Last June, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the Douglas County School District in Colorado detailing extensive evidence that officials at Highlands Ranch High School and Cougar Run Elementary School, in their capacities as district employees, were promoting Christianity and raising money for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ mission trip.
The FCA made it clear why they were going to Guatemala: “… our group’s primary goal is to share the love and hope of Jesus.” Which is fine. They’re allowed to do that. But make no mistake: This trip, by their own admission, was about proselytizing, first and foremost.
For years now, the Hamilton County Commissioners (in Tennessee) have been praying at their meetings. These were often sectarian Christian prayers, and in 2012, Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones — both college students — filed a lawsuit against the county saying they were violating the Establishment Clause.
Since then, as we know, the Supreme Court has made this issue moot. Sectarian prayers are allowed… but they must be open to everybody, not just Christians.
When I let go of my childhood religion as a young adult — the religion held by much of my family — I knew it was a game-changer. Not long after that, I experienced another milestone: having kids. Twin boys, to be exact, and then a little girl. What wasn’t so obvious to me back then was that those two things, losing religion and having kids, would intersect in ways I can rarely anticipate. It wasn’t difficult to keep my evolving belief system private before I had children, but kids are decidedly not private. They are curious, questioning, social creatures who force us out of our heads and into the world, and we are wise to let them.
I often feel that convergence most strongly during holidays — all of them, not just Christmas — as, by definition, they usually evoke religion and tradition.
There’s no lack of articles and advice on surviving holidays. They bring up how to handle stress, relationships, and communication, but they rarely address a major underlying reason for the complications on my end: differences in belief. Through my first decade with a family of my own, I’ve experimented with everything from jumping right back into religious tradition to adjusting with secular modifications to ignoring certain holidays all together.
In this time, I’ve come to accept that the holidays, like the religion from which many of them are based, aren’t going to disappear just because I ignore them. It’s really in my best interest, as a nonbeliever raising freethinkers, to help my children navigate the inevitable. In fact, I’ve realized that recurring celebrations are an invaluable way to mark time, encourage reflection, and inspire new traditions.
To that end, here are some suggestions for parents looking to “repackage” traditional holidays as more secular celebrations: