Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

How two atheists celebrate Christmas with their kids

Some of my friends may not be happy to hear this, but we’ve been keeping the Christ out of Christmas for years. If you weren’t aware, both my husband and I are atheists. You might think celebrating Christmas is a bit of a quandary, but I’ve never struggled with it. Once we had children, it became more complicated but I wasn’t willing to give up the magic of the season. Some of my best childhood memories are of evenings snuggled near the tree, munching cookies and warming our hands with hot chocolate. Mornings filled with excitement and laughter as we huddled to warm by the wood stove, tearing open stockings. Like many parents, I want my children to experience the wonder I felt. Even if only for a few seasons.

There are, however, some rules for how we parent through the mine field of mythology that is Christmas. It’s easy to become entrapped in the hype of the season and to convince yourself that because it’s a special occasion, you can leave your principles at the door and pick them up in the new year. It sure is tempting. Here’s four ways we try to keep the magic of the holidays without the religious undercurrents.

1. Don’t lie

This is one of my parenting rules. Lies, little white variety included, hurt more than they help. Deceptions are patronizing and even little children deserve the respect of an honest answer. Kids don’t ask questions they aren’t ready to hear the answers to. Yes, even about Santa. You’d be surprised what you can skirt with one very basic response tactic. Turn the question back on them.

“Mom, where does Santa live?”

“Where do you think he lives?”

“Is it really the North Pole?”

“Some people believe that. What do you think?”

By the time they see through this tactic, they’ll be old enough to hear the Santa mythology and understand its purpose without being disappointed in the deception.

More: I let my kids help us on Christmas Eve to teach them the truth about Santa

2. Banish bribery

I have a pretty big conceptual problem with the Santa story and the whole naughty and nice structure. Some omniscient dude knows everything about you and gets to decide whether you are deserving of the naughty or nice list and thus love and acceptance. Sounds awfully similar to another religious mythology. Yes, I’m looking at you, Jesus. And that’s exactly why we’re so comfortable with it as a society. Even Elf on the Shelf has become a creepy extension of this idea. You should practice good behavior because someone is always watching and good behavior is rewarded. Is this really the moral of the story we want to teach? Nope. So we just don’t talk about it or use it in our house as an incentive.

I’d rather communicate to my children that their behavior is a reflection of who they are and how they want to relate to others. And that we make good choices simply because people deserve kindness from each other and it makes the world a better place for everyone. Not because we will be showered with gifts. You and I both know that sometimes you do the right thing and you get nothing. Nada. Just the satisfaction of having done it. And that should be enough. It is enough.

More: How to survive stepfamily struggles during the holidays

3. Celebrate the love

So if we aren’t celebrating the birth of some holy child in a manger hundreds of years ago, what are we celebrating? Love. Unconditional love that connects our families and friends together with the invisible thread of our kindness and regard for each other. It is a time to stop and extend ourselves financially and emotionally, in acts that communicate the importance of others in our lives. The ways in which they fill us with joy and make everyday struggles worthwhile. Every light, every tied ribbon on a package, every quietly hummed carol is an expression of that love. People of the religious persuasion are celebrating love, too. Our reasons may be different, but our joy is the same.

I want my kids to understand that you don’t really need to earn this love — it’s freely given. And once a year it pours on us all like a benediction. And it’s not a miracle. We do that. We do that for each other. To prove that the world we’ve created can still be filled with light and wonder.

More: Make a ‘sibling tree’ for the best Secret Santa exchange ever

4. Focus on kindness

This is the biggest lesson of the season for children, I think. That kindness can transform us all. We go out of our way to help others, to give more deeply. I think even adults have trouble hiding their glee Christmas Day at the way in which the world warms with cheer. And kids see that manifested around them, witness the power of it. It’s a beautiful thing to teach each other, and I think it’s where the true joy of the season comes from. Not in celebrating traditions or a religious or non religious mythology, but in the magic of what we can do and be for each other.

Happy holidays, my friends. May the joy of the season fill your heart and keep you warm this winter. Namaste.

Kaz Weida blogs at

This post was originally published on BlogHer.

Leave a Comment