The twin mythologies of Christmas

by DaniGirl on December 20, 2007 · 38 comments

in Mothering without a licence

The boys have been talking about him a lot this season. You know, the larger-than-life figure who was probably once a real flesh and blood person, but whose mythology has blossomed into something so wide-reaching and so integral to our culture that you simply can’t avoid him. He’s so central to this particular season that he regularly makes an appearance in conversations at the family dinner table, and I feel like I have to bite back my own cynicism to support the boys’ unquestioning faith for at least a couple more years.

Oh no, not that guy. Not Santa. I’m talking about Jesus.

It’s just been in the last month or so, juggling the various seasonal mythologies, that I realized I feel more or less the same way about supporting my children’s belief in Santa as I do about supporting their belief in Jesus. The similarities are striking: I believe both are lovely concepts at the core and I have no issue with how other people choose to venerate the central figure – or not; I think the values and ideals engendered by each of the central figures are far more important than the figures themselves; both figures have reached a status of epic mythological proportions based on some granule of (often debated and misrepresented) fact; and, at one point in my own childhood I had complete faith in each of them, and managed to survive the transition from faith to skepticism intact. So while I think it’s important for the boys to have some sort of belief in the central mythology in each case, I’m having a hard time counterbalancing that with a vague sense of guilt in being disingenous with them.

(Hoo boy, if the circumcision post didn’t generate enough controversy, this one sure will!)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed more or less that Jesus was a great and influential man, but I haven’t been able to give myself over to the kind of faith that can accept he was God incarnate. In choosing to send the boys to a Catholic school, I realized I’d have to subjugate my own beliefs and let the boys learn a more traditional religious view – just like I did when I was their age. When they’re older, we can have righteous religious debates and they’ll be free to choose whatever belief system works for them, be it fundamentalist Christianity or Hinduism or something else – or nothing.

Tristan talks a lot about Jesus because that’s what he’s learning in school, and Simon picks right up on it. We entertain lots of questions along the lines of “Why did Jesus make snow?” and “Why did Jesus make spaghetti?” (I had a hard time not seizing that opportunity to indoctrinate him with a little Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, but I restrained myself.) I try to answer him in ways that contradict neither the official Catholic perspective he’ll be learning nor my own muddled beliefs, and while we’re philosophizing at a first-grade level, I think it’s working.

But I can’t help but feel a little hypocritical sometimes as I support and affirm what they’re learning to believe when it’s in direct contravention to my personal beliefs — in much the same way it’s hard for me to give myself (and them) entirely over to the Santa mythology. I feel like I’m being duplicitous and dishonest, even if it’s for a good cause.

Building up their belief in Santa is full of the same traps and pitfalls: I feel hypocritical setting the boys up to believe in something I know is false, and I feel bad knowing one day I’ll have to reconcile that faith with reality. One of these days, they’re going to realize it’s Daddy who took a bite out of the cookie and left it on the plate by the fireplace, and it’s us who stuffs the stockings and leaves the present under the tree on Christmas morning, and it bothers me on a fundamental level to deceive them. Not enough to do anything but muse about it here, mind you.

I don’t plan to deprive them of the joy of believing in Santa any more than I plan to contradict the teachings of the Catholic system. In time, they’ll be old enough to make their own choices, and find their own belief system. I hope they’ll always have the same love of the magic of Christmas that is deeply ingrained in me, whatever mythology they choose to believe. I think I’d best be getting my story straight pretty soon, though. I suspect their days of blind faith are numbered.


{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suz December 20, 2007 at 9:14 am

Wow. This post really, really resonated with me because, basically, my faith (or lack thereof) is in the same place as your’s and we’re also thinking of sending the children to Catholic school. There’s a certain comfort and a good support structure in belief and maybe my children will grow up to be religious people. I think that that’s more than okay.

2 Cakes December 20, 2007 at 9:20 am

It’s definitely a conundrum. But, where I think they diverge for you (at least from what I’m gathering from your post.) Is that you “know” Santa is not real. But you’re “not sure” about the divinity of Jesus. That does not make you a hypocrite. And when the time comes to discuss your doubts with the boys, this a perfect way to talk about it. Most (if not all) of the major religions are full of stories about great doubters. You’ll figure out the right way to balance it all.

3 Anonymous December 20, 2007 at 9:50 am

I believed in Santa and like all kids,eventually learned that he wasn’t real. Am I messed up because my parents ‘deceived’ me on that issue? Nope. My parents sent me to Catholic school and I was brainwashed by religion. Has that screwed me up? You betcha!!! Sending your kids to Catholic school primarily because you think they’ll get a better education is, in my humble opinion, wrong. How’s that for stirring the pot?

