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Atheistic Parenting and XMas

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Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby nutria » Thu Apr 19, 2012 1:30 pm

Reading through the atheism thread, an interesting idea popped up. Specifically, atheistic parents. Ms. nutria & I have no children, but have had hypothetical conversations about having them. We're in agreement that we wouldn't push any theism on our hypothetical kid, the reason being that life is tough enough without your parents drilling irrationality into you before you're equipped to defend yourself. Continuing on, we had to ask -- "where do you stop?" In particular, what do you say about Santa Claus? I can imagine being happy about the little shit machine's smiles every December 25th, but I'll admit to feeling torn about Santa.

So, parents (particularly the non-believers among you) -- thoughts, experiences, etc.?
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby kurt_w » Thu Apr 19, 2012 1:51 pm

Good question.

In a purely practical sense, I wonder how much of an issue this really is? All the children I've observed seemed to have just naturally clued in to the purely mythological nature of Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, very early on, without any particular prompting from their parents. In my own daughter's case, we gave her the traditional stories about SC, EB, and TF, but I honestly can't think of any time, no matter how young, when she didn't seem to understand that it was basically a game (and one she enjoys playing).

Are there really kids out there who are shocked to learn that There Is No Santa?

Beyond that, we've taken a pretty ambiguous attitude towards the religious side of Christmas. When we have Christmas with the grandparents, we'll all go to church on Xmas eve, we sing religiously themed carols, etc.

On the other hand, we've also exposed her to things that contradict that message. I think one big influence was when we watched the full series of Carl Sagan's Cosmos videos. Ever since then she's taken a decidedly empirical and skeptical nature.

Dunno if that's the kind of response you were looking for...
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby nutria » Thu Apr 19, 2012 2:44 pm

Kurt -- yep, I am looking mostly for anecdotal answers, since this is a question I have no reason to have any intuition for, and thanks for the thoughtful reply.

Your points about the practicality of it all and kids not being terribly surprised about SC's non-existence are particularly helpful.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby seashells » Thu Apr 19, 2012 3:44 pm

Good luck trying NOT to include Santa in any Christmas celebrations. One of my sisters tried this for a few years, but, exposed to Santa at every turn (TV specials, Christmas decorations, and most importantly, peers insistent on his existence), her daughters flatly refused to believe that there might not be a Santa and insisted he would be coming for a visit Christmas Eve.

We kind of slid into it with our own kids - Santa was a tradition we'd grown up with, it was fun, it was not really traumatic to discover the "real truth," and it seemed the kind of rite of passage we wanted to share with our kids. It's been fun. It's sweet and light and when the time came, it was a nice lesson in critical thinking and figuring things out for themselves.

The bigger question for me was: why are we, an atheist family, celebrating Christmas in the first place? My own answer is that we are honoring a tradition and using it as a time to gather with family, eat delicious and rarely-prepared foods, and give gifts to each other because we love each other and it's fun to choose things you think will make another person happy.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby kurt_w » Thu Apr 19, 2012 3:55 pm

seashells wrote:It's been fun. It's sweet and light and when the time came, it was a nice lesson in critical thinking and figuring things out for themselves.

The bigger question for me was: why are we, an atheist family, celebrating Christmas in the first place? My own answer is that we are honoring a tradition and using it as a time to gather with family, eat delicious and rarely-prepared foods, and give gifts to each other because we love each other and it's fun to choose things you think will make another person happy.

Yes, that's very much my take on it. Celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday if you want, or boycott it, or just honor it for its traditional (non-theological) side ... whatever you prefer. It's all good. (Well, except for Bill O'Reilly's campaign to politicize Christmas...).
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby snoqueen » Thu Apr 19, 2012 4:17 pm

As I've said, I was raised in family where one parent was religious and came from a religious background and the other was a nonbeliever and came from generations of nonbelievers.

At our own home, we followed the practice used the rest of the year: we did it my mother's way and my dad cooperated but stayed out of the religious ceremonies. They'd agreed on this before we were born, apparently, and it was perfectly OK.

Visiting my religious grandparents, we went to church at Christmas and read the Christmas story out of the Bible before dinner and the whole nine yards with lots of ethnic accents. This side of the family (my mom's) loved my dad and respected his choice to step aside from the religious part. We also had Santa.

At my nonreligious grandparents' we just had Santa. There were fewer people on that side of the family so it was a quieter occasion but still nice. I think we were there the year I lay awake upstairs and heard the grownups arranging Santa's presents under the tree and I said to myself "Yep, I thought so." I played along the next morning so my little sister wouldn't find out quite yet.

All of this seemed perfectly normal to me because kids simply follow along with what the grownups are doing, and our grownups were doing what they did naturally, without a lot of overthinking.

