My First Christmas Without Christ

About a year ago, I towards the end of my deconversion. I wasn’t comfortable saying I was a Capital A Atheist, and 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.

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 outchristmas-1091570_1280side, 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 parents were incredibly generous, 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, last year, all I did 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 his 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’m not.

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.

That said, I want to believe in Jesus right now. I want to look at a nativity scene and feel love radiating off of it. I want to sing “Happy Birthday Jesus” with our little cake and really feel it. I haven’t learned to compartmentalize these feelings. I haven’t learned how to the loss I’m feeling and ignore it and get over it for the moment. Visiting my parents’ house is stressful enough; visiting while in mini-mourning makes it harder.

What I’m doing instead

This week I’ll celebrate my brother-in-law and my fiancé’s birthday, 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.

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20 thoughts on “My First Christmas Without Christ

  1. “I haven’t spent enough time deciding what the holiday season means to me now.”

    I’ve been atheist the last 40 or so of my 60 years, and really, I love the Christmas holiday. For me it’s a time to remember and clarify that it “isn’t all about me”. But that’s how it has always been for my family so “losing Jesus” was never a stretch – it just wasn’t ever about me or Jesus to begin with. Just a seasonal reminder to give to others as much as possible.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As an atheist of many years (who was a devout Christian as a child, and even a Sunday School teacher for 3-4 years) and a mama who wants to keep the holidays special, I can tell you what Christmas is to us. We celebrate the love of family and friends, and the spirit of giving. Christmas is still fun and magical and amazing. I talk about this several times in my blog, not because it is weird for an Atheist to celebrate Christmas now a days, but because some people seem confused by it and I wished to clarify.

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    1. Holly, I read your story in Freethought Today. It was great!

      Like several others here, I empathize with your story. I was 42 years old when I finally realized I could no longer believe in God. Or any god. It was probably even more complicated for me, because I was married to a fundamentalist Christian woman and had two teenage offspring. But things worked out. That was 34 years ago, and I’m constantly amazed how many other people have stories similar to ours.

      I’ll spend several hours Christmas Day with my atheist brother, his atheist son and daughter-in-law, and their two intelligent and very well behaved preteens. They’ll have a tree with lights and lots of presents for everybody. It’ll be a blast!

      The next day, my brother and I will spend several hours visiting a Christian sister and brother-in-law and several other Christian relatives. We’ll hold hands with them and bow our heads when they pray, because we love and respect them. Some atheists claim (incorrectly, I believe) that such behavior is inappropriate. My Christian friends and relatives understand that I am no longer one of them, but I am still family. I think it’s entirely appropriate to take part in such family rituals. That’ll be a blast, too.

      Just enjoy yourself and those you love. If nothing else, Christmas is a good day for visiting with family and friends, because people are off work and out of shool. Just because you don’t believe the nonsense doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun.

      Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was surprised at how much Christmas didn’t change for me after I deconverted. I realized how much of it really was secular, at least in how most of our culture celebrates it. I don’t bow my head when someone blesses the food anymore, and that’s about it. My wife and I still even put out this little nativity scene we have, simply because it’s pretty (and it goes right next to a Buddha, which is amusing). I hope you will find your peace with it this year!

    P.S.: I hate to be that guy, but that guy I must be. You’re looking for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. 🙂

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  4. I connected with your feelings during the transition in your faith. I’m in my 21st year of transition and I’m still feeling the same as you? My progression or regression has been much much slower. But nevertheless I felt grateful to identify with the emotions and thoughts you relayed.

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  5. Just because you don’t believe in it the same way, doesnt mean you have to lose it altogether. We don’t believe that Santa’s ‘real’, but he’s still very much part of Christmas. Why not do the same with Jesus?

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  6. You know, you’re story breaks my heart to read (kind of reminds me of Charles Templeton, who also said he missed Jesus). I wonder what set of facts caused you to walk away… I wonder if I’ve missed something? I’ve been as diligent as I know how to be in investigating the evidence for Jesus’ historicity and resurrection. Mine was an adult conversion (37 years old). Initially I wondered if I was being naive, so I started investigating apologetics and realized there was a lot of evidence for Jesus, enough to where I became convinced that the New Testament accounts were true beyond a reasonable doubt. I would offer correspondance if you think it’d help.

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    1. I don’t question whether or not there was a historical Jesus, I just don’t think it matters if he did exist. If he did exist, he almost certainty wasn’t divine. It seems to add an unnecessary level of complexity, and that’s before you get into the textual inconsistencies and the problems with the development of the Old and New Testaments. My look into apologetics didn’t answer questions, they simply raised more.