4 Marla December 20, 2007 at 9:57 am

We (okay – I) had a (rather prickly) talk about this with my mother, who ambushed Josephine with the question “Do you know the true meaning of Christmas?” two weekends ago. Who asks a little kid that unless you’re Bill Cosby hoping for good ratings? Then, she accused me of not teaching her about what “we” believe. I had to explain I don’t believe in hypocrisy – in claiming to be Catholic by birth instead of by practice, and in being the kind of Catholic who picks and chooses the commandments they’ll follow and only attends church for weddings and funerals.

When Josie gave her answer, which, of course, had to do with presents – because she’s not even four and frankly, I don’t blame her beceause I want a new camera and Christmas is the perfect excuse to go into debt for such a thing – and I will say, we’ve been stressing that it’s a season of GIVING, not getting – my mom told her it was really all about the Baby Jesus’ birthday.

And that’s where I took issue –

As someone who was raised in the Catholic system, I want to be more careful that Josephine understands and respects that there are no solid answers like that. Even taking the Gospels literally, if my mom were to be doing that, which she isn’t, there are two different and conflicting narratives in Matthew and Luke.

So – introducing “pious fictions” to a three and a half year old? Am I crazy in the head?

No – but trying to explain the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar, and the differences in Western and Eastern Christianity (Heard of the Epiphany, Mom?) and mentioning that the New Testament Gospels of Matthew and Luke DO NOT mention a date of time of year for the birth makes me SEEM crazy. So does trying to bring up how Christianity in the early days tried to both tie in and subvert earlier pagan festivals. And even more simply, that if you take into account things like the dates for the reign of Herod, and the supposed census they were travelling to attend means that it just plain simply can’t be as simple as Baby Jesus’ Birthday is on December 25th period end of story.

So where I feel the mythology of both Santa and Baby Jesus (who is always a baby in my mom’s eyes – her little statue of the Infant of Prague used to sit on her dresser and get fancy little outfits when I was a child, but I found him all mildewy when cleaning out her basement recently and OF COURSE I pointed out to her that that seemed wrong and bad) is wrong is that it’s so nebulous, and that it allows people like my mom to pick and choose what they want to believe and promote.

And so, I too am walking that line with you, treading it carefully and prefacing everything for Josephine with “Some people BELIEVE that…”. I think that way I can keep my own conscience clear, and help form hers. I’m not saying that anybody is wrong or right that way, I just stress there are different versions of the Nativity story (such as how in some there is a little drummer boy, or a donkey called Nestor!) just as there are different versions of Santa Claus for everyone.

I believe at worst, I’m lying by omission.

At best, it’s all as magical and fantastic and confusing to her as her newest obsession, Misty of Chincoteague, which we just read. Then, we found the 1961 version of the movie at Value Village the other night (PERFECT TIMING!) and to answer her question “Is Misty real?” I had to explain that there were actors playing Paul, Maureen, Grandma and Grandpa – and trained horses for Misty and the Phantom and the Pied Piper – but that the other people and the horses and islands and the locations were real – just from before we were all born.

It’s not entirely different from either the Santa or Jesus stories – a mix of certifiable facts, and lovely but confusing fictions.

5 Kerry December 20, 2007 at 11:04 am

I think you knew this day was coming when you decided to put the boys in Catholic school, didn’t you? I mean, we had this discussion when you had them baptized. You wanted them to be able to learn a faith and then choose, like you did.

Believing in anything, be it real or myth, is always a type of faith. You might believe that Jesus is a myth (and, I”d like to point out here that he’s not omnipotent, as he’s the son of God, not God himself), but you made that choice. You learned and practiced and then rejected that faith. Same with Santa – like all little kids, you believed, then at a certain point some really snotty kid laughed at you for still believing and you were still hopeful until you finally noticed that Santa’s gift tags were written in the same writing as the ones form mum and dad.

I think you should encourage your boys in both, because those years when you believed in something bigger than you, when you *knew* that there was something out there taking care of you, before you started to doubt – those years and those feelings of security and safety, they don’t come back. Let them be kids, with everything that entails. Encourage them to believe in something for as long as possible, because their decades of cynicism are right around the corner.

