December 20, 2017

More Coping Tips for Atheists at Christmas

puppy in Christmas stocking
The holiday season is stressful for many, and so it is no surprise that virtually all of the psychology-related blogs share their suggestions for coping with holiday stress every December. In 2014, I wrote a post called Coping Tips for Atheists at Christmas in which I offered some suggestions for atheists who were fed up with Christian privilege or anti-atheist bigotry, tired of being reminded that most of their neighbors believe all sorts of superstitious nonsense every time they leave home, and/or sick of the church-state violations that crop up every December. My primary suggestions were aimed at young atheists who were living with their family-of-origin and being forced to participate in religious rituals in which they no longer believed. They included:
  • Be patient and recognize that you will not have to do this as an adult. You will be able to create your own traditions.
  • Don't try to talk your family out of their traditions while they are in the midst of celebrating. If you want to change their minds, wait until the season is over and plan ahead for next year.
  • Enjoy as many parts of the holiday season as you can.
  • If you are forced to participate in religious rituals you detest, adopt the role of an observer to study the bizarre scenes around you like an anthropologist might.
  • Do not let anybody make you feel guilty or ashamed about enjoying any part of the holidays. Atheists have as much right to have fun as anybody else.
  • If you need to re-orient yourself to reality after being surrounded by religious relatives, use social media to connect with other atheists. Many of us can relate to what you are going through.
I was prompted to revisit this topic recently after I saw a woman on Twitter saying that this is her first Christmas as an atheist and that she feels alone because her family decided that they want nothing to do with her. That sort of thing always provokes a strong combination of sadness and anger. This time, it got me thinking about what we might recommend for atheist adults who do not have family or are estranged from family and find themselves feeling lonely this time of year.

The first thing I'd consider is whether you genuinely enjoy Christmas or any of the other holidays that happen this time of year. If so, then I'd recommend things like attending holiday events in your community that would not be dependent on having family around, watching your favorite Christmas movies, driving around to look at Christmas lights, and other holiday-related activities. If you have friends nearby who aren't traveling, you might even consider throwing a holiday party. For those who do not enjoy Christmas or any of the other holidays, you can carry on with your normal routine as much as possible or use the time off work to do something you enjoy without worrying about whether it is holiday-related.

I find that it helps a great deal to turn off the TV this time of year. We are bombarded with Christmas-themed programming and commercials this time of year, and one of the more consistent messages is that there is something seriously wrong with anyone who isn't with family. This gets old quickly, and it can be depressing. Limiting one's exposure to this nonsense can be helpful.

Being without family this time of year can be depressing, but there is an upside. Without family around, one is free to create one's own holiday traditions. This may sound strange, but it can be a blast. The trick is to select an activity you really enjoy but rarely have time for and then making a point of doing it during the holiday season. Weather permitting, I used to grab my camera and get out into the woods for some nature photography. I haven't done it lately, but it was a fun holiday tradition for a few years and one that was actually more fun by myself. For the last couple of years, I did something similar with cooking. None of what I cooked had a damn thing to do with December holidays, but that did not make it any less enjoyable.

Finally, I'll repeat something I said in the 2014 post. If you are feeling lonely this time of year, use social media to connect with other atheists. Many of us will be able to relate to at least some of how you are feeling, and my guess is that many atheists will have great ideas for how to spend your time whether you enjoy the holidays or not.