I thought it might be more catch-all than that.

I'm in my mid-thirties and pregnant, and my husband and I are both atheists.  As a teenager, I went through a year or two of refusing to celebrate the "Christian" holiday of Christmas, but this all changed when an English teacher explained the pagan history of the holiday.  I wasn't pagan, either, but this seemed much better, and I went back to celebrating Christmas with my family after that.  (Our tradition was the typical tree-and-presents affair;  there was no Christian or pagan spirituality involved.)

Now, as a Mom-to-be, I feel like the "Christ" in Christmas is staring me in the face again.  I am beginning to notice that my atheist friends don't celebrate Christmas without reservations;  they say, "I'm atheist, BUT I celebrate Christmas," as if there is an inherent contradiction.  I am noticing, as if for the first time, that some of the nicer Christmas carols are Christian, rather than pagan or secular, and my mother in law just gave me a children's Christmas book that has a tiny bit of Christianity in it.  She gave it to me with an, "I hope it's okay, because it's just a little bit" disclaimer, and my concern is not really that she plans to push Christianity on the child, but it has emphasized that, yes, Christianity is part of the modern practice of Christmas, even if that is not where the holiday's origins lie.

I thought of building our own, more pagan-themed, traditions to de-Christianize Yule/Christmas for our child, but upon looking into that, the obvious fact that pagans are not atheists became apparent.  I do not especially want to introduce my child to pagan god(dess)-themed ceremonies, although if they are going to be aware that Christianity exists (which eventually they are), I definitely want them to be aware that other religions exist, as well.

 

I think what I was hoping the pagan tradition would be, would be more like, "Isn't it great that there are trees that stay green all year, that life lasts through winter, that light is returning, and that we can come together for warmth?"

Atheists, do you have any traditions that help you keep religion out of Christmas or Yule?  Do you think there is any value in calling it Yule, or some other name, instead of Christmas, or is this pointless and confusing?

Pagans, do you have traditions that are nature-themed rather than god(dess)-themed, that you wouldn't mind sharing with an atheist like me?

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#2 of 15 Old 12-28-2011, 11:24 AM
 
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Athiest here!! I just gave birth to my first baby in September, and my DH and I decided we were going to make the Solstices a celebration. Winter Solstice was a big Soup/Salad potluck with pleas-come-back-sun art projects for the kids and an alocholic toast to the end of darkness for the adults. The adults (and kids old enough to participate) wrote something they wanted to let go of on a large leaf (with a sharpie) which we all threw onto the fire pit. Every family brought a candle which we lit before the end of the party and said this blessing I found on MDC:

 

As the Sun increases, so may your joys increase;

As the nights become shorter, so may your sorrows shrink;

As those you love surround you, may you feel their love there as well;

May you be blessed by your sources of strength, be they within or without;

And may all of your dearest dreams come to you in time.

 

Baby's still young, next year we might incorporate a gift exchange, not sure though. It was fun to celebrate nature and the incredible changes in ourselves and our world. Cheesy, but fun ;)

 

Hope that helps :)

 

Oh, btw, Baby's got family members who celebrate Christmas and Hanuka, and even Kwanza...I will gladly allow him to be involved in those celebrations so that he can develop a sense that not everyone is the same. I will not, however, play the Santa game...I think it's BS that I would have to lie to my son about the existence of a strange gift giving intruder, and then explain why Santa doesn't come to HIM...just so other people can lie to their kids? I don't think so.


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#3 of 15 Old 12-28-2011, 11:38 AM
 
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We are Pagan, but our celebrations really arent, well, goddess-themed anything. We do believe in a Creator but it's a vague idea - one could, I suppose, equate this spirit to either a loose translation of "God" or nature or the universe or whatever.

We celebrate the Solstice, which is actally a few days BEFORE Christmas... and then we do Christmas as well, since we're an interfaith family. In my ideal world we wouldn't even "need" to celebrate Christmas but it's just kind of a given that we have to due to family. But for me Christmas almost seems superfluous. We celebrate a different life stage at each of the 8 holidays. New Year's, in February, is the birth holiday, and the Day of Death in November is the one before. So this is the only one of the holidays that is in-between and represents the links between generations, the before-life and after-life, and basically non-life. It is also a moment to appreciate that even when the world seems very dark we can get through it. Celebrating with family or friends reinforces the idea that it takes loved ones to brighten the cold, dark days of our lives and they help us get through it. It's a celebration of hope and community. Yes, you can add in religious themes as well, but those are the ones that I think most people can relate to, spiritual (or God-fearing) - or not.

