Mette Harrison hated Santa Claus.
As a devout Latter-day Saint, says the novelist, she felt that Santa Claus was “a bastard of Jesus.”
After Harrison gave up her literal belief in the Christian Savior as the son of God, she came to see the happy bearded man as “representing all the things of Jesus that I could wear – as a secret gift.”
She fondly recalls her father’s tradition of buying gifts for a neighbor, then asking a child from her extended family to run to the door, ring the bell, and rush to the car.
When it was her turn, Harrison felt especially important, thinking, “My dad trusts me to run fast and be a secret.”
Yet as a poet and writer, she says, the story of the baby in a manger – celebrated by shepherds, sages, angels and heaven – contains universal themes of peace, hope and faith for a better future.
Today, self-identified Christians make up 63% of the American population, up from 75% a decade ago, according to a recently published Pew poll, so many ancient believers wondered whether to create a sense of wonder, anticipation, and delight during this time without espousing the supernatural elements of religion.
Some do this by drawing inspiration from older traditions – like Celtic and Norse customs – on the return of light. Some find meaning in stories like that of Dickens “Christmas songOr poetry.
Some enjoy music like Handel’s “Messiah” without accepting its specific message or stick to the secular songs of “Frosty” and “Rudolph”.
They may relate, some say, to the words of Tim Minchin “White wine in the sun”:
“I really like Christmas
It’s sentimental, I know
But I really like it …
And, yes, I have all the usual objections
To consumerism, the commercialization of an ancient religion
To the westernization of a dead Palestinian
In a hurry to sell PlayStations and beer
But I still love her a lot
I’m looking forward to Christmas
Although I don’t expect a visit from Jesus
i’m going to see my father
My brother and my sisters, my grandmother and my mother
they will drink white wine in the sunâ¦ “
For many non-believers, then, Christmas is all about giving and receiving, gathering, drinking and loving – not what they consider a myth from long ago about a distant birth.
âWe left Christianity before any of our children could really be indoctrinated with this story,â says Erin Jo Kieffer-Allen, resident of Layton. âWhen we were in Germany my 11 year old son came home and asked me what it was about in this nursery. I told him the story and he said, ‘Well this is is a stupid story. ‘”
The mother laughed, she said, but was proud “that I didn’t raise my children to believe silly stories that even children know make no sense.”
She does not adhere to any religion, but that did not prevent her family from enjoying the festivities.
âTrees are beautiful and giving gifts is nice,â she says. âThe food is good and the decor is fun. It really doesn’t have to be more than that.
Nathan Bigler of Salt Lake City is an atheist with teenagers.
âI like to let them know what people believe. We have close friends who are part of every major religion, âhe says. âAnd we are talking about Jesus, the different Christian beliefs and the Hindu and Muslim practices that we are learning from. “
They called on Santa Claus, he says, when his children were young “because it’s a fun idea.”
Now he wants to make sure his children are “very skeptical of magic claims.”
Even the players.
To many like Harrison, Santa’s Thread always seemed like a secular version of Jesus’ story for children. It was an imaginative way to teach children about generosity and excitement.
For others, however, he’s a non-starter.
âWe talk a lot about different beliefs and cultures,â says Chelsea Griffith Watts of Round Hill, Virginia. âI find a lot of meaning in the themes and traditions of Christmas, even though I am no longer a literal believer. “
But the family were never big fans of Santa Claus.
âOur oldest was terrified of him when he was little (a weird old man who looks at you all year round and then sneaks into your house while you sleep),â she says. “No thanks.”
Jim Christensen of Longview, Washington, has lived on four continents and saw Christmas in many different contexts. He once read the Bible at an Anglican service in Peshawar, Pakistan.
But telling children that “the magic of all religion is real is a lie that in no way needs to be told to invoke fear, inspiration and joy,” says Christensen. All you need is “close family, great kids, wonderful Christmases and being honest”.
David Sigmon of Kansas City, Missouri, has three children aged 15, 13 and 10. All of them know the Christmas story that their extended family believes in.
Sigmon sets up a Christmas tree and gives presents, but he’s made sure none of them have ever bought into the Santa Claus tale.