Or, send them to me. I’ll talk to them about the God stuff. And the Santa stuff :o)

6 anonymous December 20, 2007 at 11:22 am

I am sure you realized that sending your children to Catholic school would result in Jesus-themed questions and discussions. I am confused as to your issue here. You may wish to refrain from referring to the Catholic religion as some sort of myth or mythology in the presence of your sons’ school administrators, though. It’s quite disrespectful.

You put yourself into this environment, so you’ll have to show some level of “buy-in.” Same with having a third child and complaining about not being about to afford a larger car, new stroller, etc. Very confusing.

7 DaniGirl December 20, 2007 at 11:59 am

Hey Anonymous, I’m confused as to your confusion. I said I’d support their beliefs as the school taught them, and I will. My “issue” was the observance that I found similarities in how I’m treating the concept of Santa and Jesus when discussing them with the boys. FWIW, what I opine here in my personal blog and what I discuss with the school “administrators” don’t really have much relation to each other, either.

And hey, if you don’t like the “complaining” (seriously? you might want to re-read those posts, cuz I think you missed the point) then don’t read it!

(I’d’ve probably been more open to this comment, by the way, if it weren’t anonymous.)

8 Fawn December 20, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Oh, anonymous, I do think you miss the point. Having a third child and yet having a tight budget isn’t confusing. Are you a parent? Do you understand that having a child makes your heart grow and is worth the struggle of juggling finances and making other choices that can be difficult? Does choosing to expand the family ean we can’t talk about the the struggle it is?

Sometimes we make choices that we know are going to result in difficult situations. That might be putting our children in Catholic school, or even just getting married. Just because we don’t have it all figured out before-hand doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. And what are friends for, if not to discuss and analyze and examine the different aspects of an issue? Because as far as I’m concerned, that’s what a blog is all about.

Dani, I remember thinking years ago that when I had kids, it would be easier just to totally brainwash them into the faith, because living without questions is so much easier! I’m feeling more ambivalent about the story of Santa than I am about the faith system we’ll teach our daughter. I wasn’t brought up believing Santa – my parents didn’t grow up with it, so we just never went there – and I don’t think my life or Christmas was ruined because of it. But my husband did grow up with it and is totally all for it, so I’m going along with it, despite my trepidation about how Jade will find out the truth down the road. Somehow, I hope that she’ll “grow into” the truth, rather than (ouch) being laughed at in Grade 6.

9 Fawn December 20, 2007 at 12:14 pm

Mmph, it looks like I was just chiming in now, but I swear Dani’s response wasn’t there when I was writing my comment! ๐Ÿ˜‰

10 Marla December 20, 2007 at 12:33 pm

See, where I’d be having the issue is the part about questions along the lines of โ€œWhy did Jesus make snow?โ€ and โ€œWhy did Jesus make spaghetti?โ€ I’m totally sure (and that was at least a double thumb-thwack back there) that it’s just typical kid stuff that Tristan and Simon are assuming divine creation of everything from snow to pasta to toilets and Thomas the Train, because all that information just rolls around inside those little skulls like jello in a dryer. So you add a little Jesus to the mix, and next thing you know it’s one of those molded desserts at the party that everyone eats just to be polite, not knowing exactly what’s in it.

What I’d be doing at home (and may be doing in the future) is to be very clear of the origins of things such as that – and then go to the school to make sure they’re misinterpreting what’s been said and that Catholicism isn’t being painted in such broad strokes. That wouldn’t be undermining the teachings – it would be clarifying. Learning a faith is one thing – learning it blindly is another. It’s like learning French versus Conversational French, and in an immersion course at that.

Already, kids of this age are learning and practicing things without believing in them – and believing in things without practicing or learning them. For example, walking up and down stairs, one step at a time, holding the railing is something our daughter (mostly) has learned, and practices, though she doesn’t yet believe she’ll ever fall. And she also believes that a reindeer might fly in our car window and need its toenails cut, though that’s never been practiced or proven. I don’t see why Christmas, or attendance at a Catholic school should be any different. On a simple level, you can reinforce “This is what is taught – what do YOU think?” – and your dilemma, which I see clearly here, is any parent’s: How do I teach them realities without crushing their hopes, tarnishing their dreams and wearying their little souls with too much of the big old world – and when, and how do I do it so that I’m both protective and liberating them at the same time?

Oh, little kids and their ability to both be skillful at manipulating it, and yet lack the understanding of that magical elixr: nuance!

11 yvonne December 20, 2007 at 12:38 pm

I think one of the biggest points in parenting is understanding when each of your children are ready to learn a new concept – not something that you can apply a blanket approach to.

