Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Christmas Season

Heather asks: How do you handle the holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas)? Do you celebrate Christmas? If not, do your kids miss not doing what their friends are doing? How do you handle that as an atheist? Does it bother you to see Christmas merchandising in stores?

Welcome, Heather! This is a really good question: I'm glad that you asked.
I think I'll take them one-by-one, if you don't mind. Keep in mind that my answers may differ from other atheists, just as Christians may celebrate Christmas differently (according to family and tradition).

How do you handle the holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas)?
I'd like some more clarification from you. This question is pretty broad. I think you're asking if we celebrate either holiday? The answer is, "YES!" We love Thanksgiving. You don't have to be religious to take a day to pause and reflect on the things you have to be thankful for. My only gripe about Thanksgiving is that we, as a society, should stop and be thankful more often. Aside from being an atheist, I'm also a scholar (with more than a passing interest in American history). As a result, I try to undo all of the cutesy, "Pilgrims and Indian" legends that seem to have permeated the traditions of Thanksgiving. I try to get my children to read about the REAL accounts of the first Thanksgiving and understand the emotional and economical motivators behind the gatherings held in colonial America. I also try to explain to them how the myth, that they're taught it school, about Pilgrims and Native Americans formally gathering to break bread is questionable and should be scrutinized. So...as for Thanksgiving, we just consider it a day to gather with loved ones (friends and family) and just appreciate being together. We make turkey and a few other culturally relevant dishes...then, we spend a few hours just hanging out with family/friends. We always try to bring in an acquaintance, or friend, who is alone or has fallen on hard times, because my DH and I want the kids to appreciate just how well-off they are. We want to show them the joy that comes from passing on good deeds to our fellow humans. We want them to remember Thanksgiving as times when Great Grandpa shared stories of his childhood and his life. We want the kids to take the day to delve into the life experiences of their Great Grandmother. For us, thanksgiving is a time when you listen to Grandma tell the same story you heard last year, and BE HAPPY to listen...because, next Halloween, they may not be around to share those stories. We're basically thankful for all of the non-material gifts we can give our children and we want them to internalize those vignettes that will become part of the family legacy; good and bad.
As for Christmas,...we participate in the cultural aspects of the day.

Do you celebrate Christmas?
Yes, we do celebrate Christmas...but, the focus is not on religion or the birth of Christ. We focus on the messages of; love, peace, goodwill towards humanity, and making a differene. We have been trying, in recent years, to further expose our children to the fact that they are growing up in a priveledged environment and that they should be thankful for all of their good fortune. We try to stress that they should look at Christmas as an opportunity to help others and give something back. Example: every year, regardless of how old they are (respectively), we take them down to the city's Battered Chilrens' Home. We take gifts and small tokens of love/friendshp. I think it's important for children to know that, despite their size and lack of funds, everyone can contribute. Last year, Possum1 and Possum2 cleaned out their book collection... and volunteered an hour to go read to some of the kids in care. This year, they decided that they wanted to make a few stockings filled with goodies, for the teens at the center. Possum1 has been soliciting complementary copies of magazines AND CDs for the girls. Possum 2 decided to go through his lego collection and asssemble/package some "starter kits" for the boys. Possums 3 and 4 (ages 4 and 2) have been helping me clean out some layette items and make lullabye CDs for the babies and toddlers at the center.'

As a family, we put up a tree and then go around an look at all of the Christmas lights. We also go see the Nutcracker. As for their gifts: we go easy on that front. Each kid get one gift from us (less than $50 a piece), books, a movie, and one free coupon for a room cleaning (by mom). We hang an advent calendar because it's an heirloom and it's part of our family. So...yes, we celebrate Christmas, but it's pretty low key.

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