Celebrating The Holidays, How do You do it When You're Not Religious?

Discussion on how two atheists celebrate the holiday season without losing the original meaning.



The Holiday Season is upon us and in full swing. Thanksgiving is a long forgotten memory as we get down to the nitty gritty of the season. I really like this time of year with all the decorations and general good cheer. However it also comes with it's own set issues. These can range all over the map. Some people get depressed around this time of year, others wonder how they are going to afford it, while others wonder how to celebrate.

I guess I sort of fall into the last camp. I mean we know how to celebrate the holiday in the traditional sense, but I am wondering how my little family and I are going to celebrate it in the coming years. I was brought up Roman Catholic with all the trappings surrounding this time of year. Advent, confession and a lot of masses and chapel to go to. My wife wasn't brought up in any specific religion and her family I guess could be categorized as celebrating the consumerized version of the holiday.  

Both of us now are atheists which leads us to celebrating how she's always celebrated the holiday. However I have some misgivings about this. While not religious any any sense any more I still would like to keep some of the original meaning of this season to convey to little Jack as he gets older, but not I'm not really sure how to go about it (hell, as you can see I'm trying really hard not to even say Christmas and just say holiday so I'm clearly conflicted).

I want him to know why this time of year is celebrated, but not necessarily indoctrinate him in any religion. I would like to treat this time of year like we treat the 4th of July. As an event that happened, but not something our family worships like some of his friends and family members might.

I think this is the approach we are most likely to take in the coming years. We will treat Christmas itself like a historical event, without any of the religious trappings that go along with it. I think that if we frame it this way and teach Jack that many people all over the world worship this holiday and why they do so.  At the same time I think I'll have to figure out something as to why we don't without going to esoteric for him. Religion is a weighty topic that I think should be breached slowly with little kids. There are many approaches on how to do that, and this time of year helps with that.

Then there's old Santa Clause and how he fits into the mix. There's a whole host of traditions we could follow from Sinterklaas to St. Nick. I think for sanity's sake I'll stick with good ol' Coca-Cola Santa Claus (what you didn't know our current Santa is a product of Coca-Cola marketing? Sorry Virginia).  All of the confusion has been take out of him and he's pretty safe. I can also craft a message of giving around him pretty easily that will hopefully stick as Jack gets older. Plus he's the one that's pretty much everywhere anyway. 

I want Jack to respect others beliefs without becoming bogged down in them. I want Jack to understand why people all over the world celebrate this time of year and how we can participate in the spirit of the holiday without having to be religious. I want him to be a good boy that will grow into a good man which would be the best present he could give his old man. 

So given all of the religious, non religious and cultural holiday offerings, which ones do you and your families follow? Are you traditional? Do you just do what you did when growing up or have you new traditions you are creating? I look forward to hearing about them in comments!

Last Successful Meal
Grilled cheese sandwich
Fresh blueberries in strawberry, banana, oatmeal yogurt

