AI: On Christmas


Coming from a deeply Catholic family, Christmas has been a big deal since I can remember. Even though I have never ever been particularly fond of religious traditions, I’ve always cherished it, the one day a year when the whole approximately 40-components-big family gets together with an spectacular amount of good food and good will. That has always been what Christmas meant: family, food, nice things said and done. I guess it sort of approached what Thanksgiving represents for the countries that celebrate it. My whole life, this is what I meant when I wished anyone a “Merry Christmas”.

This year, though, I found myself unable to wish that to anyone. I’m not sure what exactly triggered this complete change of mindset – although I can name more than a few personal experiences that changed the way I relate to my family and to my life – but this year I have been painfully aware of the religious implications of celebrating Christmas. And even though I participated in the family festivities, I still have not said “Merry Christmas” to anyone (besides my girlfriend, because she had to face her own particular family hell, and a friend whose birthday is today).

Christmas and every other family gathering have changed to mean tension between everybody else’s beliefs and my lack of them. And I’m finding it extremely hard to harmonize the part of me that wants to still be a part of this huge, crazy, awesome family and the part of me that doesn’t find the family too awesome anymore for what they believe in and how those beliefs hurt me most of the time. Religion ruined Christmas for me.

I guess what I’m trying to ask you is:

How does religion affect your holidays? How does family affect your holidays? What does December 25th mean to you, if it means anything at all?

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm ET.

(I’m suddenly very aware I’m ignoring other religions’ takes on December 25th, but keep in mind pretty much everyone I know is Catholic – and about 65% of the whole Brazilian population, too, so this is only a reflection of my own reality. I never used “Happy Holidays” until about last year.)

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  1. I was raised Methodist, and am fortunate enough to have parents on the progressive end of that denomination with whom I can be honest about my (lack of) religion and the gender of my significant other. Even still, we’re in the bible belt, and the general populace here tends to be very aggressive about the so-called ‘reason for the season.’

    Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy holidays’ in the last couple of years has reached a level of passive-aggressive weight here that’s frankly pretty ridiculous.

    I enjoy spending time with my immediate family and appreciate that the holiday is an excuse to do so (good food and presents don’t hurt, either)… but I dread having to interact with much of my extended family because I am asked to ‘keep the peace.’ (Translation: don’t ‘flaunt’ my atheism or my sexuality.)

    (I have a terrible sense of filial duty, and thus secretly hope that one of my more conservative relatives will start something that my mother can’t get too mad at me for responding to. Some of them could really use a reminder that they’re not always surrounded by people who think like they do.)

    I should *probably* just eat lots of cookies and be glad I don’t get asked to go to church with them anymore.

  2. Family is tough, especially when you get religion and politics involved. This year was actually the first time in almost a decade that I managed to have an actually enjoyable visit with family, with no fighting or tears on anyone’s part.

    I’ve learned that there are some members of my family whose minds are simply never going to change, and that the holidays (with all their associated stresses) are not the time to be changing minds anyways. I try to walk away from discussions that are just going to end in tears and screaming. I carefully select which gatherings to attend (I have a gathering-prone family, and could easily attend 10 or 12 different family dinners and events during December if I so chose), and avoid certain relatives with whom I have real difficulty getting along (by not going to things being hosted at their homes, and by deliberately placing myself far away from them should we end up in the same place at someone else’s home). My family are all aware of the tensions, and so I’ve recruited some allies — my brother will call me into another room if he sees I’m trapped in conversation with someone I can’t deal with, for example.

    Obviously there are some things that can’t just be glossed over. I refuse to tell lies, even in the name of family harmony, so if nosy relatives insist on pushing me about my dating life or my religion, I’ll be truthful and brief and completely honest, while trying to keep my language non-confrontational and my attitude casual. I won’t attend church. I don’t say grace at the start of meals (I just sit quietly while it’s being said). If someone insists on getting in my face about it, I try to be as calm as possible and say something like “I really don’t think this is the sort of thing we should be discussing right now”. And again, recruiting allies has helped: if my siblings see me being pushed about a topic, they’ll jump into the discussion with a topic change and do their best to save me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But by setting the tone and keeping my own temper in check (a hard thing to do; I’m a passionate person), I can avert 90% of the problems without feeling that I’ve betrayed my own beliefs and self.

    This isn’t to say that I’m not working on changing beliefs and finding new allies within my own family. I’ve just decided that the holidays are not the time for doing this. It’s a stressful enough time without bringing drama into it. So I deliberately ignore as much as I possibly can, and instead throw all of my focus and my energy into enjoying the great food and the time with the relatives who I do get along with.

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