Non-Religious Celebration of Christmas


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!"]

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.



I have been writing this piece for over a month now; both in my head and on my laptop!
why I love America

I really should get it off the laptop and out-to-print because everyday, I find another reason to add to my initial intent of writing this piece on What I love About America.

Trust me, I will be the first to admit that I don’t take so kindly to that “American Exceptionalism” hullabaloo. I growled all throughout Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s so Great About America (2012), yet I read it till the end. Nothing against this Mumbia, Indian-born naturalized American; I simply could not take down easily his blind ululations of America, louder than the natives. The fact that he celebrates some of America’s bigotry against its own populations; blaming African Americans for passing off racism as Black cultural problem; and endorsing a war against muslim populations in America and around the globe, did not sit too comfortably with me. Nor that old tired cliché of America, “the freest, greatest, most decent society in the world…an oasis of goodness in a desert of cynicism and barbarism” . C’mon! Give me a break on that as well!

But to hell with D’Souzza! True, I am an immigrant just like him. Yet, I have my own humble significant way of confessing the love I have for this country, without going overboard with labeling all other oases out there as barbaric. There is beauty in many places…even in the dry desert -there is an oasis!
Here are a couple of things  that particularly stand out for me, and give me cause to celebrate this, my country by immigration, from my country of birth – Uganda
1. As an avid runner, I can do so along the highways [well that was until I got ‘accosted by a traffic cop] and street roads, without a fear that a motorist would run me over. And while listening to music plugged into my ears. Granted, there are a couple of obnoxious drivers who would not move into the middle lane to let you navigate on the “barely-there” side walk/runs. Though, I often excuse those as perhaps absent-minded drivers or just not that into runners
2. As a food-conscious/health-conscious, I love having plenty of options of non-meat products, non-wheat products and non-diary, all consciously prepared and packaged. True, perhaps that this is possible in Uganda, but the invasion of foreign consumption is killing all things healthy about eating in Uganda. Monsanto is spreading its GMO seed deep into the rural-most farming areas of the country, thanks to “researchers eager for “The green Benjamins at the top academic institutions in the country”. And now healthy eating is as expensive as it is here in America. I would not be able to get almond milk, either!
3. The opportunity for Free K-12 Education, however abysmal it might fare in comparison to other industrialized countries. I love the interactive, open and explorative nature of learning here in America. I hope the new Dept of Ed strategic plans do not kill America’s experimental learning style, in the name of competing with other industrialized countries. Clearly, rote learning and standardized testing is NOT all there is about learning.
4. The availability of free wi-fi everywhere, including on Greyhound! I found out recently while traveling on the “GoTo Bus”[a franchise of Greyhound, maybe?] from Boston to New York that I do not fade away if I step away from my reliable internet connection. I was connected till my final destination.
5. The “every excuse to have a BIG Sale each month”: January is New Years; February is Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day; March is St Patrick’s Day; April is Easter Eggs and Bunny Rabbit; May is Mothers Day and Memorial Day; June is Fathers Day; July is July 4th; August is Back to School Weekend; September is Labor Day; October is Halloween; November is Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Weekend; and December Christmas. I know “Sale” sounds so cliché and consumerist….but as long as I can get 60% off $200.00 Calvin Klein boots, with a $25 coupon for $50 or more spent, I will take it!
6. For the endless festivities, each celebrated in a style that gives one a true sense of what it means to belong to a nation (July 4), a culture (Thanksgiving) or a legend (Halloween). Until I became a mother of a little America, I never fully appreciated the joy of taking a toddler in a “Captain America” suit, on a trick-or-treat around the neighborhood with other kids picking up candy door-to-door that he did not even, once ask for the morning after!
7. For the spirit of voluntarism and giving that brings people together, reaching out to strangers far and near, whether serving up meals at soup kitchens, bake sales fundraisers for a child’s school library project, running for cancer or just lining the streets to show love and appreciation for the veterans.
8. The migration of cultures into this geographical space from different backgrounds, each fusing their identity with the American experience, while retaining and celebrating each one’s origin. We enjoy being proved wrong about the “melting pot” concept.
9. The “Fast-lane” American life. Everything can be picked up quick: Get rich quick, drive-through pharmacy, drive-through movie, drive-through food, drive-through liquor, drive through all and everything. Now, you can sit comfortably at your home computer, order on-line, and pick up at your neighborhood store, without getting troubled with searching in-store. Did I say, America invented “home delivery too”?
10. Oh! Did I mention the celebreality of America? Anybody can become a celebrity tomorrow, in this country, with no hereditary kings and queens. They are made on TV. Even the dull and dumb can have a TV show…and make plenty of money from it. While this might sound ‘unintelligent”, it is the reason why Americans are always creative and inventing. As I always say, you can be ANYTHING you want in America…and there is a job for everyone in America: a dog walker, a rail truck artist, a tattoo artist…anything you like.