Current Favorite Reads
My Little Car (Mi Carrito) by Gary Soto
Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Batman: The Brave and the Bold by J. Torres
Olivia Helps With Christmas by Ian Falconer  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kat Stremlau December 06, 2011 at 10:32 PM
"Recovering Catholic" was used in the early 80's as a way for the LGBT community to describe their historically horrible treatment by the Church. Many people say Former Catholic...to distinguish from Lapsed or Cultural Catholic, which implies that you believe, but don't attend or tithe. Many ex-Catholics want no association with the Church and the fact the term "Recovering Catholic" brings to mind a 12 step program is exactly their intent.
Jack Vermeulen December 07, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Well, Kat, then by that argument it is a disparaging remark for sure and maybe an "on purpose" if you said it. But I don't think Tony meant it that way, did you Tony? Justifying something which is meant to be negative has never struck me as a positive approach to life.
Kat Stremlau December 07, 2011 at 05:26 AM
I wasn't referring to the commenter above or Tony, I was simply explaining what the word means...I think my 13 years of Catholic education can bring some reference here.
Jack Vermeulen December 07, 2011 at 05:55 AM
The only issue is that the remark is most likely somewhat offensive to Catholics. History and personal background is not the issue. It's the usage that counts. That this is not obvious disturbs me, especially when Tony goes out of his way to say "DISPARAGEMENT OF OTHERS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED." Yet that is disparagement done twice in this topic. Once by him (unintentionally) and a comment. Amazing.
Edwin December 12, 2011 at 04:06 PM
You do not have to be Christian to celebrate the birth of one of the greatest humanitarians and most influential people of all time. There is no debate on whether Jesus did exist or not. Jesus was one of the first humans to stand up for the poor and sick. He taught compassion and caring. He fought corruption in government and religious organizations of the time. He wanted all humans to seek a way of life that helps others freely and not to covet material goods and pleasures over family and caring for the needy. Whether you are a Christian or not, he deserves admiration like other great people such as MLK Jr., Gandhi, Our Founding Fathers, etc. Perhaps by celebrating Jesus’ birthday like you might another famous person, it gives an opening to discuss your conclusion to become Atheist with your children and what your family values are. Perhaps you can make this a time to set an example for your children and help the needy. I would also suggest you continue whatever family traditions you have and use this time to tell your children your family’s histories.
Tony Bussert December 13, 2011 at 03:34 PM
I like the idea of celebrating good historical figures. Maybe we need more holidays to celebrate other great figures in history. I could go to for a few more days off!
Tony Bussert December 13, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Thanks for the all the comments! I think one of the great things about this holiday is all the different ways that people celebrate it. Sometimes I wonder if we'd all get along better if we opened our minds and tried celebrating others traditions every other year or something. Atticus had it right. As for the "recovering Catholic" I could see how some Catholics could be offended by the term (I never was when I was a Catholic and don't know any per se that are offended by it now, but I can see it happening). I would like to point out to Jack however that I never said it in my blog post as was implied in his comment. It was simply said in by a commenter in the comments and then the etymology was explained by Kat.
Tony Bussert December 13, 2011 at 03:41 PM
Sometimes I think it would be nice to not have family in the area. All the running around gets tiring. I think next year we are just going to an at home Christmas with just the three of us, well I guess five if you count the dog and the cat.
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Interesting. Pretty sure the post was EDITED. The comment above my first one said "I too am a 'recovering Catholic' " referring to your ORIGINAL post -they even put it in quotes! They didn't pull that out of the thin air. IOW, you did say that in the original article that has since been altered. Perhaps by Annie realizing the implications I pointed out? To me it's glaringly offensive since it mocks the "alcoholic" 12-step parallel as etymology explained, but that was sort of obvious. It is very disturbing to see altered posts (without a note saying this) and then asserting it was never stated. So can we now expect posts be be edited if someone points out a glaring concern? Do I really need to take snapshot of original posts? It's not the editing, it's the lack of noting modifications.
Kat Stremlau December 13, 2011 at 06:07 PM
Jack, your claim in not valid. Tony never said that in the original article. I remember reading that comment and went back to see that, indeed, there was no reference to the term when the comment was made. Please don't attack Patch or Tony with these claims. Your assertions are just not true and certainly detract from the spirit of this posting.
