Being an Atheist, my husband often talks about the ridiculousness of holidays like Christmas. “So, you don’t want any gifts?” I’d ask him. Turns out he only wants the gifts.
It was true – we were mainly celebrating the commercialism part of Christmas. Sure, we were slightly more generous over the Christmas holidays but that was mostly thanks to all the people asking for food and cash donations around the mall.
If we didn’t celebrate, our young children would probably grow resentful sitting on the Christmas sidelines with the Jehovah Witnesses. Plus, my husband still wanted the chocolate and gifts and I wasn’t ready to give up buying freshly cut Christmas trees and adding to my decoration collection.
I needed to find a better reason to celebrate and I found Jesus.
Just kidding, I’m an atheist too. Instead, we consciously made Christmas about kindness. I was surprised at how much better and less hypocritical I felt by having a Christmas purpose.
Last year, we drastically cut down on gifts. My 6 year-old noticed with a casual “is that it?” She never mentioned the lack of gifts again – either because she buried her disappointment deep down or because she truly had enough.
I might find out the truth in her counselling sessions one day, for now, I’ll believe it’s the latter.
I also started a kindness advent calendar with two magical Friendship Fairies (I couldn’t find a cheap enough elf but a few well-placed snowflake stickers gave them a Christmas feel). There are lots of ideas for acts of kindness and alternatives to the creepy Elf on the Shelf on the internet.
Most of the acts of kindness ideas we used were incredibly simple (smiling, opening doors etc.) and instead of placing the fairies in silly and mischievous new positions like the Elf on the Shelf, I would just plunk them in a new spot with a kindness task for the day – I didn’t want high expectations in the first year.
As I helped my children with the tasks and shopped less, I enjoyed the weeks leading up to Christmas in a way I hadn’t before. This year, my daughter is already asking if the Fairies are coming back but hasn’t mentioned any gifts she wants – definitely a tradition worth keeping.
Afternote: Just when I thought I was winning at this parenting thing, the day after I wrote this article, I asked my daughter about her favourite part of Christmas. She quickly replied “presents and candy canes” and then started writing a wish list for Santa….. Looks like our family needs a bit more time to drop the commercialism from Christmas!
How do you celebrate Christmas without bringing in Jesus? What non-religious traditions does your family partake in? Check out our Critical Thinking Parents’ Group to discuss these topics and more with other non-religious parents.
By Jess Lahrs
(Out of respect for my family’s privacy, references to them have been published with their knowledge and support.)