I, like you, sometimes struggle with traditional religion. Who’s kidding who? I struggle a lot. But, I support the values and, because of that I have had to bite my tongue when my kids ask how Noah really fit all the animals on the ark. The bible, according to most religions, is not a collection of parables; it is God’s word and should be taken literally.

My kids are not at an age where they can understand how to appropriately apply common sense or respectfully challenge a belief structure. And to tell them that I struggle too would simply result in their rejecting Catholicism completely, in a Catholic school. I have to agree that I think that would be disrespectful.

Parents can influence though: my kids know the ten commandments but do not know the story of Abraham getting them on tablets on the mountain directly from God himself. If you were to talk about a burning bush, they would look at you confused. I have not challenged the literal interpretation of the biblein front of them, though. To me, that is the same as allowing your children to swear at home then giving them hell if they get caught doing it at school. If the rules are the same in both places, things will be much less confusing.

Except for the school’s no throwing snowballs rule. That one? That is just stupid!

Not an easy issue Dani, but one that will illicit strong responses from both sides of the camp. I respect both sides but personally, I am somewhere in the confused middle.

12 anonymous December 20, 2007 at 12:38 pm

Yes, Fawn, I am a parent. It’s my greatest joy. But I can afford to look after my children and happily go without many things personally (new clothes, cable TV, etc.) to ensure that we can pay our bills and live as healthy and stress-free a life as possible.

It’s just disheartening to see someone go on and on about not being able to afford a stroller or a minivan, but in the next breath talk about buying (I’m assuming on credit) a Wii system for their husband.

I enjoy this blog. It’s very entertaining. But there is no need to get your back up, Danigirl. If you choose to post the details of your personal and financial life online, you may receive comments you don’t agree with. Thanks for the free entertainment!

13 Loukia December 20, 2007 at 12:50 pm

Hmm I don’t really see how someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus can celebrate CHRIST-mas! I’m not trying to sound catty or anything… but it’s like me celebrating a Jewish holiday and not being Jewish! Santa I had a hard time with telling my son about because clearly he is NOT real – but it’s fun and part of the festivities… it’s much more meanigful to me when my 2 year old lies down under the tree to look at our little manger with Jesus, or seeing him do his cross at church. Jesus to me is real. He was a man, after all. That’s why we celebrate Christmas and Easter. I have no problems if people don’t believe… but I’m curious as to how and why your boys are going to Catholic school if you think Jesus is just a myth?

14 Annika December 20, 2007 at 1:11 pm

I have to say that I’m kinda wondering the same thing as Loukia…why you would celebrate Christmas or send the boys to Catholic school if you think Jesus is a myth? I am not judging your assertation that it is a myth, I just don’t get why you are making Catholicism a big part of their lives if you don’t believe? I think your stance may also confuse them when they are older…but what do I know? =)

You raise a good topic!

15 bubandpie December 20, 2007 at 1:41 pm

My kids think that Jesus is a carrot. (Pitfall of the Veggie Tales nativity scene.) So in a sense you and I are in opposite quandaries.

16 Loukia December 20, 2007 at 1:44 pm

Here is an excellent article from cnn.com called ‘You can’t take Christ out of Christmas’ – enjoy!

http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/12/20/roland.martin/index.html

17 DaniGirl December 20, 2007 at 1:47 pm

Anonymous, you’re being obtuse if that’s how you are choosing to read those posts, and there’s nothing I can say that will change that. I said I wouldn’t pay $1000 for a brand-name stroller, and I said it burns my butt to have to become a two-car family and that I don’t particularly want to own a minivan. Your insinuations otherwise are offensive, let alone untrue. If you enjoy this “free entertainment”, please be respectful in your comments or go elsewhere.

Annika and Loukia, if you want the loooong answer to your questions about our faith-based decisions, type “Catholic” into the search box in the sidebar and you’ll see that I’ve been wrestling with this for quite some time. I think this post explains why I decided to enroll the boys in Catholic school, and to raise them in the Catholic faith more or less the same way I was raised.

As far as celebrating Christmas without being overtly religious – well, that’s a whole other post, isn’t it? I think there’s plenty of room in the modern incarnation of Christmas for those of us who believe in the values and ideals of the season – and even Christianity as a whole – while questioning the details of the dogma. Ho ho ho.

