Home › Forums › Advice & Chat › “Holiday Traditions for Atheists?”
- This topic has 55 replies, 11 voices, and was last updated 5 years, 8 months ago by _s_.
From a LW:
I have a bit of a light hearted conundrum that I would love your input on, and maybe the commenters as well.
I’m a new mum, and I come from a family where Christmas was always sort of plagued with stress. I mean we had so much fun, dont get me wrong, but due to some inbalances in wealth distribution between my immediate and extended family, giving presents and talking about presents always felt really fraught. The result is that I’m awful at giving presents. Some years I can rustle something up for my husband and best friend, often I manage to take my parents out for lunch for birthdays, or get them something boring for christmas (candle holder, book I have no idea if they want, fancy soap) and I just feel kind of like giving crappy things is a waste of money. So then I give nothing, and feel even worse! My brothers and sisters and I sometimes give random presents but almost never on occasions unless we happened across something.
But. Now I have a kid, and he’ll be just over 1 this Christmas so I figured its a good time to start some traditions with my husband and kid(s) that I am comfortable continuing. We are all atheists involved here and in my country there is not such a divide between religious folk and not, so not only do I not really think I know any religious people, I’m not worried about offending anyone (this is all just to say church or whatever wont be a thing we do). I want to do Christmas in a way that celebrates family, summer, santa, food, and be full of wonder and excitement for my kid and future kids (and niece and nephew.)
So: What are some traditions we can incorporate? What do kids like to do that are age appropriate and can grow with them or stay the same so they get a sense of tradition? What do other people do? What is reasonable to provide a 1 year old, and what will he like to do/get/see that will be able to continue on for future Christmases?
I feel I’ve rambled enough and I know this may not be exciting enough for your site. But I love your insights into your family life, and I know your family celebrates Jewish holidays as well as others so I assume you have some good tips on making holidays your own!
You know, I’ve found that if you aren’t following long-held tradition, the best ones sort of begin organically, out of a sense of trying something and deciding it worked really well and doing it again the following year. Of course, you can also get ideas from other people about things you might like to try, but I would avoid embracing them as a potential new tradition and making it your own until you try it out and see how it works for you and what spin you can give it to best fit your family’s needs and interests.
Here are a few holiday traditions my family has tried and incorporated over the years:
We save change all year long and then at the beginning of december, we cash it in and use the money to buy a christmas tree and a brisket for 1st night of hanukah.
On the evening of the day that we decorate the tree — usually 2 weeks before christmas — drew and I put the kids to bed and then order caribbean food for dinner and drink baileys martinis. They don’t really go together, but that’s what makes it fun.
We light the menorah every night of hanukkah and give the kids a few gifts throughout the 8 nights (not every night).
We have a hanukah dinner of brisket, latkes, and jelly donuts. If the dates line up, sometimes this dinner is on Christmas eve. If it’s not, then we have a roast chicken or lasagna on christmas eve.
The kids get christmas PJs on christmas eve so they’re all PJ’d up for opening gifts Christmas morning. We do the whole leaving out cookies and carrots (and a shot of baileys for santa and his reindeer) on christmas eve.
On Christmas morning, we have pastries early while we open gifts, and then later in the morning i make what my mom always made on christmas morning when I was growing up — biscuits and gravy and fried eggs. If we’re lucky, some friends invite us over for Christmas dinner, and after wards we take a nice stroll through the neighborhood with full bellies and hearts.
What do the rest of you do?
I *love* Christmas. I’m an atheist and so is my husband, so we don’t do church. I actually do really miss the singing at church, but not enough to make me want to attend the rest of the service, lol. But we basically do the stuff I did growing up. My husband isn’t too into Christmas, I think his parents’ divorce kind of sullied it for him. But he knows how much I love it and is fine with indulging me (and now the kids).
