Hnn | HNN Articles

Celebrating Love and Light: 10 Holiday Tips for the Post-Religious

 

By Valerie Tarico

Is the holiday season more glitter than glow for you lately? For a humanist who seeks to live a life centered in reason and compassion, the holiday time can be surprisingly challenging. Old traditions may not fit anymore, but what does? We see ourselves as an integral part of nature, and the beauties of the winter season surround us, but how can you bring the season into your home in a way that feels rich and satisfying? We humanists find meaning in relationships, but reunions can be fraught with peril. If an old Christian friend or family member uses Christmas cards or gatherings as an opportunity to evangelize, you may even find yourself feeling downright crabby. How can you shake it off? 

Here are ten tips to help you get the scrooge out of your humanist holiday season: 

1. Remind yourself that our celebrations from December 21 through January 1 are not Christian in origin. All over the northern hemisphere, people have celebrated this time as one of birth and new life. Solstice is the reason for the season, and December 25th was the day of solstice under the old Roman calendar. The return of light, the budding of new life, the promise of fresh starts—these were particularly precious to agrarian people who entrusted themselves one year at a time to the cycle of the seasons, but they are precious to us all.

2. Discover the magical, mystical origins of the Christmas story.  If you love mythology in any form, from the epic of Gilgamesh to the epic of Frodo Baggins, the Christmas narratives are rich with threads of hero quest that have been woven and rewoven and can be traced across time and culture. Why was the virgin birth added late to the Jesus story? Why were stories of dying and rising gods so common in the ancient Near East? What can these ancient stories tell us about who we are as human beings? Antiquities scholars, both Christian and secular, can set you on your own journey of discovery. 

3. Claim what fits. In weddings, the saying “old, new, borrowed, blue” reminds us that mixing and matching are what ritual and celebration are made of. Every culture and religion borrows from those that came before. (Syncretism, they call it.) So does every person. Pick what you cherish from your tradition or others and do your own mixing. One wonderful thing about moving beyond dogma is the quest for meaning is yours. You and only you know which old traditions are still meaningful.

4. Don’t be afraid to embrace explicitly Christian elements. If you’ve been wounded by Christianity or feel like our world is being wounded, it is easy to be bitter or reactive and to pass that reactance on to any children who look up to you. A better approach is to treat Christianity just like you would any other mythic or cultural tradition. All of them reflect the struggle of our ancestors to determine what is good and what is real and how to live in community with each other. All contain a mixture of wisdom and foolishness and downright immorality. Take what seems timeless and wise and move on.   

5. Get creative. Draw on your inner artist. The best art takes old elements and assembles them in a way that is unique to the artist. Create your own rituals. What is your life about? What do you want to celebrate and with whom? What might the decorations look like? Which smells and tastes do you savor? What music does resonate? Do what feels genuine, and then persist.  Developing a solid sense of ritual and tradition takes time and repetition.

6. Find common ground with visiting relatives. All relationships (teacher-student, work colleague, friend, partner, daughter, nephew) require that we come together around things we have in common: shared interests, respect for each other’s good qualities, overlapping values, the appreciation of a good meal or a football game. Your family may not share your skepticism, curiosity, or desire for personal growth.  If not, don’t go there, and don’t let them draw the conversations into your areas of disagreement. Take deep breaths, exercise self control, and change topics. Save deep, painful conversations for another time. Trust yourself. Schedule coffee with sympathetic friends.  It may be sad, but it is ok for you to grow emotionally and spiritually even if people you love don’t come along.

7.  Be a little wicked if you like.  Religious people use the holidays for drawing in new believers or old believers who have fallen by the wayside. Sometime their evangelism comes from the thoughtless assumption that you share their point of view, and sometimes it is intentional. It’s part of our cultural dynamic, so feel free to do the same. Send solstice cards.  Invite religious friends to your celebrations. Give a receptive friend the gift of growth: if someone is wobbling their way out of Christianity, give them a copy of my book, Trusting Doubt. For a friend who may be ready to move from born again “beliefism” to a more thoughtful form of Christian faith, give Bruce Bawer’s Stealing JesusFor someone who would like to see the Bible through the eyes of an unflinchingly honest Christian antiquities scholar, get Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God.

8. Balance your gift giving. Stand on principle—some of the time. Face it, certain kinds of gifts don’t mean much, but not giving them does. Your integrity doesn’t stand or fall based on whether you give the token “Christmas” gifts to your boss, co-workers or neighbors.  Go to Starbucks and buy a dozen gift cards, or if time costs you less than money right now, bake those cookies. Tell people you wish them well—because you do—and be done with it.

9. Pay attention to your deeper values. Your resources are finite, so how do you want to use them? What are you trying to say to other people with your gifts—about them, about you, about your relationship, about the things that make life rich and full and that you want to share with them? If you are tired of the consumer rat race, opt out. Give some Kiva credit or a goat through the Heifer Project, or adopt a sea turtle or whatever. Then wrap the gift certificate around a really good bar of chocolate. 

10. Immerse yourself in the real gifts of the season—love, light, joy, generosity, kindness, gratitude, wonder and shared hope. In the end, what else is there?

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and former director of the Children’s Behavior and Learning Clinic in Bellevue, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt, a book about her personal encounter with religious fundamentalism. Her website is www.valerietarico.com

blog comments powered by Disqus

American Humanist Association

Hey, take a breather and complete this puzzle! You work so hard. You really do d...

10 hours ago

American Humanist Association

It is unfortunate and far from fair when humanist celebrants are considered unof...

12 hours ago

American Humanist Association

Here is a break down of how religious beliefs affect political choices.

15 hours ago

American Humanist Association

We are all familiar with this case. It may have been played out a bit in the med...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

It is likely many of you will prefer this quote over the last. Enjoy!

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

What is your opinion on the United States' level of cooperation with the ICC? T...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

The Ethical Dilemma: Advice for an Isolated Teenage Atheist Get TheHumanist.co...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

The AHA is mentioned in this article about Humanist of the Year Barney Frank.

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

Check out the latest Humanist Hour Podcast with Muhammad Syed and Hiba Krisht on...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

The NY Daily News reports on our recent congressional briefing

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

Carroll County: A Small Maryland Community Gets Big Attention for All the Wrong...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

Matthew Bulger, the AHA's legislative associate, reports on our first congressio...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

We're happy to welcome a new chapter, Washington DC, Atheists, Humanists and Agn...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Check out some photos from yesterday's congressional briefing on humanist celebr...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Our first congressional briefing was a success! The room was completely packed w...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Wonder Works Day Camp in Moscow, Idaho has begun! The first day was a huge succe...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

The briefing on military chaplaincy has begun.

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

Today, the American Humanist Association will be hosting our first Congressional...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

Here is a video from Harvard's Making Caring Common Project. 5 Ways to Raise M...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

Why the Way We Live is More Important. Get TheHumanist.com by email once a week...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

Hey, have a laugh! http://hmn.st/1sFRZ33 Get TheHumanist.com by email once a we...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

No matter how right or how wrong, religion can not establish morality for the ma...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

I have come across this many times. While this topic may not be important to all...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Jesus Cones! A new way to violate church-state separation, in Gwinnett County, G...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

Well this is rad! AHA Board Member Herb Silverman is featured in this short (10...

10 days ago

American Humanist Association

It may seem silly, maybe even a blatant mockery, but if you really think about i...

10 days ago