An Atheist's Christmas

By Allyssia Alleyne

I have an unabashed love of Christmas. I love the lights, the decorations, and the decked-out trees. I love buying gifts and the artery-clogging holiday dinners. I love Christmas music (everything from “Little Saint Nick” to “Silent Night”), Christmas specials, and the excitement that surrounds this time of year. I love that it brings my family together and gives them a chance to appreciate and love each other.  Oh, and I’ve never grown tired of that story about the birth of Jesus and the wise men and the salvation of mankind.

I am not, however, religious. In fact, I don’t even consider myself a Christian.

Growing up, Christmas was always a big deal. We did the presents and the decorations and the big dinners. We also talk about Jesus and grace and salvation, and sometimes go to church. But in spite of my personal beliefs—I’m agnostic—I can’t imagine turning my back on this part of our celebrations because of how closely Christianity is entwined with my West Indian/South American background.

For most of my family, their faith is a big deal. When I go off about my problems, I’m always told that prayer will help solve them. My nana’s house is covered with plaques and needlepoint canvases declaring prayers and proverbs, and just this morning, one of my Catholic uncle’s religious tweets showed up on my timeline. My grandparents still head out to church religiously (pun intended), as do my mother and her husband. Because the church is where the action happens. It’s a gathering place not only for worship, but also for sharing everything from food to gossip, and socializing. It’s also one of the easiest ways to meet people from similar backgrounds and experiences. I remember going to my grandfather’s church in Montreal when I was a kid, and being amazed by the number of people who shared his thick Bajan accent. The church is more of a meeting place for immigrant Canadians than any city-run community centre.

Some of my non-believer friends laugh at those as devout as my relatives, and denounce their beliefs and practices as foolish, out-dated and plebeian. I typically pass on the condescension. I don’t much care about what others choose to believe unless they engage me in a conversation about it, and spreading the gospel of non-belief doesn’t interest me. Maybe it’s because my Christian upbringing didn’t leave me scarred, immature or unable of critical thought. (In fact, I learned recitation and public speaking the time I had to memorize Psalm 23 for Sunday school, and my first mildly philosophical debate was over the role of the Devil in Christianity when I was in grade school. And honestly, backpacking through Europe would have been nowhere near as exciting had I not been exposed to so much of the Bible.)

Tonight my mum’s side may or may not head to church for some sort of service since the church is closed tomorrow. If not, we’ll just settle for an extended grace complete with the usual “amens” interjected from across the table. A small part of me wants to roll my eyes and stay home, but once again I’ll just go with it for the sake of tradition and culture. Besides, it makes my family happy to have me involved with their celebrations. I don’t think you need to believe in Jesus to take pleasure in that.