12/05/2009                                                                                       View Comments

How Do I Celebrate the Holidays?

by Marlene Winell

Christmas ball - ChristianityImage by nabeel_yoosuf via Flickr

I’m sure we all remember being told to not forget that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” so if you are recently deconverted from Christianity, this may be a confusing time for you. But I think it’s a good time to do some healing and growth by taking personal responsibility for how to construe the holidays and consciously deciding what to do, if anything. In my view, this is part of the larger reconstruction project of recovery, which involves rethinking and reclaiming responsibility in every facet of life. As examples, I have discussed the importance of taking responsibility for personal “spirituality,” for deciding on one’s own sexual guidelines, and the importance of getting past looking for “God’s will” in making life choices.

Christian or not, the holidays can be a time to slow down and consider what’s really important. Since a controlling religion provides rigid guidelines for so many areas of thinking and behaving, believers can be used to having a passive approach in life. Yet, we cannot avoid the bald truth that we are making decisions all the time, even when we are conforming. Emerging from the haze of religious group-think brings into view the existential human challenge of self-responsibility. We have to accept that we are meaning-creating creatures. This is of course both frightening and deliciously exciting and freeing.

So what are we to make of Christmas? First of all, the holiday has little to do with Jesus’ birth. As Valerie Tarico explains, “the Catholic Church chose December 25th (Winter Solstice in the Julian Calendar) to honor the birthday of the Christ for a very specific reason: It was already a well loved holiday -- a time of revelry, gift giving, and yes, celebrating the birthdays of gods.” Her article from last year, "Is it ok to celebrate Christmas even if you're not a Christian?" goes on to give more historical information that is well worth reading. There are pagan sources for many of our most loved traditions of the season.

Last year, I found it important to explore the meaning of Christmas by looking at the archetype of the child (What Child Is This?) . It makes sense to me that so many people, not just Christians, find the image of a child inspirational, symbolizing innocence, hope, simplicity, and wonder. The tale of Jesus’ birth is interesting in many ways, e.g., a poor family facing hardship while travelling and giving birth in a stable where wealthy noblemen come to give homage.

So, Christian or not, the holidays can be a time to slow down and consider what’s really important. My invitation to you is to experience the season with awareness and choice. You can reject what you want and take part in what you want. You don’t have to go to church, nor do you have to spend a lot of money on presents. Do you like the pagan tradition of having a tree or decorating with fragrant evergreen garlands? Do you enjoy candles or a yule log in your winter fireplace? How about yummy food and Christmas cookies? Music and singing and special events? Nutcracker, The Messiah, or A Christmas Carol?

My favorite part is having contact with family and long-time friends that I don’t see often. I love sending and receiving cards and newsletters from folks scattered all over – it makes me feel connected and grounded. If I do get together with family, I enjoy playing with little kids. Perhaps you enjoy the simple pleasure of taking some time off. Even if you do nothing Christmassy, the shops are closed and you can curl up with a good book. The point is that it is up to you. Reclaim your holiday and enjoy it.


I realize that Christmas can be tense if you are with family that are still devout believers. Whether or not you have “come out” to them, this can be difficult. At another time, I’d like to discuss in more detail ways to navigate family relationships. For now, may I simply suggest that you relate to them strictly on a human level. To the extent that it is possible in your situation, ignore the religion. That may sound funny, but the truth is that believers live in parallel universes of what they consider “spiritual reality” and everyday physical reality.

If you’ve been there, you will understand this, and you know that it is possible to focus on the present and the concrete. Most importantly, you can concentrate on human feelings and express the love you have for your family. You can look past any piousness and realize that they too have been victimized by a powerful system. Enjoy the fact that you don’t have to be Christian to be generous, giving, and joyful. Who knows? Perhaps by letting your light shine, you can be a witness ☺

Note: This will be a topic for the next conference call of the virtual support/therapy group, “Release and Reclaim” on Dec. 6. Contact Dr. Winell for information about this group and visit her website at www.marlenewinell.net.

23 comments:

webmdave said...

I have to admit that I've benefited by being a church emloyee (I direct the music for a Catholic church, despite by humanistic beliefs). I take my car to a guy who give significant discounts to church workers :). I do feel kinda sneaky about it, but I am a single mom and I need to watch the pennies. Also, I think back on all the money I threw at religion and church for so many years and I guess i don't feel that bad.

webmdave said...

