Non-Religious Celebration of Christmas

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I never thought I would willingly and consciously arrange for Child of Mine to celebrate Christmas at my own volition. Not since I quit organized religion umpteen years ago! But, that is before I became a parent.

Before I realized that parenting is a totally new era in one’s life; of undoing one’s beliefs and comfort zone. Before I realized that parenting is not about you!

This year, I am gonna let Child of Mine experience a Christmas celebration, as part of my parenting.

On one hand, parenting is scripted. There are tons of books for new parents – the indisputable What to Expect series, starts When You’re Expecting…going all the way into the Second Year. It is so influential, that it was ‘canonized’ into a movie released in 2012, starring Cameron Diaz.

The alternative new parenting scripts include lessons that mothers of the Expectant mother/parents eagerly share, either unsolicited or unwelcome. Plus, Old Wives Tales, passed on through generations to expectant mothers and the new parents. Not to forget that, if the expectant parent(s) was/were born around little children — siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews, or friends children, The Parenting Script is available through first-hand observation.

Parenting, we tend to think, is easy peezy, right? Plenty of resources —reading all the books, listening to ‘experts’ advice and watching other parents! You swear to an entire Parenting Script of NEVERS!

- You vow never to repeat the ‘mistakes’ other parents commit against their children. 
- You will not allow an unruly child in your household. 
- You will not bend your rules to accommodate your child’s needs or demands. 
- You will not introduce your child to any systems of socialization that you do not adhere to, including religion, entertainment, schooling or relationships. 
- You will not babysit a five-year old child!

And many more!

Until one day, you actually become a parent! And wonder, whatever happened to your self-avowed script, the script passed down unto you by parents before you, the script you wrote when you were expecting, and the script you re-wrote as a new parent. Some among us even wrote our own What to Expect: The Birth Plan.

We also had our post-birth parenting scripted in our heads, laid out well-tested rules and regulations to maintain order, transmit culture and ‘good moral character’ into all children in our household.  Then, one wonder why you are making so many compromises to accommodate your child’s comfort over yours!

But none of the tolerable comforts include intimacy with organized religion or becoming indolent.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not have any problem with the religious. In fact, my best friend – RIP was religious. She is one of the very few people I know, beside my mom, and my mom’s father, that practiced the humanity of religion. She was more human than religious. She was never judgmental, yet she subscribe to the new religious revivalism. The pentecostals, baptists, and the whole nine yard, who scare you and ostracize you, that if you do not convert to JC, you will go to hell fire. Or that Allah is the only true path to afterlife, and there is “Judgement Day”, when everybody is gonna be judged according to their religious practices.

See, I come from a family of multiple religious beliefs. My mother’s father came from a Catholic family, but converted to Protestantism, growing up with a Protestant family. He went on to become a Reverend, serving the Protestant Church. Two of my sisters are married to Muslims; one of my sister’s ex is Catholic; my paternal family has plenty of other religions that I can only relate to old school protestantism and veganism. So, religious pluralism was never an option for me, nor religious tolerance a luxury; it was the humane way of life.

Religiosity is rife in Uganda, where I come from. There is a prevailing expectation that everyone is religious, and anyone who says s/he is not religious —that is— does not subscribe to any of the Judeo-Chiristain or Islamic religions—is often frown upon. Yet, there is a laissez-faire approach to religious tolerance.

It is not uncommon to hear the Catholic church bells toll at the top of the hour, or the Muslim call for prayer every morning and evening. Yet, the loud noise from these places of worship has not caused a societal revolt, but taken for granted as part of social living. To some, like my mother, the morning call for prayer from the neighborhood mosque has served as her wake-up alarm clock, since I was a child. Similar to the morning cock crow in the villages.

But in America and other western societies that count themselves as “civilized,” such loud ‘noise’ cannot be tolerate, as part of social living! Or perhaps there is selective tolerance of noise in different parts. For instance where I live, the church bells doth toll, yet it is unfathomable to imagine a tolerance of the Muslim Call for Prayer!

