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

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