Afternoon Inquisition 12.6

By the Catholic calendar, today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas, and it finds me waxing nostalgic about childhood wishes and dreams and waking up in my grandmother’s farmhouse to find candy in my shoes. Even though I’ve left the church behind, I still find myself drawn to some of the traditions of my childhood. I always loved Saint Nicholas Day. It’s sort of an obscure holiday, but it was important to my family, and for us kids it always meant that Christmas was just around the corner.

For those raised in a religious family, what traditions from your former faith do you miss? Or, if you were brought up non-theist, do you ever feel as though you’ve missed out on something?

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  1. I have to say, I don’t miss a thing! I gave up all the supernatural stuff but kept the fun stuff, which for me (raised Baptist) is just presents/family at Xmas, candy at Easter . . . I think that’s about it.

    I have to say that my grandmom’s Episcopal church was eerie and beautiful during the Christmas eve ceremony that we went to a few times, but I was happy to give that up even as a still-religious teen, since it meant more time to party.

  2. I agree with Rebecca. I don’t really miss anything from my religious roots. The holidays that actually meant something are secular for all practical purposes, so it’s not like I’m missing out there.

    Although i DO kinda miss church summer camps. I used to get so much action at those!!

  3. I actually miss going to the church I grew up in. Most of my family goes there and there was a great sense of community. I haven’t found anything like that in the non-theist community….

  4. I don’t think I missed out on anything growing up in a more or less secular family.

    We did all the traditional holiday events. Sometimes we even went to church.

    I was a little jealous once as a kid when my best friend got a catchers mask and mitt after his confirmation.

    When pressed about having to become a Catholic to get presents , I decided against.

  5. I was raised non-theist, but we still celebrated all those xtian holidays. Chocolate and coloured eggs on Easter… Presents, candy canes, rum & nog, and a tree on xmas… Pancake Tuesday… Just because we subscribed to no religion doesn’t mean we couldn’t be brainwashed consumer suckers, like everybody else! :)

  6. The only thing I really miss is standing in a circle around the dimly-lit sanctuary on Christmas Eve, all holding candles and singing together. The real fun was seeing how many things I could light on fire after the service before my mother noticed.

  7. Don’t miss a thing from the Catholicism I was raised in. Funny thing, though: I still find myself reluctant (at least) to eat meat on Fridays. To some extent, you really CAN’T take the church out of the boy. At least not all of it.

  8. @Pinkbunny: I definitely get something very similar to that sense of community at Boston Skeptic events. Each month, we get a bunch of familiar faces and a bunch of new faces, and the more events we have the nicer it is to know I’m going to go spend a few hours among such wonderful people.

    Obviously it’s different from a church atmosphere, but I think a lot of the benefits are the same.

  9. I miss the feeling of family I got whenever I was in a church on Sunday, and knowing that, across the country, my family was hearing and doing the same thing at the same time as me (I was raised Catholic). When you live alone in a big city, that was a great comfort that I no longer have.

  10. My mom is Christian (Lutheran), but since my dad believes “in all that evolution stuff and that we came from monkeys” (thank you mother), I was never made to go to church and chose to go with my friends… I believed in God at some point, and was brought up with Christian values…

    But the only think I feel I missed was the brainwashing.

  11. @DMS: Weirdly, now that I am a nanny and my family has this rule that the kids have to eat fish once a week; I almost always do it on Friday. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I am from South Texas, which I think is the Catholic equivalent of being non-Mormon in Utah. You still kind of get all the weird cultural aspects.

  12. When I moved to Wisconsin our daughter was very young. My neighbors daughter was all excited about “St.Nick Eve”. My husband and I quickly consulted with the neighbors. Seems EVERYONE put out some candy and toys for the kids (small stuff). It was about 9 at night and everything was CLOSED, but thankfully a gas station was open and we snagged some candy for her.

    From then on our neighbors would call and warn up ahead of time so we were better prepared. It was a lot of fun.
    Black eyed peas on New Years, no one ever eats them though…but it’s fun.

  13. hey rebecca I’m sure the pub would be ok if we decided to light candles… or maybe just hold up our lighters?

  14. As far as missing things by growing up a non-theist, I think I missed that feeling of camaraderie…

    I grew up in a city in which being non-theistic wasn’t a big deal, but then I moved to a rural area in the bible belt and suddenly it was a HUGE deal. I didn’t know the lord’s prayer (which everyone recited before a football game – I mumbled something incoherent), I had no clue what the big deal was with the purple ribbons on easter… I just felt rather left out. And then there were the religious kids who made their parents proud. Sally Somebody would be praised for singing a hymn, some other kid was praised for this picture of Jesus he drew, people were expected to lead prayers before any group meeting began, and everyone exchanged Jesus christmas ornaments and things with bible quotes on them. I was like, “uhh….. thanks?” I was so happy when I moved to college and no one cared again.

  15. The things that I miss the most about the holidays have nothing to do with religion at all. Like going to my grandparents’ house for Xmas vacation, visiting with our “cousins” (second or so cousins, actually; my sister and I have no first cousins), spending most of Xmas day in our pajamas, etc. We did go to church, IIRC, but it’s not something that has stayed with me in the same way as time spent with family.

