First off, while religion has much to do with this subject, this article is not about religion itself, but about how one’s life changes when one no longer celebrates religious holidays.
In 1992 I joined the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), and we do not celebrate religious holidays. I was 29 at the time and had always celebrated Christmas without fail. Every year (unless I was deployed in the Navy) I’d get that tree and decorate it, and buy what gifts I could afford. When I joined the Church, however, all of a sudden I didn’t do any of that. Instead:
- I no longer had to stress about buying gifts for every family member, or even about buying Christmas cards and forcing myself to write personalized messages for everyone.
- I didn’t have to worry about buying and decorating that doggone tree, just to throw it away a couple weeks later (and cleaning up the mess of pine needles on the floor). I also didn’t have to grab out the ladder and put up lights all over the house, or buy ever-larger decorations to put in our yard to keep up with the decorations put out by our neighbors.
- What’s more, it’s an almost guilty pleasure that, with the hundreds of dollars saved by not going deep in credit-card debt buying gifts and decorations, I still have access to all the Christmas sales.
- An unexpected bonus was that when someone wanted to take Christmas off to spend with their families, it didn’t bother me a bit to take their shifts — more money for me, and they’re grateful for the opportunity to be at home at a time that means so much to them.
- One thing that did not change was my lifelong annoyance at seeing Christmas advertisements as soon as September, and radio stations playing Christmas songs nonstop beginning the day after Halloween.
The same dynamic applies to all other religious holidays such as Easter, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day. Not celebrating them saves so much time and money, and over the years, it’s become easy to see all such holidays in the same light as most Americans would see the Islamic holiday of Eid.
But not everything is so easy when one’s family doesn’t celebrate religious holidays in America. Some people are deeply offended when I won’t say “Merry Christmas”. Most troubling, though, is the pressure one’s children faces at school. It’s hard to tell one’s child, “no, you can’t join with the school chorus to sing Christmas songs at the school assembly, or to go door-to-door caroling with them”. It’s very difficult to tell them to not buy Christmas gifts for their friends, and to not go to their friends’ Christmas parties. Children see the beautiful decorations at their friends’ houses, and they want to go and have fun with the other kids.
And for younger kids, not celebrating Halloween is just as hard, if not more so. Dressing up for Halloween is fun, and every kid wants to join in what they see as harmless fun. So every Halloween, we get our kids together with the children of the other families in the Church and throw a party to distract them from what all the other children are doing outside. This doesn’t stop the pressure they feel at school, nor does it prevent the children from being resentful for not being able to join in the fun, but it helps. Personally, I’d dearly love to remind the principal and school board that they’re not supposed to allow students to be pressured to join in with religious holiday activities, but every reader knows I’d be wasting my time. It’s simply not going to happen.
One might ask, then, why any good parent would want to prevent their children from joining in what everyone knows is good harmless fun. The answer is that any good parent in this situation faces a choice of whether to allow their children to join with all the other kids in religious holiday activities, or to stay true to their chosen religion. If one is serious about one’s religious beliefs, then the choice is easily made, if not so easily followed through.
Lastly, for those who might be wondering, I believe it would be safe to say that in America, most of us who reject religious holidays such as Christmas would not get rid of those holidays even if we could, for religious freedom — for all religions (or lack thereof) — is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Not only does the Constitution protect the practice of one’s own religion, it also protects us from being forced by society to join in the practice of others’ religions.
Or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.