Sorry to be so late in replying to this thread.

There is one very fun (for me) thing I do each and every xmas. I admit it -- I am a complete sucker for Tacky Christmas Lights and love to drive around ooohing and aahhhhing over them. Here's one of my favorites a few miles from my home.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JfdHO0-538

I offer no apologies for my own shallowness ..... lol

8-)
BP

webmdave said...

Just celebrate, our little disjointed clique looks apon it as reclaiming the right to celebrate from the religious. Let's face it they've hijacked just about everything and claimed prior rights where none exist. Fuck them!!! get your friends and family together and party. For the last five years we've held a get together in an old woolshed on a property so remote that no-one can be bothered that we've lit a huge fire (sometimes contrary to local laws). Since we are such a disparate group its almost never been precicely at christmas and last year it became a new years celebration as well. You don't need a god to celebrate. This years celebration theme is "cognisant star stuff...us". The ages will range from 94 to...well, it's a few days overdue right now. There's no electricity so we all bring an instrument, talent ranges from my brother-in-laws family who have more than thier fair share of well known rockers and gaelic musos to the likes of me who can barely pick a tune, no one cares less, least of all the pros, in fact an impromptu music lesson from a former big time rocker has been part of the fun. At the moment it's unseasonably cold in the Australian Alps and the joke will be on us if we get a white christmas. (well, a snow flurry at the very least) Happy celebrating every-one

webmdave said...

They're probably hoping that you're also Christian and, because they're doing something good for their church, you'll find a discount or something for them. It's actually smart shopping, to a degree - if you can find a sympathetic sales clerk, they may be willing to bend the rules or at least 'find a coupon' for you. Once I went to a clothing store with a friend during one of those random-discount coupon thingies, and since the clerk knew them, they flipped through the coupon stack until they found the highest discount coupon.

Also, you have my sympathies with the Christmas music and decor. It takes about three days for me to overdose on the music - and that's with limiting the stores I go to. Any retail worker who has to listen to Christmas music for more than a week deserves hazard pay.

webmdave said...

I work at a nationwide craft and fabric store chain in the SoCal god-botherer hinterlands. I get a lot of people who have to let me know that they're making this or that for their church. They all get this expectant look on their faces, like I'm supposed to pat them on the head or something. I do a lot of smiling and nodding...

Because we start in with the xmas crap in late July and xmas music the day after Thanksgiving, I don't do anything at home because I'm so over it and I need a xmas-free zone in my life.

I do admit to getting a real pine and juniper wreath from Trader Joe's (only $11.99, less than our fake ones on sale!) for the piney smell, which I obviously don't get at work; we just have those awful cinnamon pine cones, which I will spare you my rant about. grr.

webmdave said...

Jesus is the reason for the season? The response I've used when told this has been, "the Solstice is the reason there IS a season." This time of the year has been celebrated for millenia prior to the mythical birth of jesus.
With its cooler (if not downright cold) weather and shortest days, this is a time of year we try to slow our lives down and enjoy the stillness of nature. If life slows down in nature, perhaps it's good for us humans as well. Typically, at least for the last twenty years or so, my wife and I have spent these holidays camping. It is a great way to get away from the crowds (here in the sunbelt) and enjoy some quiet. This will be our first holiday trip with my wife retired, so we will celebrate by spending at least a week along the coast. If we do nothing but chat, read, drink hot chocolate and watch dolphins it will be time well spent.
No mater how you spend these holidays, whether you celebrate or not, I wish all a wonderful time.

webmdave said...

Jesus is the reason for the season? The response I've used when told this has been, "the Solstice is the reason there IS a season." This time of the year has been celebrated for millenia prior to the mythical birth of jesus.
With its cooler (if not downright cold) weather and shortest days, this is a time of year we try to slow our lives down and enjoy the stillness of nature. If life slows down in nature, perhaps it's good for us humans as well. Typically, at least for the last twenty years or so, my wife and I have spent these holidays camping. It is a great way to get away from the crowds (here in the sunbelt) and enjoy some quiet. This will be our first holiday trip with my wife retired, so we will celebrate by spending at least a week along the coast. If we do nothing but chat, read, drink hot chocolate and watch dolphins it will be time well spent.
No mater how you spend these holidays, whether you celebrate or not, I wish all a wonderful time.

webmdave said...

