I am an atheist.
I was raised Christian, I suppose. But we didn’t do things like go to church or read the Bible. There was that one summer where my mother let my great-aunt take me to Vacation Bible School at her (Lutheran) church. I don’t remember much about it other than thinking some vague, “that ain’t what they said on 3-2-1 Contact,” kinds of thoughts.
I’ve told this story before, but according to my mother, around age 5 or 6, I said, “Mommy, I don’t believe in God” or some such. This was in the aftermath of an earthquake, maybe a bombing or something somewhere in the world. She was a little bit horrified, but she couldn’t really argue with my logic: God makes bad things only happen to “bad” people, so explain to me how this school full of innocent kids my age could die like that. I’m sayin’; I watched a lot of PBS.
I’m not sure at what point Christmas started to suck, but I’d guess it was some time between junior high school and high school. My paternal grandparents moved back to their native South Carolina. I experienced my first major depressive episode. I had outgrown toys, so my mother switched to gifts of clothing and jewelry.
I went through six solid years of my Christmas lists looking like this:
- Leather jacket
- Knicks tickets
- Islanders tickets
- Mets tickets
- Big Daddy Kane tape
- B52s tape
- A Tribe Called Quest tape
- A camcorder
- An easel and some paints
- A popcorn machine
- A Walkman
- An SLR camera
My mother, on the other hand (she did the Christmas shopping, after all), bought me things like this:
- Black and white houndstooth checked pants
- An argyle sweater vest
- A white shirt with a neck bow
- A gold chain (which I broke)
- Gold earrings (lost)
- Black slacks
- Plaid pants
- Golden yellow turtleneck
The SANTAISAWESOME!!1ONE!! feeling of my childhood had given way to
Thanks?. My ungratefulness hurt my mother’s feelings as well. Now this could have been avoided if she had just bought me that leather jacket or the Big Daddy Kane tape, but the damage was done. Disappointment had become the new ritual.
That, I think, is when I started to feel a deep sense of apathy about Christmas. My expectations for it were never met. And I don’t think fun times with family, a good meal, one kick-ass present that I actually wanted, and some hot cocoa or cookie baking was too much to ask. After a while, I just gave up hope.
Now as an adult, I am more comfortable living a secular life and saying, “I am an atheist.” I even happily volunteered to work Christmas Day one year. Between relationships, I didn’t celebrate it at all. I spent it by myself watching whatever non-Christmas-themed entertainment was available.
It wasn’t sad either. I was relieved. It feels particularly odd to celebrate a Christian holiday, even if it’s in a way that isn’t all that Christian. I’m grateful for the downtime, but in terms of significance, Christmas is now like Arbor Day to me, but colder.
This is not, however, the case for just about everyone else I know.
Ever been to dinner with an overbearing grandmother (or uncle, or cousin in my case) who — despite your protests about being full — puts another helping on your plate? If you eat it, you feel resentful for capitulating. If you don’t, grandma is insulted, and you feel a like a jerk.
That’s my Christmas in a nutshell.