For those of us blessed with secular, open-minded, and/or atheistic families, this likely won’t be an issue for you. It’s usually not for me. There was the one year my family wanted to pray to Jesus before a meal, and I told them to go ahead, I’d wait. It made for an awkward moment, but I think it made the rest of my very secular family (minus one person in the family who is religious and who was the reason for the attempted prayer) think twice about trying that again because we haven’t prayed before a meal since.
However, not everyone is nearly as lucky as I am. Some of the people reading this may have grown up in very religious households, and it may make visiting family over the holidays (if you even talk to your family) a dreaded challenge rather than an anticipated pleasure.
Here are six things to consider when it comes to navigating holiday celebrations:
- You get to pick and choose your battles. Which hills are you willing to die on? Is bowing your head at the table and pretending to pray worth it just to keep the family peace? Only YOU get to decide which activities you want to participate in for the sake of harmony, or which fights you want to start. It’s not just your reaction to the other person that matters, it’s your actions. As a wise person once told me about human conflict: “The other person can be mad all they want, but that doesn’t mean you have to mad right back.” Let them be mad. Let them be wrong. That’s their choice.
- Set FIRM boundaries. Start out by saying, “We’d love to come for a holiday meal, but [insert boundary here].” For example: “We would only come if you agreed to only non-denominational prayer and no religious sermons.” or “If you don’t mind, me and my family will be quiet during the prayer, but we won’t pray with you. If you do mind, I’m afraid we won’t be able to participate.” (Exchange we for I, etc)
- Politely decline invitations to church (unless you’re curious what they get up to). If you do accept an invitation to a religious ceremony, be up-front about why you’re going (curiosity, just to be around family, and so on) so there are no expectations of conversion later on. Also, be super careful the whole church thing isn’t a trap for an exorcism or some crazy shit. Only you know your own family’s level of crazy, and if you think they might try something like that – decline, decline, decline. “Oh, no thank you.” If you feel you need an excuse, add to that, “I have something going on that night that can’t be canceled.”
- Be very clear, precise, up-front, and unemotional about your expectations and what you will and will not put up with. The more emotional you make it, the more dramatic and emotional it will become. Be comfortable and at peace with your choices and leave the emo-bullshit to everyone else.
- Try to turn everyone’s focus to the food, family, and fun as opposed to religious observance. (This is the beauty of having a secular and/or jack-Christian family. It’s already about food, family, and fun at that point.)
- Host a secular holiday event at your place or in tandem with another family member who doesn’t want to deal with the religious aspects of it, and just be unavailable for the actual holiday. Make it a potluck, and choose a few games to play, keeping religion completely out of it.
Of course, all of this said, I do know people who refuse to celebrate any form of Christmas, secular or not, and you can do that, too. Personally, I celebrate Solstice and Yule with my Daemonolatry and Pagan families, and secular Christmas with my atheist husband and immediate family. Do what is right for you and your situation. The Daemonic won’t smote you or be pissed off because you went to a Catholic mass with your 96-year-old grandmother just to spend time with her. Daemons are not Christian “devils” and they’re not at war with the Christian God and “angels” any more than I’m a Mormon taxidermist. ::sardonic grin::
Good luck and may the odds ever be in your favor. Cheers and Happy December!