December dilemma

by Rebekah Bennetch, Saskatoon Secular Family Network

Oh the dilemmas of being a nonbeliever in December! What do you do if you are a faithless family in the middle of a month full of religious holidays? This last Tuesday the Saskatoon Secular Family Network got together to celebrate the whole month of December, and learn all about the different ways human beings commemorate the darkest month of the year.

When I was planning the activities for this month’s meeting, a part of me struggled in determining the balance between educating the kids about the religious rituals/meanings found in the various holidays versus inadvertently condoning the religious ideology implicit in the activity. For example, I asked myself: if I set out a bunch of nativity sets for the kids to play with, am I reinforcing the idea that there really was a virgin birth?

I think I may have been overthinking things a bit — especially considering most of our kids were more interested in spinning the dreidel than debating the pros and cons of the Torah. But I’m glad that I have these inner struggles when it comes to raising my little freethinker. I want to raise my little girl with an awareness of how human beings have used faith and dogma in an attempt to answer life’s hard questions — but I also want her to have the critical thinking skills to recognize where these faith systems have failed in their answers and have hurt others. Teaching her about religion isn’t the same as indoctrinating her into a belief system.

But, back to our holiday party! For activities, I set up different centers for the kids to check out and learn about the three main holidays of December: Kwanzaa, Chanukah, and Christmas.

For Kwanzaa, we read the book It’s Kwanzaa Time! and colored pictures that showed the Kinara (the candle holder used in the Kwanzaa celebrations). Here are a few links I found that may help your parenting group, if you’d like to talk about Kwanzaa this month:

To learn more about Chanukah, we played with dreidels. The median age of the kids for our party were fairly young (preschoolers), so we didn’t get into an in-depth discussion about the history of the game. Mostly the kids just spun the tops for fun — but if you have older kids in your group, I could see this game getting quite animated! I also found the history behind the game quite fascinating. Chanukah links:

To commemorate Christmas, our group had a “cookie potluck”, where each family brought their favorite Christmas treat to share with others. We also did a Christmas ornament craft, and there were plenty of nativity sets for them to play with.

Christmas links:

This year our December celebration didn’t cover the Winter Solstice, but it’s on the radar for next year. In case you’d like to forgo learning about the religious rituals of December, here are some links for the Winter Solstice (December 21):

And just for fun, here are some other special days you can commemorate this month, if you aren’t a fan of the above:

  • Festivus, a holiday for the rest of us! (December 23)
  • Newton’s Birthday — Crispness (December 25)
  • and Dale wrote about Krismas here (December 25)

Happy however you celebrate this month!

This entry was posted in For the kids, Holidays, Religious literacy, Socializing. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to December dilemma

  1. JanetKorpan says:

    It is beyond me how instructing children in religious ritual and Christianity (nativity sets) is considered secular. On the other hand, my son was able to take part in a wonderful secular winter carnival at his school: cookie decorating, ornament making, skating, horse drawn carriage rides, hot chocolate, bonfires and so on – not a nativity scene in sight. I give props to his school for keeping it secular – if I had seen a Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus I would have raised a real fuss! There are lots of places to get religious instruction for your child (e.g., Sunday School) if a parent so chooses and since I am an atheist parent religion is really just not that important to me. Glorifying religion by going out of my way to teach it to my son, thereby exaggerating its importance, will never, ever be on my list of priorities when it it comes to my son’s education.

    • Jerry says:

      Janet,

      You said, “On the other hand, my son was able to take part in a wonderful secular winter carnival at his school.. …not a nativity scene in sight.”

      I think it’s fantastic that your son has the opportunity (and therefore, choice) to experience a winter celebration without a nativity scene in sight at his school. I plan on giving my daughter the same opportunity. And when she witnesses nativity scenes being used by others within a greater public context of winter celebrations, I’m looking forward to educating her with a freethinking approach about people’s practices of christianity and how christianity compares to other religions and their practices.

      You said, “There are lots of places to get religious instruction for your child (e.g., Sunday School) if a parent so chooses and since I am an atheist parent religion is really just not that important to me.”