If I had kids I think I'd have made more of a solstice thing out of the holiday season, since personally I enjoy marking the earliest setting of the sun and tracking sunbeams in my house and yard at different times of year. My dad painted lines on the basement floor in his old house marking the lowest and highest reaches of the sun through the basement windows. I didn't know about these until after he died, when the people who bought that house asked what certain marks meant. I knew right away when I saw them, and it was so interesting to realize that without being shown, I'd done the same thing by carving marks in the porch floor at my own house.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby Henry Vilas » Thu Apr 19, 2012 4:25 pm

Festivus for the rest of us.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby ilikebeans » Thu Apr 19, 2012 4:29 pm

I vividly recall realizing the ruse when I recognized my dad's handwriting on a note attached to a particular Santa gift. I think I was a little disappointed, but it was when I was realizing all sorts of disappointing things about life in general, so no biggie. Plus, it wasn't a mean-spirited trick, unlike, say, much of grade school.

My brother's kids tried to catch us hiding Easter eggs this year (ages 7 and 9). They at least strongly suspect, if not outright know.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby peripat » Thu Apr 19, 2012 4:44 pm

Whether or not they were christian the western world always had seasonal festivals. The fact that the church adopted them does not mean no one else can use them.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Thu Apr 19, 2012 5:14 pm

I think I figured out there was no tooth fairy when I was around 8, but I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut for another couple of years so I could keep cashing in. And honestly, I thought it was adorable that Mom would make a phone call to tell the fairy to please come visit that night. (Tangentially-related question: What's the going rate for a tooth these days? I seem to recall mine fetched me somewhere in the 50 cents to a dollar range.)

Raised Jewish, I was never led to believe there was a Santa or Easter Bunny in the first place, so I can't really speak to that, except to say that all you parents may think your kids are figuring it out for themselves, but I shattered a whole lot of kids' dreams on the playground, so don't be too sure.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby seashells » Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:51 pm

Oh, Prof, you were a mean kid! In my experience, though, if a kid isn't ready to give up Santa Claus, that kid won't believe you, anyway. I saw it with my own children and I remember my brother trying to convince me that Santa wasn't real (actually, when that happened I was in the "pretty suspicious, but not entirely sure and wanting to believe" stage); belief trumps logic until the kid is ready to accept it. That may not be univerally true, though.

A story that amuses me to no end: my son, feeling smug in his having figured out the Tooth Fairy, told his sister flat out: "The Tooth Fairy is Mom." Her response, after a quiet moment or two: "Nu-unh. Mom can't get to all those houses."
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby Detritus » Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:58 pm

I was brought up completely unchurched--my father was too curious about everything to stick with what he had been baptized as, and my mother simply didn't care about religion. We celebrated Christmas with a tree and presents and Christmas morning breakfast and so forth. We celebrated Easter with candy and chocolate bunnies and an egg hunt (we blew out the eggs and filled them with candy), although that stopped when we got the first dog. But anyway, nothing to do with religion--it's a seasonal holiday.

I don't remember ever "believing" in Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, or God for that matter. Why would I? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, yes, but also, what's the compelling reason to believe? Did I enjoy my Christmas presents less knowing from the get-go that my parents and other relatives bought them? Of course not, and in fact knowing that got me wanting to give presents to them. Did I enjoy Easter's sugar-shock less knowing that everything came from A&P? I got a similar sugar-shock at Hallowe'en without supernatural intervention; why would Easter be any different?

Too many people seem to regard belief as the default state, with disbelief (or lack of interest) as the thing the requires a reason. That's not how I was raised--yet I managed to enjoy life anyway. Go figure.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby gargantua » Thu Apr 19, 2012 9:42 pm

I went to a Catholic school when I was a kid. Did it all...choir boy, altar boy, Advent, Lent. I enjoyed those rituals and remember them fondly. I came around to being an atheist a little later in life, but I still celebrate Christmas as a pagan holiday, and because the current consumerist culture makes it hard to avoid anyway.

The point is, I was as indoctrinated as indoctrinated can be, and yet it was not difficult to come to my own conclusions about faith as I got older. So I wouldn't worry about giving your hypothetical children the wrong ideas. Give them the information as objectively as you can, and they'll figure out for themselves what value/belief system works best for them.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby wallrock » Fri Apr 20, 2012 9:44 am

I also grew up completely unchurched, with my mother remaining nominally Christian and my father, my sister and me all agnostic/atheist. I went to church out of curiosity a few times as a kid and a few more times involuntarily with my maternal grandparents but a belief in a god never took with me. However I do recall believing the the Tooth Fairy and Santa. I realized my father was the TF around the time I proudly showed my mother the crisp $1 bill I'd received and she immediately mouthed "Too Much" to him. My mother is very cheap and her going rate was a quarter. Santa was a victim to the older kids on the school bus. I remember being told right before winter break and immediately switching my position on the matter to align with the cool older kids. Doubts did persist however, so on Christmas Eve I stayed up as late as I could manage and set out a pile of Matchbox cars by my parents' bedroom door. My father's cursing an hour later dispelled any remaining doubts I had, though in hindsight my experiment failed to take into account all the Christmas Eve wine.
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Re: Atheistic Parenting and XMas

Postby Marvell » Fri Apr 20, 2012 12:04 pm

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