18 Barbara December 20, 2007 at 2:26 pm

This is an interesting post that will inspire a long, drawn out conversation that I will have with myself as I am struggling to figure out church and its role in Reid’s life. I love the ritual and comfort I feel when I am at church. I attended with my father, who is now dead, and being in church helps me feel close to him. When I am at my mom’s, Reid and I attend and she goes to the Sunday school I went when I was her age. At home, I don’t attend church because I have so little time with her that I think I should spend it with her rather than sending her to Sunday school. All this to say, we read stories about the “real” meaning of Christmas but also have many Santa books. We talk about each story as questions come up.

To help you with your dilemma, I would point you to the *spirit* of Christmas as expressed in Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus For the Jesus or Santa question, the intent of the myth is what is important to kids.

(I hope that the HTML tags work)

19 Rev. Dr. Mom December 20, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Now you know I have a “dog to hunt” in this conversation… ๐Ÿ™‚ Really, though, I basically agree with what Kerry said above. Let the kids believe and trust them to come to some conclusion about it later. I think it’s easier for kids to make up their minds about religion and faith later if they’ve had some introduction to it as children.

I’m not Catholic, and I might take some exception to some of the things that Catholics believe, so if I sent my kids to Catholic school, I might have some gentle discussion if something came up that I really objected to. And that might be something you want or need to do as well.

I’m not proselytizing here, I promise! But the Catholic view of religion, God, Jesus, etc. is not the only one, and I’m always sad when people are turned off on God because of some particular religious dogma. FWIW.

20 colleen December 20, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Merry Christmas to you and all your family. You are a great Mother.Don’t sweat the small stuff. The boys will make up their own minds one day.

21 Shannon December 20, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Hey Dani …..
I’ve been reading your blog for over a year. I appreciate that you put it all out there. I found your blog when I was going through IVF and FET…which was not successful. However, I am so excited to be in the process of adopting my daughter, Emeline…..and she will be riding around in a Bugaboo stroller :). Don’t shoot me yet. We live in Europe and many people have them here. The stroller will be like a good bike to us. The bugaboo is big enough to carry my groceries but light enough to get on the trains. We take public everywhere. AND, I will sell it on Ebay here and get well over half my money back.

I am finally, AFTER A YEAR, coming our of lurkdom to comment on this. I enjoy reading your blog and pray you have a healthy baby boy soon. I am a Christian. Yes, I believe in baby Jesus and the whole thing. For me this is such a special time of year!

Anyway, I think it is normal that you are thinking through this with your boys at that age and with them being in Catholic school. I am curious, though, why you had them baptised??? Is there a post on that one? I am not trying to be critical, but I was surprised. I can understand the sending to Catholic school to get a good education. Just for the record….we plan on raising our daughter going to church every Sunday and reading the Bible with us. We plan on teaching her about Jesus and the Bible in our home. Our Faith is a HUGE part of our lives. However, it’s up to her whether or not she gets baptised (we are protestant and in our denomination you must decide on your own to get baptised). She will have to decided when she is older what she believes. We cannot force her to believe…it’s just not possible.

Your boys will make their own decisions about what they believe whether you or the Catholic church or any other Church like it or not. That is reality.

I am leaving tomorrow for Christmas in France. I wish I had more time to think about this and say more. I appreciate that you are so open and are willing to talk about topics, controversial or not. Though we probably would not agree about some things, we could at least have some very interesting conversations.

Oh, and what about DANIEL for this new baby boy after his mother. I didn’t see that one on your list.

Have a Merry Christmas with your sweet boys and husband!!!

Peace,
Shannon

22 Kerry December 20, 2007 at 7:12 pm

OMG, Shannon is SO RIGHT!! Daniel! Daniel would be an AWESOME name for your son! You totally have to add that to the list!

23 Veronica Mitchell December 20, 2007 at 8:27 pm

I have wanted to respond to your post all day, but have been stumped. The only consistently coherent thought I have had in response is something like: I would not be in your shoes for all the tea in China.

Pretending to be or think something I’m not – especially within my own family – feels like death to me. Quite frankly, I’d rather gnaw my own hand off.

Even if your ideal is to let the boys “decide for themselves,” they will be perceptive enough to notice what you live by. Christian faith is not one of those things. Raising a child in the faith means something more than merely letting their religion teacher go uncontradicted.

I guess when you say “I feel like Iโ€™m being duplicitous and dishonest,” I kinda want to say, “Listen to that feeling.”

24 DaniGirl December 20, 2007 at 9:00 pm

Shannon, thank you for your comment – and congratulations on the adoption of your daughter! I promise not to hate you for your stroller if you promise not to hate me for my heathen ways! The post about why we chose to baptize the boys is linked above in my previous comment.

