Culturally Christian

I grew up in a nominally Christian household. My Grandmother was a committed Christian and went to church on most Sundays. When my brother and I stayed at her house we knew we’d be going to Sunday School in the morning, and perhaps visiting Vacation Bible Camp in the summer (don’t worry it was only three or fours in the afternoon one week a year, and usually it was fun). I think church was important to her, but she also allowed my Grandpa to skip out and play golf nearly every Sunday morning, so it couldn’t have been that important.

My father was always extremely un-religious. Away from my grandparents’ house church was a choice and we could either go or not go. He couldn’t be bothered to drive us there either, if we went to church it was on the “church bus” run by a local Church of God (that’s a denomination). The CoG was a long way from the Methodism of my grandmother, but as a kid it all looked pretty much the same. Jesus, candy, kids to hang out with, I learned some Bible stories but it felt less like indoctrination and more like something to do since there were no soccer games to play or cartoons on Sunday mornings.

I became more serous about religion in high school, and was President of my (Methodist) Church Youth Group my senior year of high school. I put great importance on religion personally, but that was my own choice. My father wasn’t a church go-er, my step-mother was one on occasion, but we weren’t a religious family. We didn’t “pray as a family” or have family Bible study, or really pay a whole lot of lip-service to Jesus or faith in general. In a lot of ways we were simply culturally Christian; people expected us to be Christians (I did live outside of Nashville in high school) and celebrate Christian holidays. So that’s how we lived.

Long-time readers know that I post a lot about “Christian holidays,” and that’s sometimes met with irritation or bewilderment. “You’re a Pagan, how can you celebrate Easter!?!” I can celebrate Christmas and Easter without a second thought because they aren’t religious holidays to me, and never really were in my family. While my Grandmother went to church a lot, the one day she didn’t really bother with it was Easter, because she was far too busy hiding Easter Eggs and cooking up a huge dinner. Easter was a holiday for my family, but it was a family holiday, an excuse to get together and have some fun. We didn’t end the day with a toast of “To Jesus for our sins!” We were far more likely to say “Thank you Easter Bunny!” (Thinking of those Easters really makes me miss the old “Leggs Eggs” pantyhose containers, those giant eggs contained the best stuff!)

I have so many good memories associated with Christmas that I can’t throw the day out. Like Easter it was a day for family and good feelings. By the time I converted to Paganism it already had eighteen years or so of magical memories behind it. Yes, sometimes there were Nativity scenes up at various households, and in my high school years we went to Christmas Eve candle-light services (never, ever on Christmas Day), but we didn’t put decorations on the tree with father reading from the family Bible saying “that ornament is for the blessed Virgin.” It was simply a holiday, and holidays don’t have to necessarily be religious in nature.

There are three days a year when I talk to every member of my immediate family: Christmas, Super Bowl Sunday, and Easter. None of those phone calls end with “Praise Jesus!” or anything of that nature. They are simply holidays we associate with family. I can’t turn off Easter anymore than I can divorce my father. In my family it’s expected that I’m going to be doing something during those “Christian holidays” because my family has always done things on those days. None of those family things were ever associated with religion.

Those “Christian holidays” are a part of my family and by extension a part of me. I’m not participating in a faith outside my own by celebrating, I’m participating in a family ritual. Not everything we do in our lives is for ourselves, sometimes we do things for friends or family. Skipping out on Christmas would be like raising a giant middle finger at my entire childhood and by extension my father, a man who has loved me and supported me my entire life (even when I didn’t deserve it). I’m not going to turn my back on family because someone thinks I’m failing the Pagan purity test.

If you didn’t grow up in a culturally Christian family it’s easy to live a life without those holidays. You don’t have the sentiment, the feelings, or the memories attached to those days. If those holidays were overtly religious in your household maybe that makes them easier to throw out too. If Easter was about suffering through Catholic Mass four times in three days I’d probably want to forget about it too. My wife grew up Catholic (which can be some hard programming to overcome) which means there are just days on the calendar when you expect something to happen. That doesn’t mean she’s still a secret Catholic or anything, it’s just how she was raised. If something is a big deal for over half of your life it can be kind of hard to turn off sometimes.

My family is Culturally Christian, but that doesn’t make me any less of a Pagan. As a dutiful son I observe the holidays I grew up with, all in the knowledge that it brings me closer to the people I care about. No one has any sinister motives, no one is trying to lure me back to Jesus through some sort of backdoor. The Lady said “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals,” the rituals of my family are steeped in love, not doctrine, and I will continue to celebrate them with a full heart.

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About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.


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