Atheism through the holidays, part 4: How to deal with religious relatives

I know this is late – the holidays are now over – but I don’t really have all that much experience with this one, having only been an atheist for a few years, and I wanted to let another holiday season go by before addressing it.

When it comes to dealing with religious relatives during the holidays, my biggest strategy is simply keeping my mouth shut. First of all, some of my relatives know I’m an atheist while others don’t, which makes things complicated and makes keeping my own counsel easier. Secondly, the fact that I don’t believe the stories doesn’t mean that they don’t mean something important for Christians, and I don’t see the point of trying to mess that up through scoffing or mockery. Finally, the reality is that saying something will often result in huge arguments or confrontations, something I prefer to avoid over the holidays. And so, I keep my mouth shut.

The thing is, having a child makes this whole thing more complicated.

What do you do when you walk into a room and see a religious relative reading your child a children’s book about the crucifixion of Jesus? (My only consolation is that my daughter had the most skeptical look on her face I have ever seen).

What do you do when you see a religious relative playing with a toy nativity set with your child, explaining the Christmas story and what each figure was and did?

What do you do about the fact that your child doesn’t know what prayer is, but is suddenly expected to fold her hands and be quiet during prayer before meals?

So far, I don’t have any real answers. This is something I’m still figuring out. This holiday season, I didn’t make a big deal of things, even when they involved my child. Sally may have heard some funny stories, and she now knows that the baby in the manger of a nativity scene is “baby Jesus,” but I don’t think she sees these stories any differently from stories about Thomas the Tank Engine or Elmo or the myriad books we read to her. So far she’s young enough to easily pick up on things like prayer before meals, dutifully holding hands with those sitting by her and remaining silent.

The difficulty will be the future. As she grows older, I will make sure to prepare her for spending time with religious relatives over the holidays by explaining what her grandparents, aunts, and uncles believe and that we need to be tactful and understanding of others beliefs regardless of what we ourselves believe. Beyond that, I don’t know.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.