Veronica, “feels like death to me” and “gnaw my own hand off”? Really? Isn’t that a little extreme? The fact that I’m willing to give my boys the chance to grow up in a faith in the same way I did, to subjugate my own skepticism and to give them the freedom to choose their own paths without me imposing my own doubts on them – that doesn’t seem so horrific to me. Is it really appropriate to have a deep philosphical discussion on the nature of belief and faith and all the related conflict over interpretation — with my three and five year old? I believe what I believe and I’m in no way ashamed of it – but I’m willing to hold off on explaining that to them until they have the context and the ability to understand it. Aren’t the underlying values and attitudes and morals more important and relevant to a child than a man who lived 2000 years ago?

You know, maybe it’s just because it’s the end of a long and otherwise crappy day, but I don’t think I’ve ever outright regretted posting something before. What I thought I was saying and what some are obviously reading into it are so far apart that I’m not even sure what to say anymore… so I think maybe I’ll just go to bed.

25 Dani's Mom December 20, 2007 at 9:09 pm

Dear Anonoymous – what a coward you are and your comments appear to get more bitter with each post and more “pious” – or maybe – could it be …..jealousy?? Jesus forgives but Santa is sending a lump of coal!!!

I pity the child who is not allowed to be a child – to believe in Santa, and the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy – to be allowed to believe that there is a higher power (whomever that may be) who is watching out for them and their parents – who they can talk to in their minds and who forgives everything. As they grow older they can decide for themselves…..who is real and who isn’t. Merry Christmas to you all

26 andrea from the fishbowl December 20, 2007 at 9:16 pm

I’m just tuning in.

First of all, anonymous commenters, you suck. Dintcha know… anonymous comments don’t amount to squat if you don’t sign ’em?

Second, Dani, don’t be upset. You knew that this was going to be a biggie topic at the get go.

I think you haven’t made really clear is why you sent your boys to Catholic school. It doesn’t make sense and perhaps that’s what some people are stumbling over. I read your back post. I know the school is across the street, and that you think that it’s better than the good ol’ public, and I know you want them to learn the religous stuff like you did… but even though you have all those reasons it still seems unusual that you’d send them there if you don’t actually believe in it yourself.

They teach values? Great.
They teach that the world was created in 6000 years (or whatev), um, not so great.

In our house, those values are taught at home. Why leave it to a school to do it? The ten commandments, yeah, there’s some good stuff in there, I’ll admit that. The values/teachings of all religions are important too, we do try to cover our bases, but science reigns here.

*bows respectfully, exits stage left*

I’m looking forward to seeing where this discussion heads. Good stuff here. ๐Ÿ™‚

27 Andrea December 21, 2007 at 8:33 am

The other day, Frances told me that witches can’t pee. (And I’ve been holding it ever since! And it’s getting painful!)

So. We’re all in the same boat, more or less.

28 Tosca December 21, 2007 at 8:41 am

Hi! I’m leaving longtime lurkdom for this because I think you’ve been very brave in putting this out there. And, anyone who dares to explore the greys in the world is brave, and I applaud you for that. So many people are scared of complicated issues, and seek to paint them all in blacks and whites, because it’s just easier.

I myself was raised Greek Orthodox. My husband is a non-practising Jew. I went to a Catholic elementary school growing up. I don’t think any of this is contradictory. I believe in God, I just don’t know what God looks like and I don’t know who’s story (meaning which organized religion) is right in the details. It does not matter to me. All these influences in my life have made me who I am, and I’m grateful for that and very comfortable with it. What I do know is that I am grateful for parents who didn’t shelter me from anything, and who encouraged me to question. From what I read, you do the same, and this is a wonderful thing for your kids ๐Ÿ™‚

29 daysgoby December 21, 2007 at 8:58 am

Hey! I really like Tosca’s comment!

I think many of us grew up this way – I was raised Presbyterian and then moved with my parents to United Methodist. (And then married, and my Catholic husband and I switched to United Church Of Canada) While not as different as the religions the above commenter referred to, there are differences, and I think it’s good to know there are differences.

I think it makes us all more tolerant in our views of each other.
And accepting, eh, people?