Exposure is fundamental to nurturing tolerance of others. My siblings and I attended Catholic schools, even though we were raised Protestant. We went along with the Catholic rituals at school—going to mass, reciting the rosary, observing lent period, and anything catholicism required of us.IMG_3347

None of us grew larger or smaller because of practicing a religion outside our beliefs, None of us felt indoctrinated and coopted, because outside school, we were still Protestant and went to Protestant Church. Plus, to reiterate, I have catholic family, whom I love regardless of their religion, and who I do not have the luxury of discriminating against.

Coming to America changed my relationship with religion. I ran away from religion, as soon as it started confusing me. I had never imagined that one can be religious, yet pray and support dropping bombs on others.

I don’t understand religion that welcomes strangers, yet excludes those who do not profess the same religion. I do not understand a religion, that also preaches love, then practices hate and prejudice. I do not understand a religion, where “sisterhood” is built on the notion of religious belief, not family connection or our common humanity!

Although I must say that I have been embraced by some religious communities — among the Mormons, Mennonites and Catholics—whose religious convictions is informed by a sense of community and a shared humans. I have felt very comfortable among them, never felt judged, ostracized or evangelized to, but welcomed and supported as a human being.

Coupled with my upbringing, I have remained open to embrace the religious, and allow my child get a glimpse into the various religions. We participate in religious festivities with family and friends.

But, I am not about to push him into any form of religious indoctrination. I realized that his family was not willing to incorporate him into their religious festivities because of his non-religious status, and stopped trying to get him introduced to their beliefs. On the contrary, my family takes a laissez-faire approach to him or myself, recognizing that we are more than our religious proclamations!

Still, religion is not too far from Child’s mind; he is learning about various religion from school teachers. Forget about separation of church and state, in public schools! We are talking about PA, not in NYC, where a school principal recently banned Santa, The Pledge of Allegiance, replaced Thanksgiving with “Harvest Festival,” and Christmas Celebration with “Winter Celebration!

Recently, curiosity caught the best of my Child,

COM: "Mommy, what is my religion?"
Me: "You don't have a religion."
COM: "Why don't I have a religion?"
Me: "Because I do not have a religion."
COM: "Can you check my DNA and find out what my religion is?"
Me: "So, I can know your religion from your DNA?"
COM: "Yes."
Me: "Child, you are clearly a Pennsylvanian."
COM: "Noooo! I want to be Ugandan."
Me: "Ok, you are that, too!"
[Thinking to self: Oh! It gets worse...Religiosity gets worse in Uganda!"]
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Still, we will not be subscribing to any organized religious gathering or denomination soon! But, we will accept any invitations for celebration. What better time than now in December, when we welcome Santa and his the elves, Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, al bearing gifts on Christmas Day! While we do not put up any trees, decorate or sing carols, he gets opportunities of making trees with his Cub Scout Pack and makes Christmas wreaths and talks about JC in school.

At home, we are making gingerbread cookies, dressing up in green and red, and eagerly await Santa’s gifts under the chimney. I have already taken him around our neighbor to watch Christmas decorations and musical shows stationed in yards. No religious recitals! No religious talk!

And we will spiritually join our family in celebrating Christmas, as they do every year, and the years he was in Uganda. I doubt he remembers the celebrations in Uganda when he was three and four years. I want Child to learn that some people celebrate Christmas because of their religious beliefs. I strongly believe that exposure to religion, or other social experiments/systems, breeds understanding, and breeds religious tolerance.

The religious intolerance, witnessed among some Americas, is symbolic of when religion is treated as an “exclusive club” open only to the believers. Religion in America is largely about exclusion than inclusion of those who do not profess the same faith. Those who convert from one religion to another tend to ridicule the religion they left. Some religious groups are not receptive to curious non-religious, nor encourage partaking in the celebration of customer of other religions.