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 06:12 PM
No, they WERE true. I never reread it again and assumed it was not changed. Why do you think I said that Tony probably didn't mean it that way? I stand by my statements 100%. The post was modified. This is very disturbing for the reasons that are becoming obvious. You are now arguing over something that I can't prove since I never made a copy of the original. Why should I have to do that? The spirit of the posting is precisely why I pointed out that glaring error. Many people post things that contradict the very things they are advocating.
Kat Stremlau December 13, 2011 at 06:38 PM
Here are the things that are true. Tony never wrote the words "recovering Catholic" in the original article. The post was not modified or edited after it was published (in fact, once a piece is submitted to the editor for review and publication, the writer cannot change it unless it is reassigned to them for editing and resubmission). I'm not arguing over something that you can't prove because it never happened. The commenter put something in quotes...yes, but it wasn't quoting the article. Did the commenter use quotes incorrectly? Yep, probably, but to attack a local father and call his integrity into question is simply wrong. He said above that he never wrote it...and he said that because he didn't.
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 07:02 PM
Here are the things that are true. I saw those words originally and then noted when another poster picked up on the statement. It originally caught my attention because it was such an odd thing to put in the article. Plus note my reference to Tony's post which I recall since it was done TWICE. Posts CAN be modified - by Annie. I've seen this done many times without a comment, but those were typos corrections. I am arguing over something that I can't prove because a MODIFIED post makes it impossible. How do you know the poster wasn't quoting the original? You don't Kat. I remember it differently. You are going a bit too far by calling my integrity into question, which somehow is OK? Somehow the post was modified. He may not even realize it was changed. I think I made that clear. It's not an "attack", just an observation. I recommend a different tact if you wish to continue. Btw, if it was never in the orginal post, why didn't you say so then or anyone else? Just asking the obvious.
Kat Stremlau December 13, 2011 at 07:04 PM
Jack, I hope you apologize to Tony when Annie confirms that the article was not edited as you claim. You are wrong here. Those words were never written by Tony.
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Since SEVEN days have gone by, I doubt if Annie remembers, just like I can't recall the original construction of the article. You or Tony should have commented on the 6th. I was very explicit in my post referencing Tony. There's some responsibility that needs to be recognized here. Btw, taking an accusatory tone is different from an observing tone.
Kat Stremlau December 13, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Um, what? I'm fairly confident Annie will remember, even though now you say you "can't recall the original construction of the article". There is always a record of changes, this is a professional publication. The issue here is you are wrong and are beating a dead horse. It never happened. You need to take responsibility for calling someone's integrity in question.
jon Sanders December 13, 2011 at 08:31 PM
Tony - I think your article and the questions you raise are great. I am sorry you didn't get much advice. For me I think any time you can celebrate an historic event, whether religious or not, that event often provides a lesson from which we can learn and perhaps improve our actions in life. Your desire to help your son understand the diversity in our world will certainly help both of you. I look forward to more of your 'in progress' lessons in life. Now as for Jack and his of topic rant...lets face it, when you loose an election and don't accept that part of the reason you didn't get the votes is because of this sort of discussion then it is inevitable that the rants will continue. And without any 'street cred' most people will just ignore the comments. I find them amusing. Sort of like when someone makes a fool of himself, over, and over, and over, and over again.
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 08:35 PM
Good grief Kat - take some of your own advice. How about YOU taking responsibility for NOT commenting SEVEN days ago. I would have if someone clearly said something that was not true. And I was (for the 3rd time) quite clear on the 6th about who said what. You just said "I remember reading that comment and went back to see that, indeed, there was no reference to the term when the comment was made" and yet you said nothing then? Could have been cleared up waaay back then. The term "construction" means that the article had to have an alteration when that term was removed. You think there's a record of post changes? Mmm, that would be interesting if true. Why do you insist making this into calling someone's integrity in question? I only made an observation that the term used to be there. The rest is imagination. Very negative tone.
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 08:39 PM