The one thing that we’ve had some trouble with, is that when my husband was a kid and found out Santa wasn’t real, he felt really betrayed. He felt tricked and lied-to. I’d never heard of that before but I googled it and apparently he’s not the only one. So, he didn’t want to do the whole Santa thing because he doesn’t want our kids to feel the same way. I’m ok with that conceptually, but in practice it’s very difficult, because all the other kids at school and wherever think Santa is real. We can’t have our kids going around telling them he’s not. Either they won’t believe our kids and ours will get picked on, or our kids will be ruining a Christmas tradition for other families. There’s really no way to win, because in our society Christmas is so centered on Santa and on kids believing he’s real.
So our compromise is to explain to them that Santa is the “spirit of Christmas”. He’s an embodiment of all the goodness that we feel, and how we should treat people. He’s real, in that sense. They’re too young to understand that right now, we say it but they don’t know what it means. But as they get older they should just naturally get it. Our 4-year-old has already asked if he’s an actual person, and we said no, but that he’s still real because he lives in all our hearts and minds. So, we’ll see how that goes.HeatherlyMember
Does the tradition of getting drunk on Baileys count? If so, totally nailed it.
I’m Jewish and my husband is Catholic, but neither of us is super religious. I grew up with traditions around Jewish and Christian holidays (our family friends were interfaith), but my husband didn’t really do anything other than going to church. So I’ve been the one working on incorporating traditions, some stick and some don’t.
We travel a bit, so we pick up an ornament wherever we go and use them to decorate a tree every year. Sometimes we invite other people over to decorate with us and play the holiday yule log on Netflix.
This is kind of a Hanukkah tradition I had as a kid, and it sounds like presents might be a little emotionally complicated for you… But my family used to take one night of Hanukkah to decide as a family on a charity to give to. If this is something you’re wanting to instill in your kids anyway, it could be a good opportunity.
And we don’t really give physical gifts to each other, but I also like wrapping things we already have, or dollar store finds (playing cards, funny hats) to put under the tree and open those together. Basically stocking stuffers, but you get to unwrap them and play with them, put them on, etc., and I think it’s fun.
One thing I’ve been thinking of doing, because I’ve been watching British tv shows, is wearing paper crowns. I guess it was kind of a Roman tradition to wear hats for Saturnalia? Not sure, but they look fun and don’t seem to be that religiously affiliated…
You guys don’t have paper crowns in your Christmas crackers??? We always get a crown, a joke, and a little toy or trinket.MoneypennyParticipant
This is a fun topic! I grew up Catholic, and occasionally I’ll go to Christmas eve mass (I love the music too!), but Christmas to me means food, trees, and lights. For years my mom makes coffee cake for breakfast with a cheese/egg strata, and my dad makes ramos gin fizzes and we drink them out of my grandma’s fancy glassware. Dinner is the usual turkey and everything else. I love walking around and checking out the neighborhood lights, and after dinner we’ll walk off some calories checking them out. I also like to get my own Christmas tree, and I put up a lot of lights and fill it with ornaments I’ve collected from different places over the years. I also help my parents decorate their house- there is something I love about opening up a box and going, “Oh yeah!” when I see the decorations that they’ve had for years. One of my favorite things to do is to read a book by the light of the tree.PortiaParticipant
Just looked up Christmas crackers and they look like so much fun! I’m in the US and as far as I know, it’s not a thing here. I’m going to try that out this year!
Are they dangerous at all for small kids, or usually not given under a certain age? Because I might get some for the nieces/nephews, but the youngest is 2…
Christmas crackers are awesome! I had no idea you didn’t have them in the US. They do usually come with a small toy, which is a possible choking hazard I guess. As long as you’re watching your kid it’s fine. We gave one to our son last Christmas and he was 3. Mostly they like pulling them apart and hearing the snap!LisforLeslieGuest
Jewish raised atheist here.
About 25 years ago we stopped gifts for anyone over 18. Everyone is encouraged to give the money spent on gifts to a charity of their choice instead.
Christmas was always spent with the other Jews at Chinese restaurants and the movies.
When I still baked, I would make a gigantic batch of spice cookies, cut out as gingerbread men and decorated like my friends, movie characters like Rambo, various rock bands or whatever was popular that year.AnonymousseGuest
We definitely have Christmas crackers in the US! You must have just missed them, Portia. They aren’t super popular, but I find them at every grocery store I’ve ever lived near, in big cities and rural areas.