Contrary to my experience growing up with religion in Uganda. Eid Christmas and Easter are all designated as public holidays. Unlike America, only Christian holidays are accorded public recognition — Christmas is conveniently scheduled as “Winter Break,” and  Easter as “Spring Break,” celebrated as days-off from work, and big shopping weekends at commercial establishments. A few establishments, employers and cities would grant “a day-off” for Muslims to celebrate Eid; in New York City, Jewish holidays and recently the Muslim Eid are designated as days-off in the school calendar. Of course the atheists and satanists aint celebrating all these religious display, in their faces!

But I want my own child growing up, with an understanding that, while mommy is non-religious, some people celebrate religious holidays. I also want him to understand that there is nothing wrong with the religious and non-religious, and none is better or more knowing than the other; they all belong to the same global society.

In fact mommy’s family is religious, and mommy friends who are religious. Mommy’s best friend who died was religious. But Auntie Jude and mommy are not religious.

I want to know that parenting involves setting goals, and exercising flexibility when raising our children as social beings. Most importantly, I want Child to know that what binds us together is our common humanity. We should be good and strive to do good to others, not because we are bound by some religious doctrine or conviction, but because it is the human thing to do.

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Lost In Translation…Between Santa and Religion…

I am revisiting the discussion about parents celebrating with their children, or is it children celebrating with their parents, or parents imposing their will on their children. I am still “Lost in Translation”, not an outcome of feedback I received on my most recent piece parent-children relations, but a feeling of “unfinished business”. I still cannot understand how a parent would expect his/her children’s excitements to be about or around them, not the opposite!
I have heard that, if your message does not come out as you expected, it is most likely because you did not communicate effectively. At least that is agreed upon by those who put the interests of their audience over and above theirs, and are comfortable accepting blame for not being understood. Others would be quick to blame their audience for “not understanding them” or missing the point. I tend to belong to the former, preferably because it helps me grow as a public communicator.
N’way, I still believe that every person has a right to their beliefs, grounded in own social, economic, cultural political or religious understanding. I am comfortable tolerating different belief systems, as part of my commitment to humane social living. I lose nothing by not disagreeing with others about their beliefs. Everybody believes in some unexplained power or authority: buddha, meditation, yoga, running, deity, karma, giving, good luck, prayer, handwork, capitalism, democracy, community, social living, family, religion, or something.
I am a great observer and learner from different belief systems. Though, I steer clear of directly confronting anyone about their belief systems, unless of course they are a source of social injustice and disharmony. I will not hesitate to challenge notions or pronouncements that undermine other forms of social organization or social living, like racism, sexism, ethnocentrism or capitalism. However, I have made my peace, to never engage in arguments about politics or religion with anyone in my circles, who I do not care so much about, but I would not dare to lose. Typically, anyone I regard as an acquaintances or not very close relationship. I am comfortable engaging my family and close friends because of the relationship and trust we have cultivated overtime, which would unlikely end due to religious or politics disagreement.
And while many religious followers often emphasize that their faith embodies love, peace and hope, on the contrary, I have experienced religion as a source of high social exclusion, intolerance and self-centeredness. Many religious believers preoccupy themselves with convincing you that their way is right, righteous and loving, while implicitly judging your [alternative or non-religious] beliefs and lifestyle choices. I was once told that I would not pass the test on “Judgement Day” [whenever and wherever that would be], because I have no religious backbone to lean on, other than my belief in humanity. I have sat down with a religious family, where one stated in my face that a child born out of wedlock brings great shame to the family. I was also scolded for privileging “Santa” over “Jesus Christ”! I could not be more misunderstood than in the last incidence!
For those who know me, I do not subscribe to “organized belief system”, except perhaps my cultural affinity as a Muganda. Even then, I pick and choose what works in different situations. I do not subscribe to most fantasies either, like Santa, dead people or nativity. Put more appropriately, I ceased subscribing to such fantasies, the more I learned about the world. Then I became a mother, and my ‘mystical-free world’ made a u-Turn. Now I sit through TV or Video shows of action figures, ninjas, anime; open myself up to learn about fictional characters through books, outdoor activities or tales from my child. Sometimes I am tasked by my little one to research facts about all sorts of characters in videos, TV and children’s reading books, or listen to long and windy stories that I have no interest in, but because that’s “What’s hot in the KidZone”!
Lately, I am a victim of the expectation to honor all sorts of celebrations and holidays that were never of any interest to me in my solo world. For my son’s birthday, I have to come up with cakes of all shapes, sizes and toppings from what fascinates him at the time. I have directed the production of cakes that look like Lightning McQueen, fire-spitting dinosaur or Sonic the Hedgehog. For Halloween, I lost the right to present him with a costume of my choice, such as Curious George custome for his first year. Now, it has to be either Ben10, Captain America, Ninja Turtles or some other Ninja, in addition to coming up with a costume for myself, per his request.
For Christmas, he does not care whether I give him any presents. My presents are highly expected and appreciated any other time, except Christmas, when it is “Santa” comes down the chimney with presents from his workshop in the North Pole. While I do not worship at the altar of Christmas, I have to ensure that gifts are purchased, wrapped, and left under the chimney the night before Christmas, so that he wakes up to the magical giving for that kindhearted mysterious creature. While others might find their mystery through God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Jehovah or Messiah, to many children, it is the Tooth Fairy, Ninja Turtles, Sonic or Santa. Mysteries help children cast their imaginations far and wide, expanding their brain power to dream big, and that is why I support my son in fully experiencing them.
So, do not demand that your child’s fantastic mysteries be about you or what you believe to be the “perfect or acceptable mysteries”. Allow them to create their own mysteries, and support their ability to enjoy their mysteries. Until such a time when their world view changes, when they will learn that there is more to life than mystical characters and fantasies. Social living involves thinking beyond oneself, accommodating everyone’s belief systems and lifestyles, which might one day have to be their own children!

