This time of the year can be a painful one for the black sheep of Mormon families. Invitations to see the lights at Temple Square, Christmas hymns, Mormon.org campaigns (featuring lots of children, all of which thankfully come from heterosexual homes), and heartfelt testimonies of the Savior and His Church in an effort to focus on the true “reason for the season”. Sometimes these traditions can bring back the painful emotions that you might have felt during your faith transition.
But it doesn’t need to be that way! Buried behind the mask of Mormonism are many happy, healthy memories of Christmas. Post-Mormon life requires you to untangle the weaves that bind every meaningful aspect of your life to the Church, and Christmas is no different. If we deconstruct what makes the holidays actually important to us and find our own personal meaning in the message of Christmas, we might spend the holidays in happy mental place, rather than a bitter one.
Humans need traditions – it’s part of human nature. Whether it is something small like “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” or something bigger like a holiday, these traditions fulfill a psychological need. A key part of a healthy life are healthy rituals.
Many people across the world celebrate Christmas. Much of Europe is agnostic or atheist, but it has not resulted in a mass societal rejection of the Christmas spirit. It’s even gaining popularity in places like China, where Christians barely take a slice of the religious pie chart. For some of these places, the holiday is just a tradition, like the New Year or Halloween (I mean, I don’t think anyone believes we are warding off ghosts with our Halloween costumes, right?). This demonstrates that Christmas doesn’t need to be about Christianity, it can just be about the values – family, selflessness, a celebration of life and love.
Secular prophet Richard Dawkins on his blog wrote: “Some Christians have accused me of being hypocritical for celebrating a Christian holiday. However – and perhaps this is from my background in anthropology – celebrations are a natural part of human culture, and Christians simply appropriated local celebrations to suit their own peculiar beliefs. Christmas is only ‘Christian’ because ancient winter pagan celebrations were incorporated by the Church.”
Cultures borrow and use bits and pieces from other cultures, and Christmas is no different. For some people, understanding that these traditions did not originate with Christianity can help them join in Christmas celebrations without feeling like they are being inauthentic. We already have Secular Halloween, so what is stopping us from transitioning to a Secular Christmas?
Others might not be able to make the separation, or even want to. Years of being told you can’t take the Christ out of CHRISTmas has resulted in subconscious gag reflex at the sight of “X-mas”.
I have always loved the Christmas hymns about Jesus, and I still do. Angels We Have Heard On High, Silent Night, I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, etc. I’m not sure how I feel about Christ now, but I recognize that belief in Him was comforting and beautiful to me for many years. The messages of Christ – caring for the weak, sitting with the “sinners”, humility, meekness, and peace on earth, goodwill to men – are all values that still resonate with my soul. Instead of celebrating Jesus and Christianity, I celebrate these values and my faith in humanity.
Other people might not even want to celebrate Christmas at all. The sight of menorahs, Kwanzaa feasts, or Christmas trees send them into a string profanity longer than all of the lights in Temple Square. And that’s okay. December is bound to be a traumatizing month for you, so we wish you our heartfelt best. (Pro tip: stay away from Walmart and the Hallmark Channel.)
If you have decided that Christmas is worth celebrating, you need to start incorporating new rituals. Without replacing the things you used to do in the Church with new, positive traditions, you will be more likely to feel lonely, angry, and not give a damn about Tiny Tim on Christmas Eve.
Instead of just talking about Jesus, go act like Jesus and do something good for someone. Sub For Santa, soup kitchens, or other service projects as a family will be much more powerful than a low-budget Christmas performance in the cultural hall.
Spend time with friends and family. Make some mulled wine (absolutely divine) and get your friends together rather than attending the mandatory Relief Society meeting. Play games. Be more authentic. Wear a turtle neck.
Something the Church got right: This is also a time of the year when people’s hearts soften. If your faith transition is anything like mine, you will have some people that are mad or hurt because of your lack of belief. This is the perfect time of the year to show them that you still fundamentally believe in the same values, like plates of Christmas treats and shoveling your neighbor’s driveway.
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. Despite the pain that the Church has caused me, Christmas remains precious to me. That gives me a lot of hope, and reminds me that no matter how big of an influence the Church was in my life, the Church wasn’t me. The things I do to celebrate might be different, but the things that make me happy at Christmas are still the same. The Church doesn’t have a monopoly on my happiness, and it certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on my Christmas.
Zorp bless us, every one!