The holidays can really suck. Between family drama, financial stress, winter weather, and trying to live up to everyone's expectations, they can be anything but "happy." They can be even more difficult to navigate if you don't believe in God. Add children to the mix, even the biggest Grinches might want to (or feel forced to) create some holiday cheer for their little ones. So, how do atheist parents survive the winter holidays?
It's not easy. Before having kids the holidays pretty much meant a flight home, pie, and wine. Sure, there was a little bit of family drama, the obligatory holiday gift exchange (which everyone secretly hates), Christmas parties, and avoiding the mall for a solid month, but honestly the most annoying part about Christmas was the constant stream of carols at the grocery store and on the radio.
Suddenly people want to take your secular kids to church and buy them 100 toys they won't use longer than a day. Your kids either believe in Santa, forcing you to play make-believe for a month, or are scared to sit on his lap, which makes grandma upset when she can't get a good picture. Half of their Christmas wish list is likely to be unaffordable, which makes Santa look like a cheap you-know-what, and makes you feel like a bad mom. Plus, there's always the added bonus that any holiday traveling is made seriously stressful by the addition of kids. Just when you think you are past the worst of it, your child comes home from school and asks you to tell them about Jesus. Parenting is hard.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to make the holidays as jolly as possible, without losing sight of who you are and what you believe.
Make Your Own Traditions
You can create your own family traditions. Whether it's a Star Wars marathon and pizza on Christmas Eve, pajamas and caramel rolls on Christmas morning, or foregoing Christmas altogether and celebrating the Winter Solstice or Festivus instead, there's no rule that you have to celebrate the holidays a certain way.
Make it your own, and make it work for your family.
Just Say "No"
If you don't want to go to church or attend the family gathering you dread, don't. Practice saying the word, "No," and without apology. The same goes for telling your children you can't afford expensive gifts. "No" is a magical word. Learn it. Protect yourself and your family from holiday stress.
The holidays don't have to be stressful. Do the things you like, have fun, and make sure the things you choose to do are also fun for your kids. Don't scare them with Santa or a creepy Elf on the Shelf, if that doesn't work for them. Don't make them stand in long lines, eat unfamiliar foods, attend long services, or give Aunt Edna a kiss.
Just because your family did things that way when you were a kid, doesn't mean you have to do the same.
Surround Yourself With Support
The winter holidays can be stressful and even depressing, especially if you don't fit in. Surround yourself with family and friends who get you and support your choices, and you can not only survive, but thrive this holiday season.
Keep The Traditions You Like
Just because we're not Christian doesn't mean we don't celebrate. We do stockings, cookies, presents, and pie. Why? Because we like them.
Drop The Traditions You Don't Like
But, there's no rule book when it comes to Christmas. You can choose your own adventure or skip it altogether. You are an adult. You don't have to do everything. Your kids will find magic, no matter what.
Let Your Child Lead
I think it's super important for us not to assume that our children like the same things as we do, or did when we were kids. I refuse to scare my child or threaten them with the "naughty list" or the idea that a creepy dude watches them when they are sleeping or from his spot on the shelf. I try to pick activities that are really child-friendly and then, if they aren't or stop being fun, we go home. It's as simple as that.
Teach Your Kids About Diversity And Social Justice
It's really fun to teach my kids about different cultures and beliefs and it's the perfect time of year to discuss social issues and values. As an atheist I don't shy away from discussions about religion. Instead, I talk to my kids about religion and belief systems in the context of discussions about diversity, different cultures, peace, poverty, human rights, feminism, and religious freedom — all things worth celebrating in my book.
Make It About The Food
Who doesn't love pie? You? Well, there's tons of other yummy holiday treats to explore, up to and certainly not limiting: peppermint mochas, Christmas cookies, mashed potatoes, and cranberries. Just don't serve me eggnog, and we'll be cool, because that is disgusting.
Family Doesn't Require Faith
If you do them right, the holidays don't have to be hell. Sure, it bothers me when people go on and on about the "Reason for the Season" and the so-called "War on Christmas." I may mutter about Christian privilege or ask my kids' school to stop teaching about Jesus. For me the holidays are about family. The magic of Christmas can be found in our hearts and in my kids' smiles on Christmas morning.
That's something I can celebrate no matter what my faith, or without religion at all.