Our traditions are basically that we do decorate a tree outside - our Christmas tree is typically inside with our normal decorations, ornaments, etc., but the outside tree is one with edible ornaments - popcorn, dried orange slices, peanut butter pine cones, cranberries - that sort of thing. We also like to have a nice dinner with a cake, light a fire (whether in the fire place, or candles, etc.) and light up the place with twinkle lights. We also do a couple of religious themed gifts, but it doesn't have to be religious themed. This year I got a set of prayer beads; last year it was a set of Tarot cards. Since you're atheist it would probably be a bit different for you, but it could be something to aid in your own personal spirituality. Perhaps you still have some self-fulfillment or enlightenment types of interests... Like a book of poetry or a yoga video or a piece of art or a journal or something. I don't know. Or jewelry that means something to you.

We usually put on some nice music that seems Christmassy - and yes, sometimes it ends up being Christian hymns (I love O Holy Night more than any other Christmas song!) but there are some secular ones. This year we did Enya's winter album and it was nice.
There's also a pretty good book called Pagan Christmas that has some cool trivia, and it's just a nicely done coffee-table type book. This year I also just saw a movie on Netflix called Christmas Story - it's about the mythical origins of Santa. It's a miserable movie, TBH, but it puts you into a very wintry sort of a mood. There are other Christmas types of movies that have darned little to do with Jesus-in-Bethlehem and more to do with the whole "love and peace for all of the earth" or whatever themes.

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#4 of 15 Old 12-28-2011, 11:39 AM
 
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Oh, and also, re: Santa - Santa comes to our house on St. Nick's day in early December. That's more of a cultural thing (eastern European) than anything, though. Where I come from the baby Jesus brings the tree and presents anyway, so Santa has really nothing to do with Christmas anyway, there.

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#5 of 15 Old 12-29-2011, 05:19 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks, this is really interesting so far!  I am seeing that to be authentically pagan or nature-based, the celebration should probably not be on December 25th.  I'm basically trying to squeeze a more traditional winter celebration into the Christianized holiday because I'm trying to think of a way to justify to the children that we put up a tree and go to the in-laws' for a Christmas party, and let them understand from an early age that the reason isn't that we are Christian.  (Even my in-laws are not Christian;  at least, my MIL and BIL have said they are not, and my FIL doesn't mention anything about it, nor does he attend church.)  I'm afraid that they will think we are, since typical children's logic goes something like this:  "If you celebrate Christmas, you're Christian;  if you don't, you're Jewish."  I know there are other religions, of course, but young children often don't.  I've had children, on two separate occasions, ask me the question, "Are you Jewish or Christmas?", which was funny at the time, but now makes me worry.

 

Mama2, your celebration sounds fun!  I like the idea of the art project for the kids, and I love the idea of a fire pit.  We probably can't afford one soon, but boy, would I enjoy it.

 

Seawitch, your celebration sounds nice, too.  I think it would be really easy for us to do something like that, and enjoy it.  Your post and Mama2s are making me wish we didn't live so close to our otherwise-fabulous in-laws.  They always go overboard with gifts, and I can imagine that their celebration will always be the highlight of our child's season.  Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic, though.  Sometimes, if a simple activity is fun enough (and the two trees sound fun!), it can mean more to a child than lavish presents.

Oh, and we're definitely not pretending Santa Claus is real.  I decided that a long time ago.  I will let my child read the books and watch the secular Christmas specials featuring Santa, but s/he will know that it's just a fun, fictional story, just like the pretend characters in other story books.

 

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#6 of 15 Old 12-29-2011, 08:02 AM
 
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We're atheists, but happy to celebrate Christmas.  We may not actually be Christians, but our cultural background is Christian, so Christmas was a tradition in our families and it feels natural to celebrate it.  As it's celebrated by most people in the US today, it's a pretty secular holiday.  It's mostly about the presents, the tree, getting together with family, making cookies, the Santa story, etc.  So we embrace all that, and I don't mind that it's also about celebrating Christ's birth. The Christ myth is a nice one and an important one to our culture, and we can enjoy thinking about it and singing carols about it without believing it's true, just like we can enjoy stories about Santa without believing he's real.  We have a nativity set and an angel on top of our tree, and my kids' favorite Christmas carol (and mine) is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.  They asked me this year why we celebrate Christmas when we're not Christians, and I explained that it's part of my background and something that people all around us are celebrating, and I like carrying on the traditions I remember from my childhood and joining in the general celebration, and I like the ideas associated with Christmas about getting together with people you love, doing nice things for other people, and having good food to eat, and I like the story about Jesus's birth.  We've also talked about how the celebration of Christ's birth got mixed up with much older solstice-time celebration traditions, so that some Christmas traditions come from before it was called Christmas.

