Christmas for the Non-Religious is About Love, Peace and the Right to Believe in Just That
With Thanksgiving behind us, we feel the spirit is on now, and all we can say is, "Bring it!"
I will slide the patio doors open and hit the storage closet, from which she and I will haul out the box that contains our 5-foot tall, plastic Canadian fir, along with bags of ornaments, garland and strings of tiny, shiny multi-colored lights.
And, just like it's done in so many American households, we're going to make the experience a festive one. This means that, as we trim our tree, we're going to sing, laugh and, in our case, sweat like pigs, crank the AC and guzzle down a pitcher of icy cold lemonade (insert extra lip smacking for emphasis, please).
When we're finished, we'll fall back into the couch, pat ourselves on the backs for a job well done and smile contentedly as the miniature lights glow within their little nests of silver garland. We'll be as happy as elves, dressed in our tank tops and shorts, and though it's far from a winter wonderland here in the tropics, it works for us. And isn't that what matters?
The holiday season is all about family, love, awesome food and, of course, the giving and receiving of gifts. Whether you're devoted to the religious paths that accompany the origins of these holidays or not, one thing most of us have in common is a love for the good, warm atmosphere of holiday spirit.
So, the question is, "What is this spirit, if it's not religious?"
The spirit is love. For those of us who don't believe in religion, this is the top of the line. Love and peace are what we believe in. I would like to think this is a universal truth -- something that unites us all.
My daughter and I are non-religious. I was raised in New York City, where, every Christmas, my also non-religious parents would put up a beautiful, real tree for us kids. Reluctantly, my Russian-born, Zionist grandparents came to accept that, as a family, enjoying an annual bowl of matzo ball soup was about as Jewish as this second generation American gang was ever going to get.
Truth was, for third-generation me, I just couldn't get into any of it. Judaism, Taoism, Christianity, Hinduism, Paganism, Islam -- I studied them all. I took the good stuff from the good books, and added it to my list of "Things That Enhance My Life." The religions, though? Nah. Not for me.
As for my daughter, under the guidance of her father, she attended many, many Sunday church services. And, after several years of experiencing the teachings, rituals and community, she, too, came to the same conclusion about religion: "It's just not for me." Must be genetic.
My Zionist grandfather once said, "God is not in the business of religion." Those were pretty strong words, being that they came from a man who stowed away on a ship in order to escape religious persecution. But he held on to the tenets of his religion throughout his entire life, and, for this, I will always recognize him as a holy man. It didn't matter that I was destined for a different path. What mattered was that he found what he was looking for, in his own way.
There's a common misconception about people who are non-religious. We're not rebelling against religion, nor are we lost souls, waiting for redemption. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Every day, our hearts are filled to the brim with the gratitude we have for nature's gifts, for our lives together, for our beautiful animals, for our health and happiness.
When my daughter shoots me that secret smile that tells me all that's on her mind? That's when I know the meaning of love. When I push her hair behind her ear and gently kiss her forehead? That's when she knows the meaning of love. When, cats sitting by our sides, we all watch a movie together? That's when we know love.
Love is what we believe in. Love is all.
My kid and I don't need a religion to make us believe in what comes so naturally on its own. If you're religious and your faith lightens your load, then you are, indeed, in the presence of greatness. If your beliefs make you feel love, then more power to you. And, if you can embrace and respect a world built on difference and variety, then you are the love you seek.
Let me put it this way: If truth is beauty and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then the road to truth is a personal path. For my daughter and me, that path is love. And, on this path, we respect the planet, animals, human intelligence, human spirituality, ourselves and everything that is different from us.
For some, the holidays come with a religious aspect. For others, it has nothing to do with religion, whatsoever. And, in the same way that my daughter and I still can have a great celebration without snow or hot chocolate, we also can enjoy the splendors of the holiday season without religion.
What's not to love?
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.