      I don’t believe you’re naive for believing,but the evidence I have seen ultimately led me away. I have a lot of moral quandaries with the god of the Bible, so even if he did exist I don’t believe that he’s a good, kind, all-loving god. At best he’s flippant with human life, at worst he’s a blood thirsty tyrant.

      I don’t say this to sway you in any direction, I’ve just reached my conclusion for now. Unless there is a crazy development, I doubt I’ll return to the faith. I’d rather work on being a kind person with one life than live in a moral code that was detrimental for me just because we may have eternity.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Holly, I don’t want to be one more reason for you to disbelieve, so I won’t respond to anything you said. I just wanted you to know that your story touched me, that’s why I replied. I will still offer to correspond with you offline. I could create a Gmail account where we could correspond.

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    2. I likely read the same book, The Case for Faith, where Strobel starts off with the story of Billy Graham and Charles Templeton (the more gifted of the two). The line about “missing Jesus” was poignant. I read that book while I was still a very active and devoted Christian. Now, as an atheist with additional perspective, I find Lee Strobel’s book disingenuous. He never shared Templeton’s reasons for leaving the faith (which were many), and Strobel only gave lip service to some of the arguments made against Christianity. His book was clearly written for Christians who were struggling with doubt.

      And I understand the sentiment from Templeton when he says he misses Jesus. He misses the imaginary friend and savior that he could “talk to” (but who never actually responded back), and he misses the warm feelings that are felt from the Christmas story, etc. I understand that.

      I think we could all agree that the idea of eternal bliss and forgiveness for hurtful things we’ve done is a wonderful notion. But the Bible is profoundly flawed. When you examine other religious faiths with appropriate critical thinking and realize they are nonsense, Christianity falls apart when the same magnifying glass is put upon it too.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I really liked this post, Holly. This is my second Christmas without Jesus, and much of what you said really resonated with me too. In much the same way that the story of Santa is a good one (but fictional), there’s an aspect of sadness when we realize the Christmas story is another work of fiction. I’ve enjoyed making new Christmas time traditions though.

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  8. Fuck Jesus and the bullshit you were brainwashed with. You should be rightfully PISSED OFF at being fucking lied to. I do not get this nostalgia. We’re the blacks n I nostalgic for slavery when they were freed? Again I say, fuck Christians.

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    1. Just because you had a horrible experience doesn’t mean everyone did. I love religion, I deeply miss it. I no longer believe, but I don’t think I was lied to. I was told things that people sincerely believed that I no longer subscribe to.

      Comparing being a modern Christian to slavery is unfair, untrue, and minimizes how damaging and devastating slavery was.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Holly, you WERE lied to, because Christianity is a lie. Your saying you love and miss it is akin to Stockholm syndrome. You are on the right path and soon you will realize and accept the truth of my comments, which are irrefutably true, unlike all religions.

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    2. As Yoda said, “I sense much anger in you”. Seriously, I am all for helping others escape the delusion. But anger like that is counter-productive to the cause and it thickens the defensive walls that people put up.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I have enjoyed reading your blog! It really draws attention to the human rights violations in the USA, which is just as important as what happens in third world countries.
    As for Christmas, it’s funny to read your story because I am on the opposite side: after I quit religión I have been delighted to spend my Decembers free from rituals and celebrations. I hated prayers, songs (metalhead here), family gatherings, decorations… So, forgetting about Christmas was a joy!

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  10. Coming to you “late to the party.” My last Christmas was spent largely grieving the loss of a family member the month before, but the one before that was in China.
    It was fascinating to experience a world where Christmas is purely a secular occasion largely ignored by the local population. Apart from one small, very simple and brief service at my incredibly open church, it was much more of a chance to try mulled cider for the first time, enjoy the company of other Westerners in a local pub, and discover through conversation the common traditions in Germany for the occasion when I ran into a German tourist in my more traditional neighborhood away from the Western-style pubs on the other side of town.
    The relief I felt at being freed of the immense purchasing of gifts and the push of Christ was a sign of my waning faith, but looking back, I think the strange grief I felt around Christmas several years prior was even more so. I recall a dozen years ago finding Christmas melancholy, even though I was deeply, intensely Christian. While there may be other reasons for this, I think some part of my subconscious was aware of the cognitive dissonance between faith and truth, and this incredibly public occasion was a very in-your-face reminder of that…perhaps?
    Anyways, I also connect deeply to the general missing of faith. While, like you, I do not miss the mental gymnastics, I ache for my invisible best friend. While, like you, I cannot abide the God of the Bible as anything trustworthy, I do long for there to be a god of some kind … and spontaneously pray, even as I struggle to hide my cynicism at Christian friends who crow “Pray for Orlando/Belgium/Paris” and ignore the harsh reality of their god allowing these travesties to occur in the first place.

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