This Week (Group Starting Edition) - A Freethinker's Guide to Celebrating the Holiday Season
Hey everyone! For the past quarter/semester we’ve been talking a lot about how to get groups started and the ins and outs of a lot of bureaucratic stuff, but this week I’d like to change the tone up a bit. With the holidays upcoming, I think it’s important to recognize and discuss a little bit about what it’s like to be an atheist during the holidays (and how). Some of you will be going home for the first time as an “out” atheist, at least to the people who you’ve met and come to be friends with through your organizations. This can change things not only for you, but for your family as well, if you choose to share it with them. So this week I’d like to talk a bit about my experiences and some general advice that I can personally give to those of you who may be new to the movement. As always, email me with questions, concerns, or gripes about what I say. I always love to hear from you!
The holidays can be a particularly awkward time of year for nontheists. Some of us celebrate the traditions we grew up in (whether that be Christmas, Chanukah, or any other) and some of us have chosen to go our own ways and either don’t celebrate or have chosen a more naturalistic celebration (for instance, the Solstice). It may surprise you to know that atheists are just as diverse as any other group during the holidays. There is no “right” answer as to whether you should or shouldn’t celebrate Christmas or if you should say grace at Thanksgiving. I personally know atheists who do celebrate Christmas, say grace at their dinner tables with their families, and some who even go to Midnight Mass with them too. I myself have even struggled with these questions. There is no simple answer. Decide for yourself. Remember, we are freethinkers, and for that reason you should use your own reason and observations to come to your own conclusions.
Let’s for instance take the common question that many ask us, “Should I, as an atheist, say/lead grace with my family during Thanksgiving?” Not only could you yourself personally struggle with this question, but also as leaders at school and in our movement, members could very well ask you your opinions on these things. So let’s get right down to the issue then. Should an atheist say grace?
Should an atheist lead grace? This all comes down to some simple questions and answers. For one, does your family expect you to pray to a deity? If the answer is yes, more than likely you will not want to say or lead grace. If not, then ask yourself: is your family open to a naturalistic (or at least non-religion-specific) prayer/saying? There are many reasons to be thankful and give thanks for the food and family that we have, not just religious ones. If your family is open to this (or are even supportive of it!), then I say you should absolutely say or give grace. Not only are you expressing thanks and love to your family, but you are demonstrating to them that atheists can be good, generous, and thankful people too! With or without god!
Now some of you probably come from families that are just not going to accept their daughters or sons being atheists or even another religion. If this is the case, then I wholly support you NOT telling your parents. It doesn’t make you a bad person, a wimp, or a bad debater if you don’t want to come out to your parents. There are many reasons why people choose not to come out to their families and friends, and many of them are valid concerns. Some of you (if not most) still depend somewhat financially on your parents (I know I do, and I’m 23!). Some of you depend on your family for a place to live, for food, or just the fact that they’re your family and they love you. These are all important things, and unfortunately some of them can be jeopardized by you coming out. I wish this were not the case, but unfortunately it is. If this is the case and you decide to not come out, then don’t fret. If you do, know there are people who will support you. It’s your choice, and either way, things tend to work out.
So now that I’ve discussed some of the concerns and sorts of questions you should be asking yourself about the holidays, I want to stress one final thing that I hinted at throughout this article. We are a movement and we are growing by leaps and bounds every day. But we are also more than that. I know that I personally have met some of my best friends in this movement, and I consider my coworkers here at the SSA my family. If you need advice, someone to talk to about these questions, or just someone to rant to, know that we are here, and that we are always willing to listen. Now, we’re not professional counselors or anything, I can’t stress that enough, but we do know what it’s like to be an out atheist and to go through hard times during the holidays. Having said that, if there’s something I didn’t address that you feel I should have, something that concerns you, or anything else, please feel free to email me. I sincerely hope that you all have a great holiday season. The weather is making life hard for all of us (at least in the North) so let’s all just try to be good for goodness’ sake!
By Group Starting Specialist