The 30 November 2012 issue of The Brights’ Bulletin includes a “Holiday Celebrations” topic that describes the “December Dilemma” faced by some people with a naturalistic worldview, who struggle to integrate meaningfully their personal lives with the predominantly religion-based social activities of the season.
The very next section (“Our ‘Best Tradition’ – A Potential Toolbox Topic?”) asks for commentary about the various ways in which the December season is celebrated.
Blogging about these topics together, I can parsimoniously leverage these topics to my advantage by: 1) answering the Bulletin’s call for personal examples of holiday celebration; 2) satisfying my continual search for blog topics; and 3) offering a sense of fellowship that sometimes is absent at a person’s first “brightening”, if leaving behind the supernatural worldview also meant breaking with family traditions and expectations.
Reflecting on my own life, there have been three distinct periods that defined how I celebrated holidays.
As I was growing up, most of the traditions I followed were put in place by my parents. My father was an American by birth, but my mother is native Japanese, so many of our holiday rituals had a hybrid quality, though I became aware of that fact only later.
For example, my father usually cooked the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but when he wasn’t home for the holidays (he was often deployed overseas in the Navy), my mother would make dinner, which usually meant white rice, miso soup, grilled fish, and stewed vegetables, or just spaghetti flavored with ketchup instead of pasta sauce. Typical for most Japanese, my mother is not Christian, so Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter were devoid of any religious content, though such holidays didn’t seem any less enjoyable for me and my brother.
My early adult life defines my second period. I didn’t marry till my mid-30s, so I had a relatively long second period during which I alone decided what I did, and when and how I did it. I also lived in Germany for a part of that period, so Thanksgiving became little more than an afterthought, while four years in Bavaria introduced me to the magical qualities of Christmas that I wasn’t aware of before. (Romanced by the cozy Christkindlesmarkt, pealing church bells and glühwein, I even attended midnight Catholic mass!)
But surprisingly, for all the freedom I had in this period, I pretty much stuck to the rituals I inherited as a child, though on a smaller scale. It seems children are influenced tremendously by their parents in their religious affiliations, AS WELL AS in their religious DIS-affiliations.
My third period began after I married, as my wife Ptarmi and I began creating (or settling into) our own holiday traditions. After the birth of our children, our family traditions are still fluid, but for the most part, I’ve adopted many of Ptarmi’s traditions while her emphasis on the religious aspects of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter have diminished somewhat to accommodate me. (We still display a nativity scene at Christmas, but abstracted Japanese-made kokeshi dolls have artfully replaced the more traditional set that Ptarmi had brought with her to our marriage.)
Several atheist friends have confided in me their discomfort with participating in the religious rituals of holiday celebrations, feeling that engaging in group prayer or taking part in religious activities (attending church, singing in a choir, acting in a play, etc.) was either dishonest, disrespectful, or even deluded. This always surprises me.
I believe the primary purpose of most holiday celebrations is to re-connect with the past to remind us of who we are today. Whether borne from myth, legend, actual events or a commemoration, celebrations connect us in the present to a time, place, or a people in the past via a chain of traditions and rituals that help inform us of where we came from, and perhaps connect us to our future progeny.
Regardless of the origins of the celebrations, they constitute the chain of humanity that extends beyond us and can stay intact only with our participation. Whether celebrated alone, with family, or with a community of friends, I encourage everyone—supers who fret about the commercialization of Christmas or the war on Christianity, and brights who feel that being involved in the religious activities would be disloyal to their worldview—to set aside their philosophical discomforts and celebrate our connection with the greater legacy of humanity.