How to Handle the Holidays When You Don’t Believe in God

I was a Christian for 20 years before I lost my faith in God and spent the next decade-ish reconstructing a new version of spiritual identity. I now identify somewhere between agnosticism and neo-pagan tradition: yoga, tarot and Marina Abramović’s performative gaze meditation are the closest things I have to spiritual practices, and I don’t take any of it very seriously. My current spiritual moodboard is a New Jersey housewife’s Pinterest-inspired understanding of Zen and nihilism: #LoveAndLight #Unbeweaveable #NothingMatters #crying.

I know it’s a right and a privilege to have the freedom to not participate in religion, and I exercise that freedom daily.

Aside from all the times Christian-tinged politics interfere with my daily life, I wouldn’t think about any religion if I didn’t gather twice a year with my large, mostly Christian family for Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. When I was younger, these gatherings held strong Christian overtones: not as strong as, say, my classmate’s family whose dad called his wife “mother” and she called her daughter “sister,” but strong enough that this Pence-ian behavior seemed normal.

As we grew up and found our own spiritual paths, our family is down to one nondenominational dinner table prayer. Throughout it all, our parents emphasize that a calendar date doesn’t mean nearly as much as the quality of the time spent with loved ones on those days.  

Initially, I chose the sarcastic, edgy path for handling Christmas-related angst, and why wouldn’t I? I was into socialism in my late teens and early 20s, and the arranged marriage of Christ to capitalism always disgusted me, even when I believed in Jesus and Santa.

So naturally I would make a big deal about Christmas on Facebook, gathering likes and comments from my echo chamber. But as I push 30, I find no snarky status or self-superior comment will stop Christmas from coming. The online irreverence, though, gives posters like me a feeling of power over institution, and with that gives them freedom and mobility to look elsewhere for the stability traditions imply.

I turned to pagan traditions associated with the winter solstice to celebrate in my own home. My roommates and I celebrated Samhain and Yule as our schedules would allow, and our celebrations usually involved a lot of music, cooking, drinking, eating and dancing. I’m not sure what, if any, actual practice we followed. We were the type of twentysomethings who got our pagan training from bookstores like Third Eye on Hawthorne (R.I.P.).

This was just before witchcraft went mainstream as an aesthetic. We didn’t have anyone to guide us in our studies who didn’t have a profit sake in our development. We were messy and self-driven. We celebrated our independence, survival and self-creation from teenagers into adults. Pagan traditions were a gateway to staking a claim over my identity and intelligence. Neo-paganism is how I learned confidence, and by the way confidence is fucking awesome; get into it.

Sometimes as you get older, life gets weirder and more vibrant, or things mellow out and calm down, or a mix of things unforeseen. I have Christian family members, some of whom do believe there’s a war on Christmas, but we’re making space for each other to feel comfortable. As my nephew gets ready to celebrate his first Christmas, I have power to shape what his traditions are and how he experiences winter warmth and light. I celebrate Christmas because that’s the federally-excused reason I have for collecting money without working, and as I exit my twenties, that’s honestly good enough reason for me to celebrate anything.

Namaste, bitches.