30 Ann December 21, 2007 at 9:45 am

I am the mother of an 18 yr old and a 6 yr old. I sent my son to Catholic school because I *thought* he would get a better education. I also hoped he would learn some sort of religious teachings cause I certainly didn’t teach them at home. All along, I hoped he would make his own decisions re religion although he was being ‘raised’ Catholic. I also played along with the whole Santa thing because I loved seeing his face Christmas morning. Now that he is an adult, I can proudly say that he HAS chosen his own religious convictions(and they’re NOT Catholic) AND he doesn’t resent me for lying about Santa. He graduated with honours and is now at University. I certainly don’t think the Catholic teachings had anything to do with his academic excellence!!!

Re my daughter, I’ve decided to go the public route re school. She is the one who seems more interested in God and religion. I have NO idea where she’s heard of Him but she certainly asks a lot of questions. She wants to go to church. She believes in baby Jesus and Santa. I’m not quashing either belief. She can make up her own mind just like my son did and she will one day realize that Santa is not real. Big deal. Wait until I tell her that she was conceived in a petri dish. Adds a whole new dimension to the facts of life!!! LOL

Parenting is not easy. No one here is better than any other. We all make mistakes and hope for the best.

Dani, you are very brave for posting your thoughts and feelings. It’s your blog, write whatever your heart desires.

Ann

31 jennyjag December 21, 2007 at 10:26 am

I haven’t heard any comment from those who were raised with absolutely no religion at all. So let me give you the flip side: While I appreciate the choice my parents made, I have one nudging regret. Without religion, I don’t ‘get’ all the cultural references about it in movies, books, passing references, common sayings, and an endless number of jokes. So if you’re giving your boys anything by raising them Catholic, at least it’s education and knowledge. They’ll get the jokes, lucky them. They’ll also get the sense of community that comes with belonging to a church. And they’ll truly be able to make an informed choice.
However, one thing I’ve also observed among Catholic friends & family, is that there is guilt. If you don’t believe or have doubts, those believers around you will guilt you into believing. You are getting it doubly because it’s all wrapped up in the guilt we endure as moms – goes with the territory.
All this to say, you know what’s best for you, what makes you feel right, and you’re making a judgement call on behalf of your boys using the best of what’s available to you. Your boys will never fault you for that. And that’s what really matters.
Love your blog by the way. You bear your heart and soul & it’s appreciated.

32 Fawn December 21, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Shannon: Catholics have their babies baptized as soon as possible (although mine didn’t have it done until she was a year and a half – oops!) because the rite a) cleanses them of the original sin and b) is how they become members of the Catholic Church. In the old days, it was believed that an unbaptized baby didn’t get to go to Heaven, although I’m told the interpretation isn’t quite so strict anymore. I know a number of agnostic Catholic-raised people who have a baptism, anyway, at least for the sake of tradition and pleasing the parents. In the Catholic faith, a person gets to choose to be a Catholic by having the sacrament of Confirmation, which is often around the time they are 12 or 13 – a bit early in my opinion!

Andrea from the Fishbowl: I was raised in the Catholic school system (various schools because of moving around) and we were not taught that the world was created 6000 years ago, nor that the Bible was to be taken literally. In fact, in our Grade 7 Christian Living class, we were told that Abraham is the first personage in the Bible to actually be confirmed as a real, flesh-and-blood historical person, and that anything that happened before then is not necessarily the literal truth. I remember asking my teacher when I was in Grade 3 (I was 7 or 8) why the Bible said that the world was created in 7 days, but we had learned in science class that it took millions of years. I seem to remmeber the teacher telling me that it was an excellent question and that I would have to figure out what I believed as I got older.

My husband also happens to be Catholic and did the Catholic school system. He had a great class on world religions in high school and was taught what other faiths believe.

A Catholic school can give a child an excellent foundation in at least one, if not multiple, faiths. And most aren’t taught by nuns these days, but by people who have the same questions about faith as we have.

I just wish that here in Whitehorse, didn’t have to choose between a Catholic school and the French Immersion program. Since Jade is not going to learn French at home, I realize I’m going to have to step up to the plate more than my parents did if I want her to have any religious education.

33 Fawn December 21, 2007 at 1:08 pm

BTW, Christmas is a HUGE holiday in Japan, even though there are very, very few Christians. But for them, Christmas is kind of like Valentine’s day: an excuse for a party and to exchange gifts. Most of them have never even heard of Jesus. So although I will be attending mass this Christmas Eve, it seems you can take the Christ out of Christmas.

