A reflection on faith and the holidays

| Contributing Writer

I have noticed since grade school that the period between Thanksgiving and winter break always buzzes with excitement and anticipation for the winter holidays — although realistically it is more of a dull murmur in college with the presence of finals. Regardless, students are excited to return home to their families. Ice rinks and pine tree farms litter their ad campaigns, and social media brims with the whole winter aesthetic package (briefly romanticizing the snow before people remember all its cons).

I too am affected by the season, imbued with an ambiguous holiday spirit and a desire to buy all things shiny and festive. But my seasonal joy is mostly a result of seeing my friends’ excitement about their holiday traditions; I didn’t grow up with any religious influence, and thus, I have no winter holidays to celebrate myself. There aren’t many others I’ve met who share my experience, and expressing my lack of celebratory holiday plans often elicits shocked and pitying reactions.

They ask, “So you don’t get any presents?”  They say, “But I have friends that aren’t that religious and they still put up a tree,” or “That’s so sad, I’m sorry.”

The last one is always awkward. What are you supposed to say when someone apologizes for something you see as normal? Honestly, it is hard to recognize something as a loss if it was never present. I love the way I was raised, and I am lucky enough that, if allowed to go back, I would not change a single thing. It is strange to simultaneously hold within myself this deep appreciation for the way I was raised and a sadness for my lack of cultural upbringing. These types of comments always remind me that I am missing something. I watched my friends’ joy in sharing stories about religious summer camps or different holidays through a window of involuntary ignorance. Growing up without religion means that I cannot relate to a large aspect of identity that others possess, something I wish I were able to do.

This piece is meant more as a reflection than persuasion, but I do believe exposing children to some aspect of religion provides them with a framework for faith in the future. Regardless of whether they choose to take on this framework, they still possess the ability to return to faith if they need it. 

Religious exposure in childhood is not an all-positive force; I am well aware of the all-too-common presence of religion-based trauma and its destructive powers. In broad terms, religion is a complicated beast and can be the source of much hatred, which, as an outsider, I recognize that I cannot fully understand. But, as someone who grew up secular, I sometimes wish that I was able to be secular by choice — it is a completely different experience trying to learn about different religions in adulthood rather than growing up with them. 

I am not sure if I would raise my children with religion, or if I would even be able to, based on my limited knowledge. All I know is that I have witnessed the beauty of the community it creates, and hope to one day be a part of it in some way, whether that be through practice or by surrounding myself with religious people. 

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.