Well hiding behind anonymous names doesn't say much for you does it? That's all I need to say. The rest speaks nicely for yourself.
Annie Archer (Editor) December 13, 2011 at 09:19 PM
I appreciate all the comments but a reminder to keep things civil. For the record, I do not edit blog posts for content, not at the time they are posted nor later. I only check for typos.
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 10:05 PM
Thanks for the clarification - but I'm curious, is there a record of changes you make such as typos? I didn't mean for this to get carried away as it did. As I noted, I didn't recall for sure and relied instead on my posts from the 6th. If someone had commented then when things were current, none of this would have been an issue.
Annie Archer (Editor) December 13, 2011 at 10:16 PM
Let me make things clear. Tony never in his post used the phrase "recovering Catholic." Ever. His post was only edited for double spacing after the periods (we only single space). Sometimes I never go into the the edit mode of a blog because nothing needs changing. Nothing else was changed in his post. Not when he filed it, not after I approved it. That phrase in question was used by another commentor, not by Tony.
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 10:21 PM
I didn't ask that Annie nor did I imply any different. Please read again. The question is simple: Is there a record of changes if they are made? Commentor?
Annie Archer (Editor) December 13, 2011 at 10:23 PM
I just gave it to you. What you see currently posted on the site is the record, it is what he filed.
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 10:29 PM
OK, you didn't understand what I'm asking. Let me restate: Is there a LOG of changes. Meaning if you changed an original post (for whatever reason) after it was published (as has been done) is there a record of either the changes or the original post that we can't see? A LOG is an archive that some sites have that tracks the "history" of changes.
Annie Archer (Editor) December 13, 2011 at 10:33 PM
Jack I understand you perfectly. You want to know if there is an electronic record of the history of edits on this blog post. The answer is yes, it is at the top of the post, Dec. 6 at 6 am is when this post was last edited. Further, if a story is changed, there is usually an editor's note that it has been done. There is nothing being hidden here, Tony never used the phrase. It was used by a commentor the day the story posted.
jon Sanders December 13, 2011 at 10:52 PM
over, and over, and over again.....
Jack Vermeulen December 13, 2011 at 11:13 PM
I never questioned that after your post Annie (as I said already). The date is NOT what I'm asking about. I'm asking about the - actual content change - that YOU can see. IOW, the actual record of the text, not just a date. That's the LOG. I'm just curious since Kat implied that you might have a record of the actual changes. That would be useful information. I take it you do not have a LOG of changes in detail. Some may not understand the significance here, but Kat will.
Shaun December 14, 2011 at 01:06 AM
There is, in fact, considerable debate on this topic of whether Jesus actually existed. If you are sufficiently curious, you should search the web for "Jesus myth." Wikipedia has an article that covers this. There is even more debate on how accurately the Bible portrays Jesus' life. If you are interested in this topic, you should search for "historicity of Jesus." All that aside, if you are already an atheist, the question of whether Jesus existed, and the question of how good a person Jesus might have been, is not going to lead someone to believe in God. Ghandi existed, and he was a good person, but I am not a Hindu.
Mike Lewis (Editor) December 14, 2011 at 01:07 AM
The time stamp on the story reflects the last time it was modified and posted. So for this blog post, if a reader read it on 12/6 at 6 a.m. (or later), the post on the site right now is the post as it looked when it was published. Prior to publication blog posts -- unlike news stories -- are edited largely for punctuation and brevity. If, beyond that, it's unsuitable for publication, it's rejected outright. The blogger can resubmit if he or she wants to. How does this factor into Tony's piece? Simple. What you see now is what was published originally. Judging from the comment stream, Kat extrapolated the term (and sentiment) "recovering Catholic" based on her own experiences and how they stand in reflection to Tony's piece. Again simple. There was no post-comment-stream editing. And honestly, there didn't need to be. If Patch editors find a comment, a story, a calendar item or a blog post offensive, they eliminate it. It makes no sense whatsoever to leave it in the comment field after taking it from a story. It's fine to have a discussion about whether the term "recovering Catholic" is offensive to Catholics. (As a member of a Catholic family, I didn't find the term offensive.) What makes less sense is the assertion that an editor would modify the substance of a blog post to obviate a single, inoffensive comment. We publish the comment stream to encourage dialogue, not discourage it. And, obviously, this post got its share. (Mike Lewis, WA Patch Regional Editor)


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