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#7 of 15 Old 12-29-2011, 08:17 AM
 
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we celebrate many christian holidays (not just christmas!) and we are no way near christians! we are happy atheists


 

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#8 of 15 Old 12-29-2011, 09:20 AM
 
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We are agnostic with pagan leanings. We celebrate the seasons but we don't feel a call to worship anything. We do service to Mother Earth in the form of tree plantings and clean up projects.

We invented a party called Soup and Solstice. Lots of soup and bread, no gifts. The neighbors and friends come and share warmth and light with us. No santa. A small potted tree decorated with sun symbols.

Anyway, here's the MDC thread on that so I don't have type it all again.

http://www.mothering.com/community/t/1338080/if-you-celebrate-winter-solstice-what-do-you-do/40#post_16801020


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#9 of 15 Old 12-30-2011, 01:36 PM
 
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Yule is a northern European word for Winter Solstice, that I think means “wheel” which is believed to either mean a sun wheel or a wheel of the year. I tend to use the term Yule as a reference for my spiritual practices at the Winter Solstice to separate them from Christmas. I think the term Winter Solstice is really open and can be used as secular.

 

The Yule traditions that morphed into Christmas are now fairly accepted as cultural or secular. These being: Santa/sleigh/reindeer, hanging stockings, decorating a tree/wreath, giving gifts and cards, having a big feast. I have Jewish friends who did the holiday tree for this reason. I think it is totally fine to celebrate these as Pagan or secular.

 

Now the Winter Solstice in general is celebrated by many cultures worldwide. True it has spiritual or religious (and superstious) meaning to many. But fact is it’s a science based observance (as are the all the solstice and equinoxes) of the seasons. There is no reason to not make these apart of your family traditions.

 

Some seculars and Pagans choose to celebrate Winter Solstice far outside the usual Yule/Santa activities. And go for a more “celebrate the Sun/Solar” theme. I think what most people really enjoy about winter time holidays is the gathering of friends and family, a big feast of comfort foods and in some cases the sharing of gifts. This is no way needs to be religious J

 

I think it is also nice to honor what is really happening in the natural world at that time too, which for us in NW means evergreen plants, seasonal foods and taking care to feed the birds. It also means taking care of less fortune folks in our town during a cold winter with coat and food drives and volunteering.

 

You can begin to make family traditions that mean something to you. These are things the kids will remember the most J

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#10 of 15 Old 01-05-2012, 01:50 PM
 
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I think a lot of what you're going through with this has more to do with coming to peace with these celebrations in your own head, rather than the actions of what you celebrate.

I don't see Christmas as CHRIST-mas, but as a holiday that grew from ancient pagan traditions of marking the passing of the seasons. We bring in an evergreen tree decorated with lights because of those origins, and as part of the celebration we have food, family, and gifts. Santa Claus visits our house, not as a religious saint but as a part of our cultural tradition, our cultural heritage. We don't really sing the very religious carols, and I think music is the only part of the secular holiday that I'd improve. We have also started celebrating winter solstice, as an extension of the Christmas holiday. It's a great way to talk with the kids about science and the natural world. We do a lot of observations of the seasons changing, talk about the Earth's orbit and tilt, and connect the ideas of lights and stars with the sun coming back. I've told them the story of the baby Jesus (mythology of various religions is important to know, I think) and explain that some people like to celebrate his birthday during Christmas, but he wasn't actually born in the winter. I'm ok with a little religion thrown in there, as long as I can present it as mythology.

The big thing for me in feeling that I'm not celebrating a Christian holiday has really been about separating out in my head the secular parts from other people's religious ideas. It helps me personally to remember that the Christians just added their beliefs on to a pre-existing holiday, so their religion is just one aspect of it. The rest of the holiday is really about cultural traditions and what feels good for your own family. Just like Easter (which we also celebrate) because eggs and rabbits come from the ancient pagan traditions for celebrating the equinox and aren't really about Jesus. My kids at this point don't really have Jesus on their radar for Easter, but are aware of that it is marking the midway point between solstices. I don't have to worry about what pagans may or may not do, we just do what feels right for us and who cares if other people see that as a holiday for their particular religion.

