Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An Agnostic's View on the Holidays

   One of the best things about being a parent is that we get to shamelessly re-live all of the magical things about childhood through our kids. There are so many fun things we forget about until we get to see through the eyes of a child again. And I got to thinking about this today after my son left for school, like any other day, and I didn't even realize until later that it was Halloween.
    When I was in elementary school we got to wear our costumes to school. We had parties in our classes where we got to wrap each other in toilet paper like a mummy, reach into a covered bowl of "guts" (ok, spaghetti), and march around the school in a costume parade. For one day kids got to go to school and be cowboys, princesses, super heroes, ninjas, or whatever else they dreamed of being. I was never asked to worship Satan or to practice witchcraft on these days. Not everybody dressed up and nobody faulted them for it.
My son's school doesn't celebrate Halloween. I think last year they called it "dress like a pirate day." Which for a family on a budget like us is not exactly easy when we've already shelled out $20 for a Captain America costume and shield. I was seriously tempted to send him to school in it anyway and was totally prepared to argue that it was not a Halloween costume but a "patriotic jumpsuit." But I decided against it because that is not (excuse the analogy) his cross to bear.
   We discovered last year when he was in kindergarten that Halloween was not the only holiday that got watered down in fact but that all of them were either ignored or approached in the least overt or confrontational way possible. The only exception being Thanksgiving which is probably the most offensive holiday considering it completely ignores the ugly truth of colonization. But I digress.
   I was really hesitant to write this piece because inevitably you can't talk about the holidays without talking about religion, and you can't talk about religion without people getting really fired up. Then I realized that that right there is the problem - everybody is too afraid to just come out and share their point of view because they don't want to be attacked, or judged, or *gasp* disagreed with. This is not the lesson I want to teach my kids. I want them to know that it is ok to have an opinion, that it is ok to respectfully express it, and that it is ok that not everybody is going to agree with it.
   So I have to tell you a little bit about my religious background because, after all, our backgrounds are a large part of what shapes the way we view the world. When people ask me what my religion is I usually joke that I am "half-lic" because I was sort of raised Catholic as a kid and I made communion, but I never got confirmed. I don't particularly have a lot of memories of going to church. One I remember was dressing up as an angel for the nativity play at Christmas time. The other was making communion which to me meant two things: 1. I get to taste wine. 2. I get to eat a cookie. My mom went to Catholic school her whole life so I was definitely exposed to religion.
   People who know me fairly well know that I am not really religious. I've had a few people assume I am an Atheist, but that doesn't really fit because I don't think that there is no God/Goddess/Gods/Higher Presence. I don't really like labels, but I think people have a hard time without one. If I have to choose, agnostic is probably the closest to describe me. Spiritual also, kind of. The bible doesn't really do it for me. But I don't think you have to believe in the good book to be a good person. I believe that there is good at the core of humanity. I believe that there are things that we can't see or touch but that doesn't mean they don't exist. If you ask me for prayers I'll send a little message out there to who may or may not be listening. I believe we have souls. I hope our souls don't just disappear into thin air after our bodies die but I don't hypothesize on what might happen to them. I try to be a good person and to help others because this may or may not be the only life I get so why not make the best of it. I believe in family.
   When I was in school I remember learning about all of the holidays. We did Christmas crafts, Hanukkah crafts, Kwanzaa crafts. We learned that some kids don't celebrate any holidays. I didn't spin a dreidel at school and go home asking to convert to Judaism. Lets give our kids a little bit more credit than that. I feel like the holidays are an opportunity to learn about each other. To celebrate our differences instead of hiding them from one another. But we live in this culture now where everybody is either waiting on the edge of their seat to get offended about something, or tiptoeing around so as not to offend someone. Apparently the solution in our schools is to just ignore them altogether.
   I am not a Christian but I celebrate Christmas. Why? Because I want my kids to believe in magic and it doesn't really get much more magical than Santa Claus. Because I have fond memories of hanging stockings, singing carols, and ripping into presents on Christmas morning. Because many of our traditions are rooted deeper into family and into being together than they are into a book. Maybe to some Christians I am not actually celebrating Christmas, and you know what? I respect that point of view. It's all good. Christmas to me doesn't have to be the same as what Christmas is to you, and it probably has a different meaning to a lot of people.
   Same goes for the other holidays. If your kid wants to bring their Menorah to school for show and tell, then I think that's fantastic. I want my kids to learn about other cultures. I want them to see that not everybody believes the same things they do. I want them to embrace that. Life would be boring if we all believed the same thing. So I say bring back the holidays - all of them. Not to push them on each other, but to celebrate that we each have our own unique set of beliefs and traditions.



  1. well said you said it just as I would have I just wish I could have put it into words like that. Good Job

  2. Very thoughtful article. I agree that we should learn about each others cultures so we can celebrate our differences. And when we delve deeper we'd find there are many more similarities than differences.