My Christmas Exorcism

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We asked you for heartwarming atheist Christmas stories, and you responded!

This one is by Joy Reece.


I used to not celebrate Christmas at all – as someone who doesn't believe in the religious story behind it, I didn't see the point.  My parents were Evangelical Christians who didn't tell us about Santa Claus because they wanted to keep our focus on Jesus and his birth during Christmas time.  (I also remember them saying once that they worried that if we believed in Santa, and found out he wasn't real, we might think the same was true about God.)  For us, Christmas was strictly a religious holiday.

The problem was, I had always fostered doubts about the religion I was raised in – partly because I was a smart kid and none of it ever really made sense to me, and partly because the church we went to was just so strange.
When my mom was pregnant with me, my church's pastor prophesied that I would be a boy, so that's what my parents planned for until they were surprised by my being born a girl.  Our fellow churchgoers would talk in tongues, and when I refused to fake being possessed by the Holy Spirit and flop on the floor muttering gibberish like the other kids did, they laid hands on me to shoo Satan away.  

Just like an exorcism.

With such a radical religious foundation, it's no wonder that my apostasy was extreme.  Once I decided to leave the church, I wanted nothing to do with Christianity, including celebrating Christmas.  As a teenager, I would stay home alone as my family went to celebrate the holiday with relatives. It was lonely, but I felt that I needed to make a principled stand.

As I've grown up, though, and created a family of my own, my feelings about Christmas have dramatically shifted. Now I play secular Christmas music all month long, go overboard decorating the house, cry through dozens of Christmas movies and even host family for Christmas morning breakfast. Why the change?  Well, I had already let go of the version of Christmas I was raised with: it wasn't about the virgin birth or the three wise men for me anymore.  In our society, Christmas has evolved such that it has almost nothing to do with Bible stories anyway – where in that book do they mention reindeer, mistletoe, snowmen, decorated trees or gingerbread houses?  It is, however, an important time of the year to everyone I love, and they missed celebrating with me as much as I missed connecting with them.  As I have slowly let go of my anger about the way I was raised, I have been able to instead embrace the truth behind why I was raised that way: because my family loves me. They may have been very misguided, and we still occasionally argue about that, but once a year I love to get in the spirit of celebrating ending one year and starting a new one, the turn in the seasons and days getting longer, the spirit of Christmas all around us, and most of all, the people I love. 

For my family, who remains deeply religious, their celebrations signify something different than what they do for me, but we can still enjoy spending this time together.  I have a sister who is a Poor Clare nun (how a couple of Evangelical Christians ended up raising an atheist and the most extreme type of nun is a story for another time) and I know that for her and my other family members, it is difficult to accept that I don't share their feelings about Christmas.  It's equally difficult for me to accept that they haven't snapped out of it and realized that the Christmas story they believe is a bunch of hogwash.  Since we can't change each other, though, I have now decided to enjoy reveling in this season of peace and joy together with them, regardless of our disparate reasons for celebrating, and every year I enjoy it more and more.

Written By: Joy Reece
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