We see family, religious ones included, at Thanksgiving--leaving just our immediate family (our daughters, sons-in-law, granddaughter and foster grandson) to celebrate as we see fit.

We move our celebration to the weekend after Christmas.

We have lots of food (of course) and presents for the kids. We give generous birthday gifts to our grown kids and their husbands, and skip December gifts to splurge on the kids.

No tree, but our foster grandson has one at his house. We cut out and decorate cookies with the little guy, because it's fun and they are delicious. We play games, and play with whatever toys have been given to the kids (well this will be the first holiday with two kids).

Not sure what my daughter will do about a tree when the baby is older and everybody else has one. We had one when the kids were little--and a menorah that their Nana had sent them.

Christmas is pretty hard for kids to ignore. What other holiday, religious or secular, takes over stores, radio stations, school art projects and music classes, Muzak, TV, newspaper and magazine ads, and their friends' imaginations for two months out of every year?

I do send out Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings cards because I get a lot of cards from friends and family and this is the only time some of us keep in touch.

This year I bought a few Merry Christmas cards to send to those relatives who have let me know that they are insulted by "holiday" cards. Meh. I'm not going to explain myself to every distant cousin and great aunt. Let them have their Christmas greetings.

This year I am enclosing a photo of our 10-month-old grandbaby in the cards. (See, that's the real reason I send cards. Mini grandma brag books.)

webmdave said...

I'd like to come to YOUR party.

Reminds me of when we would camp, build up a big fire, get out the guitars and just start singing. People camping all around would hear us and come join in, bringing their lawn chairs and coolers and marshmallows to toast. We'd learn some new songs, teach others a a few songs, and have a great time.

webmdave said...

I'd like to come to YOUR party.

Reminds me of when we would camp, build up a big fire, get out the guitars and just start singing. People camping all around would hear us and come join in, bringing their lawn chairs and coolers and marshmallows to toast. We'd learn some new songs, teach others a a few songs, and have a great time.

webmdave said...

What fun!

webmdave said...

That sounds really good. I felt like I wanted to be there, lol, although I'd have to be in on some of that chicken ...and the sweet potatoes too.

webmdave said...

That sounds really good. I felt like I wanted to be there, lol, although I'd have to be in on some of that chicken ...and the sweet potatoes too.

webmdave said...

Yep, I like to say, "The season is the reason for the Jesus".

webmdave said...

I like the "don't prey" when they do! Was that a mistake or a pun? All religions "prey" on their believers.

Sounds like you enjoy the faking! Well done!

webmdave said...

I like the "don't prey" when they do! Was that a mistake or a pun? All religions "prey" on their believers.

Sounds like you enjoy the faking! Well done!

webmdave said...

Mini grandma brag books ;) Love it ;)

webmdave said...

I just love summer. I like spring too. However I cannot stand winter. I HATE, no LOATHE being cold. I prefer it hot. I'm wishing for 90 degrees again. :(

webmdave said...

Oh, sweet potatoe is good in soup too, especially homemade pumpkin soup. Half pumpkin, half sweet potatoe, then served with cream...

webmdave said...

This my first year doing a religious free Xmas, following my familys tradition but without the christ part of it. I like having a fake tree and have holiday music going with non holiday music and the gift giving. I may just cut out the holiday music though it's getting on my nerves

webmdave said...

My Family is deep catholic so I basically just go along with it and don't prey when they do. Seems better for the overall if I don't shock to many ppl especally since all holidays are ginourmous here. With just 4 aunts and grandparents we have 10 adults 14 grandchildren and 4 dogs running around..+ 2nd aunts/cousins/uncles stopping in usually aroun 40 ppl at any givin time that are again..all catholic. so ya utilitarian view..sanity for most amount of ppl=me a faker haha.

webmdave said...

I'm in Scotland, where it's almost never summer. ;o))

It's always beautifully green here though, and one of the advantages of a wet climate is that it does lower the number of doorstep religious nutters.

I'm busy revising for an end of semester exam at the moment and will be glad when next Monday is over and can relax and start planning the Polish and the British festivities that my family indulges in during Saturnalia. The presents are bought and wrapped and I am looking forward to giving them to friends and family.

Have a great one,

David

webmdave said...

Nice to hear about all your ideas - great stuff