Perhaps it will help you, too, if you begin to separate in your own mind the cultural traditions from other people's religion on these things. Maybe that will help you stop being bothered by the little aspects of Christianity that you come across. I see absolutely no contradiction in celebrating Christmas or Easter as a non-Christian, but from your post it seems like you do, and that is your sticking point. You've got to find some way to reframe Christmas that allows you feel comfortable about it and maintaining your personal integrity as an atheist.
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#11 of 15 Old 01-06-2012, 06:24 AM - Thread Starter
 
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This thread has been informative and helpful.  Thank you!  I am wondering if I would have better solstice ideas if I didn't hate winter.  My goal is not to pass my hatred of winter on to my child, as it would mean him/her being unhappy for 6-7 months, where we live.

 

Spring Lily, your analysis of me is extremely accurate. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I am realizing that the problem is going to be reconciling the Christmas parties we already attend with our non-Christianity, more than it is building up extra activities around the holiday, although I continue to entertain this notion.  I see Christmas as a mish-mash of paganism, Christianity, and modern commercialism.  As an adult, I am able to easily understand that the Christian aspect of it is not what I am celebrating, but my worry is that a child will not be able to so easily do this.  I know a child of non-religious (though not as anti-religious as I am) parents who started calling herself a "Christian" after she moved to a Christian-heavy state (heavier than mine) and met Christian friends at school.  I worry that her following Christian norms, such as celebrating Christmas, at home, made it easier for her to fall into this trap.  On the other hand, I know a Jewish family who very much follow Jewish holidays and never celebrate Christmas, and it seems impossible that the children in that family would start calling themselves "Christian."  Maybe I'm worried that if I leave a vacuum, the local dominant religion will fill it.  Perhaps the obvious thing for me to provide, that does not equal a vacuum, is science.  I also love that you teach your children about Christianity as one of many mythologies.  I also plan to do that.

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#12 of 15 Old 01-06-2012, 06:48 AM
 
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Maybe I'm worried that if I leave a vacuum, the local dominant religion will fill it.

 

 

I have found that those (be it children and especially adults) "fill-up" when they have an emptiness of fulfillment in their lives not simply an empty space. There are many children that simply do not "fill-up" or seek out the need to do so and go on to live fulfilled lives.

 

I don't know what section of PA you are in - but also in PA we find it can be very diverse and exploring other religions (as NON-religious) is amazing and beneficial.

This past holiday season my three year old attend a hanukkah party and has no desire to pursue dreidel play!

I also successfully raised an adult atheist who attended many Jewish holidays, Hindu celebrations, Buddhist celebrations- the list goes on and never once sought out the fill up need- so it can happen! 

 

 


 

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#13 of 15 Old 01-06-2012, 07:04 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks.  We live in the suburbs of Philly.  It couldn't get much better as far as Pennsylvania is concerned, though I think there were more non-religious people (as well as Muslims and Hindus) in the city than there are in our suburban town.  We moved here for the schools, but the downside is a more homogeneous population that seems more religious based on our few experiences so far.  Still, you're right that we're not in Alabama or Georgia (like the newly "Christian" child I mentioned), and we're not in a truly bad position by any means.

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#14 of 15 Old 01-06-2012, 07:09 AM
 
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sending you a PM!


 

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#15 of 15 Old 01-06-2012, 09:51 AM
 
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We are still celebrating!  Husband and I are both atheists, and our families are a mix of lapsed Catholics, assorted Protestants and more agnostics and atheists.  (We have HUGE families, btw.)  My parents are now non-denominational and fairly fundamentalist.  His parents are lapsed Catholics who then dabbled in non-denom and then gave that up pretty quickly too.  They are, however, Christians of some variety as they appear to be certain the Judeo-Christian god exists, and they subscribe to his newsletter. 

My family loosely follows the 12 days of Christmas, so we should have just finished, but really we go until the Sunday after the New Year, so this coming Sunday will be the end for us.  We'll have Christmas dinner that Sunday night (again, since we did it Christmas night as well).  We do the tree, we do the pressies and stockings, but mainly for us the celebration is about a week or two of not minding your manners around food, lots and lots of sweets and more sweets, and family.  I live so far from my family, but if I was at home I'd be trundling back and forth and hither and thither between families, since we are well beyond the point of fitting anything even remotely resembling an "extended family" in one house.  The way I see it, I have no more faith in the sun god having mercy on me and showing his face longer and more brightly than I do the god of the Christian bible being born and receiving some very interesting presents a week or so later;  so however you slice it, I'm marking the yearly anniversary of something old-fashioned and a discarded belief.  I'm just celebrating my family, and eating way to many cookies.  And my daughter will do the same, once she's old enough to understand why our living room and front entry is covered in blinking lights and Mommy has more errands than usual.

 

 


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