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How an Athiest Celebrates "the Holidays"

Last year, there was no Thanksgivikkah. Hannukah occured during its normal time of year, somewhere around Christmas. And on one cold December day, as I was walking home from the L train, a nice Hasidic man stopped me. "Excuse me, are you Jewish?" Now it just so happens that as far as the Jews are concerned I am Jewish. But since I am of the belief that you should not claim ownership of a religion that you do not actually practice, I do not agree. However, this nice Jewish man was handing out free menorahs to all Jews who happened to be walking down Bedford Avenue. And Maya had been learning about Hanukkah at school. She has Jewish cousins. She even went to their house one year for a wonderful party with dreidels and latkas and all. Don't believe me? Here they are, gambling for gelt:

See how Jewish I am?  I think Maya would like to light some candles. So I told this to the guy. "No, I am not Jewish. But my daughter is learning all about Hanukkah this year. I think she would like one."

I guess I should have showed him the photo. Not that he was mean. He wasn't. And he did give me one. But he clearly was not pleased. I am sure whoever was in charge of the free Hanukkah giveaway told him to steer clear of goyam like me who just like free stuff.

Maya often learns about Kwanzaa in school too. I do not know a thing about Kwanzaa, nor do I know anyone who celebrates it. So I looked it up. (Oh Google, how I love you.) Apparently, Kwanzaa is a "celebration of family, community, and culture." It is centered around seven principles known as "Nguzo Saba".  ( They are things like unity, creativity, faith and self determination. Here is my favorite: Ujima. It means "collective work and responsibility" and the goal is "to build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and solve them together."


Of course, by community they traditionally meant Africans. And by "brothers and sisters" they usually mean the ones who live where they live and believe what they believe. In the same way the man on Bedford Avenue was uncomfortable with me lighting the Hanukkah candles, I doubt it would be ok for me to decorate my house in the colors of Kwanzaa. And God forbid I do both. Along with a Christmas tree. And some twinkling angels. In fact, the official Kwanzaa website specifically tells me that "You should not mix the Kwanzaa holiday or its symbols, values and practice with any other culture. This would violate the principles of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday."

How did we go from solving our problems together to violating the integrity of the holiday?

I know that there are many aspects of a culture that you cannot understand unless you are in it. And cultural pride is a good thing. It empowers people. It brings people together. Who doesn't want to feel like they belong, that they are part of the in crowd? 

But does there have to be an in crowd? Can't there just be a bunch of groups who all wander around together doing their groupy thing and occasionally they high five each other on their way to their next meeting? Or something like that.

My main problem with religion is not the God part. Actually I like him. It is quite comforting to imagine that there is a being out there watching over us and covering us like a warm fuzzy blanket. It must be a nice thing to wrap around yourself when you are scared, or lonely or sad. I wish I had one. (Really, its quite cold outside.) No, my main problem with religion is the being right part. As in, we are the right ones. Our religion is right. Those other ones (all 20 of them!) are wrong. 

I get why you have to say that. I mean who is going to put their faith (and their money) in the guy who says "Yeah our version of the story goes like this. Those other guys tell it a bit differently. I don't know which one is right so how about we all just love each other and be good." People need certainty. They need to know that they have chosen the right team, the one that is going to march straight down the field all the way to heaven. 

But what if there is no right team? Or what if they are all right? What if once you pick a side, you get to follow that path to its conclusion. So it doesn't matter which religion you believe, only that once you choose one you follow all the rules. Those other guys, they don't matter, they are on a different path. Let them follow it. In the end, everyone is going somewhere cool. 

In other words, stop taking this s#$t so seriously! The holidays are supposed to be fun! Presents! Chocolate money! That damn elf! And cookies. Did I mention the cookies? Maybe that's why everyone is so stressed out around the holidays. You're trying too hard to do it right; the right gift, the right meal, the right prayer. Just eat cookies!

Maya is in a dual language class where she is learning how to speak Spanish. I am thrilled about this! No one in our family is Hispanic, yet it is perfectly acceptable for her to learn the language. Or at least no one has complained to me about it. Not yet anyway. So why can't she decorate our house any way she wants?

We did not light the menorah this year. And we are not celebrating Kwanzaa. But we do have a very small, very cute tree decorated with shiny balls and reindeer. And although there have been no difficult questions thus far, (other than that awkward morning I got caught not hiding the elf) this year, I am prepared.

No, your daddy and I do not believe in God. But some of your friends do, and that is fine. Some of them might make you feel bad for your beliefs. That is because deep down they are terrified that they might be wrong about their own. (Or perhaps they are just mean poopy heads!) Its ok, you be nice anyway. Christmas is about family and love and singing and giving to those who are less fortunate. Oh and sure, a little bit about shopping. (Because I am not that naive.) 

Some people also think it is about a man named Jesus. And that's ok too. I don't know that much about the dude but I am pretty sure his message was similar to the one I am trying to teach you. Spread peace. And love. 
Jesus and Santa in Southpark
Also laughter. Laughter is magical.
All that other stuff you might hear? You know about the beautiful place in the sky where you go after you die if you do everything right? And that scary, fiery pit where you will go if you don't? Yeah, none of that is real, anymore than the Cinderella you meet in Disney World is a real princess. 

But that's ok too. Because some people have a hard time treating others nicely on their own, and if believing that they will burn in hell for eternity helps them do so, who am I to stop them?  

Its those people who use their beliefs to be mean poopy heads? They are the ones who are wrong. 

So you little one? Just spread love. Light candles. Sing carols.
Sing Spanish ones.
Do some "ujima". 

Feliz Navidad!
Hanukkah Sameach!
Habari Gani?

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Oh, and thank God for Google! 


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