Christmas for the non-religous

I stopped celebrating Christmas as a religious event, about ten or more years ago. I cannot exactly recall. But I still observe it as communion with my family, friends and the community of love and friendships that I am fortunate to receive.

My fall out with religion happened after I came to the United States years ago, once I slowly realized that the religions that were taught to me growing up  – Protestant and Pentecostal – and the words of the Bible taught to me, were in fact, not exactly universal.
See, plenty of us in Africa met Christianity through the words, eyes and color of a white man, who was also the color of the savior (JC), the preachers (colonial missionaries), and the doer (political administrator) and giver of good things, blessings and alms (the humanitarian worker). So, we believed all the words the whiteman said that the bible said, and saw only goodness of the white man. Stories claimed that the white preachers and missionaries in Africa drank beer while reprimanding their African followers for committing sin by drinking alcohol. But we thought the Africans who spread such stories were haters of the white man, who would burn in hell on judgement day. Well, Christianity is all about Heaven v Hell or JC v the world. So, there are only two options for us all.  The preachings I consumed enjoined us not to associate with people who did not believe in JC because they were evil and would lead us astray. We listened and lived by that, sacrilegiously. So, as a keen and active follower of JC, I stayed away from drinking alcohol or smoking, except for the years I fell out of god’s path and sinned.Once I fell back onto the right path of christian living, I resumed the “godly” ways. No alcohol, no smoking, no talking terrible about others, no fornication, no supporting war.
Then, when I came to America, I was confused when I met preachers and others who confessed Christianity drinking, smoking, engaging in adultery, fornication, and supporting, blessed and fighting wars. My christian heart was broken! Still, I kept my Christian friends, and went to their gatherings whenever invited, although with growing skepticism. The more I began to identify with the black experience in America, read about the history of black folks in America, and how the white man dehumanized, humiliated, murdered, tortured them, simply for the color of their skin, I became disgusted with all things white. Moreover, because Christianity is closely associated with the white man, whose white skin is the pervasive color of god and JC, and who brought it to the lands of my origin, the white man and his inventions brought a sour taste in my mouth. Notice I am using whiteman, because “the man” not “woman” was indeed purveyor of colonialism and its relatives – Christianity, European education.
Thankfully, the many years of traveling and living around the world and here in America, have allowed me to transcend that hatred and bitterness  for the white man. I have made friends and great relationships with plenty of white men, who come in multiple layers, some without a religion of practice. They identify either as atheists, scientologists, muslims, yogis or nothing at all. They are humans and believe in a world fair to others. In any case, there is no black struggle that has not involved everyday white folks, using their position and privilege to support a movement for justice and human dignity.
