My son looked at this manger scene, something that was in my house growing up and I snagged after Dad died because I love it dearly, and said, “Oh! Is that me as a baby? With Nikki and E?”
Sometimes it’s very obvious we are not a Christian family.
My family does not practice any religion in any form. However, we celebrate Christmas, and some people struggle with that. How can an atheist participate in a holiday celebrating the birth of someone they don’t believe in? Simple!
First of all – we talk a lot about Jesus in this house. I often tell the kids about the teachings of Jesus because I want them to understand that he taught great things and there is nothing wrong with trying to be like him. However, I explain the difference in how other religions see him. Some see him as a prophet. Some as a teacher and a good man. And then some – most of their friends – see him as the Savior and the Son of God.
SO! That’s our basic religious background that we give the kids.
When it comes to Christmas I explain that there are religious elements that we don’t celebrate. We don’t go to church. We don’t set up a nativity scene (Although we do have some manger-type decorations that are gifts or sentimental). We don’t do an Advent Calendar. I do try to remind them about those religious elements (obviously not often enough thanks to the question about Wesley In The Manger) but I just describe them in the same way I do everything that is What Some People Do But Not Us.
But – there are elements of Christmas – like the Christmas Tree – that have roots in pagan celebrations of things like the Winter Solstice. Hell – for awhile the Puritans who colonized New England banned trees AND gifts because of their pagan origins. And Santa Claus? While he may have religious roots (Saint Nicholaus) most Catholics (I can’t remember what other religions have saints) don’t even really try to connect the Bishop/Saint with the guy at the North Pole. And if you go TOO far trying to explain Santa Claus to your kids, then it suddenly becomes “not real” so I just play dumb a lot of the time.
When they ask, and Nikki does often, I just point out that even the date – December 25th – was chosen to combine the Christian Celebration and Pagan celebrations honoring Saturn and Mithra, so that more people would participate. I remind her that while celebrating the Birth of Jesus does belong to the Christians, Christmas as we know it today belongs to anyone who wants to participate in whatever element they want. I even point out people we know who are Jewish and celebrate the same elements of Christmas we do (Trees, Santa, Food) but not the religious elements as they have their own religious celebration.
It’s tricky. Especially when you have friends at school constantly questioning you on your lack of knowledge or belief in their religion. Sometimes our talks go much deeper regarding religion…we discuss the afterlife and heaven and what I believe about it all. We discuss salvation and sinning. But at this age, a lot of it still just goes back to: Why Don’t We Go To Church? Which I always answer the same: Because church is for people who believe in what the church teaches. And Daddy and I don’t believe in those things. If you choose to believe them someday, I hope you find a church that supports you and the people you love.
Oh – and of course the newest holiday question – Is that me? Or Jesus?