We Celebrate Christmas, But The Only Jesus My Kid Knows Is Another Kid At His School

How much of a dick move is it to celebrate a religious holiday when you are not a part of that religion?
Publish date:
December 11, 2012

My kid’s bedtime ritual goes something like this: shower, brush teeth, put on pajamas, crawl in bed with all 10 LEGO catalogs that he’s saved for the last 18 months, find the LEGO Super-Star Destroyer page in each one and stare at it until he falls asleep. In fact, for a long time he was saving his money to buy it, but $400 seems like a pretty daunting savings goal for a seven-year-old, and he eventually decided to spend his money on bubble gum and lesser LEGO sets instead.

So for like a month Oliver has been thumbing through his LEGO catalog and asking for this LEGO Advent calendar. It’s pretty rad -- you get to build a little mini Star Wars ship each day. My mom sent it to him, and he was over the moon. Except, when he asked what “Advent” meant, and my boyfriend started talking about Jesus, Oliver got this faraway look on his face and sort of stopped paying attention.

And that’s when I realized that the only Jesus that Oliver knows is this one kid at his school. To him, Christmas is strictly Santa’s holiday. This is 100% my fault.

See, I wasn’t raised Christian, but the other people in my family were, and therefore, we all celebrate Christmas. If you ask my mom, she will say she is spiritual, but not religious. Not once do I remember her attending a church or teaching me about the religion she grew up with. My only notion of anything vaguely relating to Jesus was thanks to my Aunt Evelyn, a devout Methodist who is kind and compassionate and all those other qualities that Christians are supposed to strive for. She gave me a Bible for kids when I was about six years old, she took me to church a few times, and she enrolled me in Vacation Bible School once.

The only thing I remember about Vacation Bible School was feeling very left out. I did not know these songs or prayers that the other children knew. It was as if they were part of some secret club that I wasn’t allowed to join. In fact, it freaked me out a little, which probably explains why I never pursued organized religion, or got into a cult or anything like that. Except I am totally down with the xoCult, obviously.

So Christmas, for me, has always been a secular celebration centered around twinkling lights, food, family, and gifts. (No Santa for me of course, because of the Saddest Story Ever.)

And as an adult, I continue to celebrate Christmas, even though I don’t belong to any organized religion. My spiritual beliefs are a confusing mix of like, science + hippie + crystals + pagan/earth beliefs + space + the Bible is interesting + The Matrix = all I know is I don’t know. And I’m pretty sure we aren’t just robots, but then again, the Cylons didn’t think they were, either.

So I guess I’ll just live my life as best as I can, enjoy myself, and try not to be a jerk to other people -- but beyond that, I have no answers, and I’m not totally confident that any of the religions of the world have those answers, either

But, man, I love Christmas. I love the music, the lights, the way people are a little more cheerful. I like buying toys for my kid (which I only do twice per year, the other time being his birthday -- the rest of the year, he buys his own toys with his marble money). I like the anticipation of wondering what’s in all those pretty packages under the tree. I like Christmasmovies and parties, and having a festive occasion on which to gather with friends and relatives. I don’t think I’m the only non-Christian who feels this way.

I never really saw a problem with this, my conflicting spiritual beliefs and my celebrating of a holiday that is part of a religion to which I do not belong. But now that I have a kid, I can’t help but feel a little conflicted about it.

How much of a dick move is it to celebrate a religious holiday when you are not a part of that religion? And not only that, but to celebrate that holiday with your kid, without ever explaining to him the meaning behind it?

Oliver has questions about spirituality and related subjects. One day recently, he asked me about Heaven, and whether that is even a thing. The best explanation I could find at the time was that no one knows for sure, but isn’t it nice to think that our dearly departed grandparents and pets are all hanging out in a beautiful place?

But how do I explain to him that the holiday we are celebrating is actually a religious one and is part of a religion that I don’t really believe in? It makes me feel like a jerk, a little bit.

Maybe it’s not a problem where Christmas is concerned -- after all, even to some who identify as Christian, Christmas is just an excuse to exchange gifts, eat a bunch of cookies, and get drunk on eggnog (or “the ‘nog” as we obnoxiously call it in my house). Ask my Catholic boyfriend about the last time he actually went to Mass, or incorporated his religion into a Christmas celebration.

To my kid, Christmas is about Santa Claus, though I think he is old enough now to understand that it’s not. Sure, I’ll tell him that it’s a holiday rooted in Christianity. But I’ll also tell him that for me, it’s really about taking a moment to reflect on the year, giving gifts to the people I love, and spending the day in my pajamas in front of the Christmas tree. And getting drunk on the ‘nog at 11 a.m., but maybe he doesn’t need to know about that, just yet.