      Janet, correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like your example for a child’s religious instruction (“Sunday School”) would be without the advantage of looking at it from a comparative and freethinking perspective. You mentioned above, the words, “instructing children in religious ritual and Christianity”. I think the word “in” here is significant. It denotes active participation. As my little girl’s atheist freethinking teacher/guide, I will be instructing her “in religious ritual” but I will not be instructing her “in …Christianity”. Rather, when it comes to the christian beliefs, I will be instructing her about them, not “in” them.

      You also said, “Glorifying religion by going out of my way to teach it to my son, thereby exaggerating its importance, will never, ever be on my list of priorities when it it comes to my son’s education.”

      I wouldn’t define instructing in religious ritual and about religious beliefs as “glorifying” them. Rather, I think it’s providing my child with an appreciation for being aware of the many cultures in the world she lives in.

      And I hope she doesn’t just rely on me to provide her with this knowledge. I hope she will take advantage of all the unbiased anthropological and historical information available to her in the libraries we’ll spend time in.

      • JanetKorpan says:

        Jerry:
        You wrote: “Janet, correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like your example for a child’s religious instruction (“Sunday School”) would be without the advantage of looking at it from a comparative and freethinking perspective.”

        Well, I think you are wrong, but I was unclear. I knew this example of Sunday School would get picked on as you did, but I was being a bit lazy. My point is, there is no shortage of opportunity or access to religious instruction, but there is a shortage of secular influence. I guess I revel in a winter celebration free of religion and religious symbols raising their ugly heads, and that is why I was so appreciative of my son’s school’s strictly secular winter carnival. My son is free to investigate religious practices when he is old enough, but as a mom that does not include incorporating the symbols and rituals of hateful dogma into our celebrations. At the age of 6 he is too young for a truly comparative study because he is too young to be presented with the atrocities, bigotry and hate promulgated by religion. Sorry to be repetitive, just trying to nail down (so to speak) my thinking on this.

        • Jerry says:

          Janet,
          You said, “My point is, there is no shortage of opportunity or access to religious instruction, but there is a shortage of secular influence.” I agree. I also think there is a shortage of religious education from a comparative and freethinking perspective.

          You also said, “I guess I revel in a winter celebration free of religion and religious symbols raising their ugly heads.” We certainly need more of them so that all kids get a chance to experience them.

          You also said, “At the age of 6 he is too young for a truly comparative study because he is too young to be presented with the atrocities, bigotry and hate promulgated by religion.”

          Janet, how much are you aware of what goes on in a kids’ classroom where religion is taught from a comparative and freethinking perspective? Keep in mind that it would be mostly introductory for kids.

          I’m sure that whatever the subject may be, you don’t educate your child as if he were an adult, discussing the greatest evils or the most insightful morals you can find in the subject. It’s my understanding that a curriculum is made with the students’ emotional and intellectual strengths in mind.

          And hopefully, these young students will grow up with the best of all possible teachers/guides to help them decide for themselves what’s worth taking from our collective past (symbols, rituals, ideas, etc.) into the future… and what’s worth leaving behind as only a reminder of the kinds of actions they don’t want repeated.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWiu54QEvq8&feature=player_embedded

  2. DaleM says:

    @Janet: Many secular parents would agree with you, of course. It’s also entirely possible to teach about religious practices without glorifying them, and countless secular parents consider that an important part of helping their kids understand the world around them — and succeed brilliantly at it. No need to agree.

    • JanetKorpan says:

      @DaleM: parents can teach their kids whatever they want as far as I’m concerned, but for me religious instruction doesn’t have a place in my son’s school or a secular celebration – kind of defeats the purpose of a secular group.

    • JanetKorpan says:

      Further, when you include religion, one of the darkest undertakings of humanity, in a secular celebration through religious instruction and playthings – that to me is glorifying it and giving it undue importance. And I expect they weren’t balancing teaching the fun stuff with teachings about the atrocities committed in the name of religion.

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