Why I Stopped Saying “Merry Christmas”

Some may be surprised to hear that I am not a Christian. Others who are aware may be surprised to hear that there was a time when I was one. The topic isn’t one I talk about a lot. It isn’t because of being ostracized, which believe me, happens. Ask that an all-inclusive event not be labelled with one holiday, and you have your character attacked. Admit the fact to the woman at Einstein Brothers who is hounding you for parenting advice because your family is so peaceful and respectful, and she will run for all it is worth. Explain to your in-laws that your family celebrates something else and hear ranting and screaming with some declarations that you are solely responsible for killing baby Jesus (or is that just my in-laws?). No, the reason I don’t talk about it a lot is because it just doesn’t matter. Treating people with respect doesn’t require that we share religious (or not) beliefs. I am not out to convert anyone away from their religious philosophy.

Back to the phrase “Merry Christmas,” though. I didn’t stop saying it because I am no longer a Christian. (Please don’t try to convert me. I have studied religion in depth. I am confident with where I am in my journey.) I stopped saying “Merry Christmas” back when I was still a Christian. Why? you ask. The reason is simple. I realized that when I said those two simple words, no matter how well-meaning, the supposed happiness that I was wishing the person was contingent. It was contingent on their celebration of the holiday I was specifying. It was about my holiday and therefore about me. If you know the other person and what they believe and celebrate, that can be fine. They share the same holiday with you, and therefore it is also about them. However, said to someone whose beliefs you are unsure of or whom you know celebrates something different, that contingency makes a big difference.

So, back when I was a Christian, I stopped saying “Merry Christmas.” I began saying “Happy Holidays!” It worked for friends who celebrated other holidays, even if that was New Year’s Day or something else. It worked for strangers I knew nothing about. I genuinely was wishing the other person happiness, with no contingency, without making it about me or my beliefs. Now, I sometimes even just say “Happiness to you!”

So, during this cold winter season (in the Northern hemisphere, heat of summer in the Southern), I wish you all happiness!

A Solstice Tree for Jenny

There aren’t many books available for children whose families don’t celebrate Christmas, or at the least Hannukah. Children in families who believe differently are often at a loss as to how they fit in with the nonconscious religious ideology which surrounds us.

A Solstice Tree for Jenny (Young Readers)

A Solstice Tree for Jenny by Karen Shragg tries to bridge that gap. Jenny, the daughter of two free-thinking scientists who don’t adhere to any religious beliefs, finds herself in a new position one year when her family is in the States during the holidays. She notices the differences between those families celebrating and hers and feels at a loss.

An understanding teacher suggests that her family may be interested in learning about the Solstice and celebrating in a secular way. She presents the idea to her parents and the family decides to do just that.

The book is not without problems, the least of which are Heidi Schwabacher’s illustrations. The colorful  front cover is in complete contrast to the black and white pencil drawings which range from simple to disproportionate. The over-simplification of her parents decision regarding religion is almost laughable, as the majority of individuals who decide that they cannot celebrate a religious holiday in a secular manner do so out of a strong sense of honesty and authenticity.

However, due to the lack of children’s literature in this area, the book does have merit. It holds appeal not only to atheist families but to other minority families for its discussion of unity and focus on finding something that works for each family, and I would recommend to any of those families to at least check it out.