Still, I have developed a great disdain for organized religion, and prefer not to label myself anything. “Humanity” would pass as my religion, since we were humans before we were any religion. While I have completely dropped religion, I still allow myself the opportunity to accept others who believe and associate with religion. I strongly believe it is not my job to judge whether one is right or wrong, as long as their actions do not infringe upon my right to be. I am an out-of-the-box person – the way I dress, speak, think and live my life. I like to challenge myself, without being boxed into “normalcy” or anybody else’s expectations. While my female friends were signed onto the epidural even before they got pregnant, I practiced kegels, did meditation, squats, walking and all natural stretches during my pregnancy, so I could deliver my baby natural with no drugs administered. In my running group, I was the only “SHE” who went for the 42.2 KM full marathon. So, I live the life of dare to dream; dare to be different; dare to excel.
So, I will not stop or condemn everyone I do not agree with. Everyone has a right to be here!
In the words of Vanessa Williams……
You think you own wherever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name
My early years in America, it was possible to skip Christmas day because I live on my own without my family or partner. Simple, I stayed  at home, did not switch on TV or radio, watch movies, ate popcorn, typed away on my laptop, went jogging and slept. But in my post-home internet and Facebook age, how can I run away from that inconvenient truth? Especially now that I am with a toddler who loves and strongly believes in everything PBS for Kids? True, I have let him watch PBS, ever since l found out that he learns from it. How can I keep him away from the joys of waiting for Santa to down the chimney, when all his classmates talk about Santa, his class projects including drawing and coloring a christmas tree and Curious George talks about Santa.
Whereas I am not going to celebrate Christmas as a religion, I am still going to honor my son, my family and friends who have over the years invited me to be in their midst to partake of their joy with them, without pushing me to go to church or say prayers. I am sure they are still uncomfortable with my nonreligious stand, but they have come to grips with it. And I have no problem contributing to communal celebrations with food, drinks and gifts. It is a family tradition.
Last night, before my son went to bed, I showed him the chimney where Santa climbs down and delivers gifts. I have not said much more…or that, “only kids on good behavior receive gifts from santa”, because I do not want to “bribe” him nor program his good behavior to being rewarded with gifts.
In response to a FB friend, who wrote that those who celebrate Christmas are honoring a pagan event, promoting consumerism, believe in the falsehood of the Christmas tree, are cosmetizing their sins, and buying into the illusionary santa. I wrote this. response:
“Lol! I thought you spared me from this list….since I:
1) worship at only my altar; 
2) think about my family 365/366 days; 
3) I am without sin; 
4) have no green thumb - trees don't want me to plant them; 
5) my religion is humanity!
 
But then, i kinda fell short on consumerism and sharing"... Lol..and here's my excuseYes, I have a chimney, and I am that "fat man"...I am slim and slender and fit perfectly through my 
chimney ....I make no mention nor explanation of Xmas whatsoever! In fact, he does not remember 
celebrating Xmas with my family in Uganda last year! So, I want to give my son a chance to keep 
imagining and fantasizing. To keep dreaming.. So, he can form innovations in his head...and can become an inventor at 6 years old...make toys, make that machine that he has promised me, that stops the 
snow from falling...and so, I let him imagine tooth fairy exists, as does Halloween...lol again"
For that reason, I let santa down the chimney last night, and left a package. Once my son wakes up, he will be thrilled to check and find something for him.
Dream on Babe, dream on! Santa came to your chimney! And when you wake up, go re-invent the world, as you promised.. It is your Wonderland! 
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