“The decision to never lie to my children about Santa Claus stems from a vow I made when I found out that my mother, whom I trusted so much, had lied to me about Father. Christmas, âhe said. âI was incredibly obedient as a child. I completely believed my parents. I rocked my world when I was 6 or 7 to find out that mom had been lying to me for years. I know I am strange, but I think even my atheism today is a consequence of my integrity and my loyalty to the truth.
‘The turning point of the seasons’
December 25 remains “an appropriate time to celebrate the winter solstice, as countless cultures have done over the millennia,” says Nick Literski of Tigard, Oregon. âThe choice of this date for a celebration of the birth of Jesus depended on those who preexisted. traditions, not the other way around.
The enchantment, he says, “is in the return of the light.”
Many ancient Christians find pleasure – and natural wonders – in various Irish winter tales about a battle between the Oak King, who represented light, and the Holly King, who represented darkness.
‘Odin is Santa Claus,’ says northern California resident Lamont Holm. âOdin’s horse had eight legsâ¦. Santa Claus has eight reindeer.
For his gathering, Holm “brings back the true mythology of the Yuletide winter celebration, reuniting with friends and family, decorations, trees, mingled with gifts to celebrate American consumerism and an unborn Jewish philosopher. in December “.
Jeanine Ockey’s views did not evolve away from religion until she was an adult, so she taught her children the traditional Christmas story.
âIf we had to do it all over again, I think we would be spending the holidays exploring different religious traditions and choosing the things that resonate the most with us, with an emphasis on not claiming a story as superior, but rather to focus on the value of myth and see stories for what they can teach us about how to be better humans, âsays mother from Bonney Lake, Washington. âI find the most meaning in researching what my ancient ancestors believed in and celebrating my roots and the changing nature of the seasons. My children, now older teens, share new traditions celebrating the return of light (winter solstice) and some of the traditions that accompany the season in our part of the natural world.
They always do âChristmas morning,â Ockey says, âbut we’re honest about what it means and what it doesn’t. I don’t teach them myths as facts, and I encourage them to find what resonates with them and pursue it, respecting equal beliefs across a wide range of humanity.
Missouri mom Kai Hikaru celebrates the solstice with her son as “a time of warmth, relaxation, family, gratitude and charity,” she says. âWe are discussing the turning of the seasons and the new beginnings. Cocoa, books, fireplaces, board games and puzzles.
They review what they have and are grateful, while also considering how to âdo more to help others in need,â Kikaru says, including volunteering at food banks and soup kitchens.
She teaches her son Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other celebrations of other religions, but âthey are not the focus of our holidays,â she says. “It just helps him understand what other people believe and the customs and traditions they have so that he can respect them.”
Adopt a metaphor
Mette Harrison also had to reinvent her identity and beliefs after moving away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I see all ideas of Christianity as metaphors,” she wrote in a series of Facebook posts called “Agnostic Christmas Advent,” “and because they are beautiful poems, I can interpret them however I want.”
At its core, the Nativity is about motherhood and childbirth, she says, “and how glorious it is to have this new life come out of nowhere.”
Most of her six children were born at home, not in a hospital, Harrison says. âWe didn’t have a feeder, but we were really poor.
In his poem, “Nativity,” she writes:
“I believe in the hope of newborn love
And in the joy of a new motherhood
After months of pregnancy
And hours of work
To see a new face looking at you
A human life that you actually grew inside yourself
It still looks like the face of God.
While she once viewed Advent as the hope of “being worthy of the love of God”, she now hopes that “someone will know how to stop global warming”. Formerly, she saw Advent as an anticipation of Christ’s return, now she is learning expectation and patience.
âI never liked surprises because I want to be in control. I want to know what’s coming, âwrites Harrison. “But now is the time to not know, to hope, to believe in things that you have no proof of.”
A star guiding the Magi to the baby?
âThe stars in the sky are not still. They can fall. And when they do, we have to find new stars, maybe more than one, “she wrote.” Maybe we could become the star? I don’t know.
She doubts that Jesus and Christianity are “the only right way,” writes Harrison. “But I also don’t want to give up looking up into the sky and finding – something – there.”