About a year ago, towards the end of my deconversion, I wasn’t comfortable saying I was a “Capital A” Atheist. I still kept praying and wanting some belief. I dabbled in paganism for a bit, trying to plan a solstice celebration of sorts because the solstice was on a new moon, which I thought was special, but I didn’t know enough about solstices or new moons to do anything.
Missing My Favorite Holiday
I love Christmas. I love Christmas songs, I love smelling cinnamon and all types of Christmas smells. I love Christmas trees and cozy nights. Growing up, we had a Christmas tree in my room, the living room, the den, lights on the big Christmas-looking tree outside, and sometimes a tree in Mama’s room. Mom would make the house cold so we could enjoy a chilly Christmas in South Mississippi. My mother is an incredibly generous woman, and each Christmas I was given more gifts than I could fathom what to do with. My favorite people all have birthdays around Christmas, and the only holiday I like more than Christmas is my birthday (and that’s only because it’s a special Holly-day *ba dum tss*).
Despite my wobbling in paganism, all I did last year for the solstice was eat chicken thighs and get ready for real Christmas. I wasn’t sure in my disbelief, and—ever the pragmatist—I figured celebrating Jesus’ birthday would be better than not.
I’ve mentioned this many times before, but I loved being religious. I wasn’t Catholic, but I prayed the rosary regularly, I offered up prayers toward any and all causes. As a child I had heard that we can banish demons by simply saying, “I cast you out in Jesus’s name!” so I’d regularly whisper it to help banish demons from the earth, if even for a moment. Christmas, in my mind, was second only to Easter.
This is the first year that I truly don’t believe in Jesus. This is the first year that Christmas is just a time to spend with family and friends. I wish I could give you some anti-theist circle-jerk about how happy I am, but I can’t.
I miss having a reason for the season. I keep getting “Hark the Herald, Angels Sing” stuck in my head. I keep looking at political cartoons depicting Mary and Joseph as poor Hispanic immigrants. I want to sit in joyous contemplation over the birth of the savior of the world.
But I don’t believe it. I see it as a charming myth that I can’t buy into, and I hate that.
Who Am I Without Jesus?
I’ve faced minimal repercussions in my personal life from my deconversion. Aside from mass condescension and a few heated arguments, I’ve lost very few friends and family from this. I think my emotional whiplash comes from figuring out who I am without Jesus.
As the devout girl and young woman, I was told to center my life around God. I didn’t do a great job at it, but I tried my damnedest. Jesus wasn’t always first in my mind, but I did my best to put him first in my words. I wanted my actions to reflect him.
I used to say I haven’t changed since the deconversion, but it isn’t true. I am happier—a combination of excellent mental health care and more self-love—but my morality is changing. I’m putting a higher stake in kindness towards myself, and I’m learning I don’t have to set myself on fire to make other’s warm. I think most of this is just growing up, but I’m changing—for the better.
What I’m Doing Instead
This week I’ll celebrate my brother-in-law’s and my fiancé’s birthdays, I’ll celebrate Christmas, call my aunt on her birthday, and celebrate my little sister’s 8th birthday. There are plenty of celebrations to indulge in. I’m hoping for a cold, cold night so we can turn the gas fireplace on, maybe drink some cocoa or spiked cider.
This Christmas won’t really be much different than last Christmas. I’ll do the same things with the same people: I’ll eat dinner with my in-laws, I’ll spend time with my little sister. I’m going to have a great couple days.
I’m also going to be gentle with myself. As I try to carve out who I am as an accidental activist and an outspoken non-believer, I think I deserve that much kindness. It’s okay that I miss believing in Jesus. It’s okay that I miss joyous religious celebration. It’s okay that I’m not quite able to reconcile my holiday cheer with my non-belief.
My mother once joked that I don’t get to “double-dip,” that I don’t get to celebrate Christmas and not believe. She meant it jokingly, but it’s weighed a bit heavily on me. I haven’t spent enough time deciding what the holiday season means to me now.
I’m going to miss Jesus this Christmas.
[Image Source: Adobe Stock]
Holly Baer grew up in Flowood, Mississippi. An alum of the Mississippi School for Math and Science, she studies religion and gender studies at the University of Mississippi and writes her own blog at HollyBaer.com. Feel free to contact her by emailing Questions@HollyBaer.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @hawlibear.