34 yvonne December 21, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Wow. How did having enough money to raise children become part of a comment thread on religion? Wasn’t Mary too poor to pay for an inn in Jeruselum? We have chosen to have two working parents in our family, with professional jobs and good salaries and we still stuggle to pay for all the things that we want our children to have. To me, it helps children understand that you will need to prioritize and make choices in life. That is a very valuable lesson.

35 Marla December 21, 2007 at 3:33 pm

By the way – as an American Citizen living in Canada, I’d like to address the question asked twice in the above comments, and assert the rights of everyone to enjoy Christmas as a secular holiday – while the Wikipedia entry has one of the more concise explanations:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas#Christmas_as_a_secular_holiday

This twenty minute video also explains how this “valid secular purpose” came to be:

http://www.storyofstuff.com/

Government greed notwithstanding, throughout history many cultures have had some sort of excuse for festive type of a winter holiday, where to exchange gifts and to otherwise show warmth, gratitude and love for others is the norm. If there were another recognized name for the occasion on the 24/25 of December, I would more than happily refrain from using the usurped Catholic term for it. Which is why my Season’s Greetings only wish “May your days be merry and bright.” Because, I wish that for everyone all the time, even in July, and even if it weren’t part of some overplayed Christmas song.

And so I am allowing the spirit of the season to wash over me, and hope that Dani too can get over the Grinchiness. There’s a difference between provocative remarks and genuine dialog – but it’s a busy time of the year, and there often isn’t the extra minute available to take care with one’s words.

Speaking of – are any others planning to read “The Year of Living Biblically”? I can’t wait to read it just to have more information with which to needle my mother. While some people are indeed aware that the Bible isn’t to be taken literally, she’s the person who will tell me to “Honour thy father and mother!” when I call her on all the towels she’s stolen from her casino junkets to Atlantic City.

36 mrsgryphon December 21, 2007 at 5:15 pm

Wow, Dani… thanks for your honesty. I’ve just started taking Bean to church (I haven’t been regularly in years) now that she’s almost 2 – she loves the music, and loves going to the front of the sanctuary to sit with “the big kids” for the children’s message. While I know I don’t believe in many of the ‘details’ of our chosen organized religion, I do think that the majority of what she’ll learn in the coming years in Sunday School or through community involvement in the church is basic good morals and values. The same morals and values that we will teach her at home, just wrapped in a different package. How can it be wrong to teach a child to be kind to others? To teach compassion and empathy and to encourage her to explore history and know that the world is bigger than her little bubble? Even though I never actually “joined” our church as a young person, I know that the basic grounding principles have stayed with me. I’d like to give her that same opportunity, and when she begins to question the details just as I have, I’ll be informed and ready to have those age-appropriate discussions with her.

As for Santa, he’s a great story and all about the “spirit” of giving anonymously without any expectation of reward or thank you. THAT’s what we will teach our child about Santa Claus – and have already begun by having her help choose toys to donate to our local Food Bank for children in our town. If she wants to believe there’s a man flying around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, that’s fine. In the end, it’s all about the spirit of the season.

37 Sara December 21, 2007 at 8:18 pm

This really resonated with me, enough I hesitated in commenting because I wasn’t sure what to say more than “I’m there with you.”

I think it helps that I was raised by people who felt similarly, who brought me up with “Jesus was a very good man who tried to tell everyone to get along,” but supported my decision to try out church and be confirmed in Jr High and high school.

I went to church (and go, still, sometimes) because I can find peace in the ritual and the homilies, even as I don’t believe everything (not even most things) about the religion. But I haven’t been taking the kids, because of that literal minded thing – I don’t want to risk them being told a lot of Gospel as gospel, so to speak. Even in this most liberal of towns and most liberal of denominations, I’m not going to let someone tell them their uncles shouldn’t be married. In your shoes, with our family issues, I would never opt for catholic eduacation; and I think a gentle “yes, there are people who believe that, but your father and I don’t,” might be occasionally in order.

I find myself doing a lot of “Well, what do you think?” and “Some people believe ….this…. and that’s their right. But we don’t believe that way.” (there are few very evangelistic kids in his class, and in this season of advent, there’s a lot of “My mama says” gonig on, apparently).

38 Mad Hatter December 22, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Dani,
I’m kinda in the same boat and was thinking about posting about it. Not now, I guess. I don’t have time to really comment on this one, holidays being what they are, but I did want to send out a big hug from a non-believer married to a believer who wants her daughter to have exposure to the faith of her father and now-dead grandparents even if she, herself, doesn’t share that faith.

To me that is logical, reasonable and common in today’s culture.

Hug.

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