  16. The thing I miss about church was singing in the choir. I hate singing by myself in front of people, but I always enjoyed signing in a group, and after 10 years of it, I wasn’t half bad.

    Sadly, I don’t know of any other places that are eager to let semi-competent amateurs sing in a choir. Not that I’d have time to go to practice anyway.

    That, and after a decade and a half of disuse, my singing voice sounds like something simultaneously rusty and rotting.

  17. I think it was the youth groups I used to be a part of. When my family went to the Methodist church, we went on loads of camps which were lots of fun.
    Then when my mom decided she was taking my bro and I to catholic church (we were baptised catholic). The church we went to had a really good youth program with some awesome volunteer leaders. They were just a couple of years older than us and lots of fun and we got into loads of mischief, especially when we went on our confirmation camp. But I think what I liked about it was that it didnt really feel like church. We certainly werent doing things that would have been condoned by the church a lot of the time :)

  18. It sounds corny but in Roman Catholic mass there is a part where you turn to everyone around you and shake their hands and wish them peace.

    I really miss shaking the hands of strangers, and especially the 90 year old guy who used to sit behind me every week.

  19. I don’t miss anything. Well, when my grandma gave us holy bread and wine on Christmas eve. But really I miss Grandma more than the holy bread. I still have wine.

  20. @wytworm: That was the *one* part of Catholic Mass that I actually enjoyed. Partly because it was a break from the monotonous droning of the priest and the stand up, sit down (fight, fight, fight!) ceremonial aspects. But I think mostly because it was the most *human* aspect of the service. Reaching out to a total stranger to just say hello, a recognition of the people around us and connect with them on the most basic level. So I don’t think it’s corny at all.

  21. I was raised without any kind of exposure to religion at all. Like most of you, we did all the standard holiday stuff ; easter, thanksgiving, xmas, etc. I miss the excitement of those holidays that I used to get as a kid but it doesn’t have anything to do with religion.

    I don’t miss the other traditions in my family like the verbal abuse, occasional beatings, the screaming and swearing. You know, the typical crap most kids raised by the WWII vet generation were prone to get. No worries though, I’ve come to realize that these conditions were actually quite common in the childhoods of the Boomers and Jones generations kids.

    I do remember one Xmas tho; I got a bunch of GI Joe stuff, some models to build and brand new shiney bike with a banana seat and chopper handlebars. It was metalflake gold. Best damn day of my life I think…except maybe the day I lost my virginity :)

  22. Honestly, growing up in a family of lazy protestants wasn’t all too bad. I still do all the fun stuff, and blame it on the consumer in me, but I was never really a believer anyway. What I actually miss is the social aspect–not just socializing, but networking– and having a chance to sing for no reason at all. I might still go to church on Xmas this year just for carols!

  23. I’ve twisted the original customs for something useful.; e.g., at Passover we briefly discuss it’s origins and then we discuss current events, specifically what people are presently being persecuted, why, by whom, and are there any solutions or, at the very least, aspects of the situation that we can influence, however small.

    On one Passover, my son, who was about 14-15 yrs old at the time, took on each plague and attempted a scientific ,alternative explanation for each and every one. Twas a proud day for me.

  24. What the Hell? Just because you’re an Atheist you don’t have to give up all the Xmas stuff! That’s what religious people say to make Atheism seem mean-spirited.

    Just because I know it’s all Bullshit doesnn’t mean I can’t enjoy it, I know Captian Picard doesn’t really fly around in space, or that Penn doesn’t really cut the girl in half, but I still enjoy it.

    Besides 99% of Xmas has about as much to do with Jesus as it does to scooby-do. Carol services (Xmas doesn’t really start for me until the annual “Carols from Kings college” on the BBC), the picture on some Xmas cards and that’s about it!

    Everything else is non-xian, the feasting, the drinking, dancing, charades, mistletoe, yule logs, ice skating, the tree, Stollen und Gluhwine, xmas compilation albums, “It’s a Wonderful Life” etc etc.

    Surely you can go along to the church sing-a-long knowning full well its whooey but still enjoy it? Aside from Weddings and Funerals it’s the only time I ever going inside a church and I don’t care if that makes me a hypocite, I like xmas services!

  25. Well, I don’t miss the other holiday stuff because I still do it — most years, sometimes we skip. I love the tree, the music, the lights and garlands, cards, egg nog, baking cookies, cooking and eating comfort food, spending time with friends and family. I don’t go to church but every 10 years or so, I read the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke (King James Version, of course)…. and, oh, I watch a ton of Christmas movies every year

  26. @Brian’s A Wild Downer: Ditto, but I’ve actually been given those far more often since I STOPPED being at all religious.

    On a similar, tasty note: The only thing I miss about church are the Jesus wafers, because I always loved those. I would eat a bag of em if they sold them in the supermarket.

    Hell, they could make a killing on that, especially if they started making flavored ones: Burning Bush BBQ, Lot’s Wife’s Salt and Vinegar, Sodom Salsa and Gommorah Guacamole, etc.

  27. Oh I forgot about the comfort food and when I was a kid every year my brothers, sister and cousins getting dressed up and visiting my grandparents where my grandad would read “T’was the Night before Christmas”, in his German accent;

    “T’vas zee niaght bevor Krist-maz, ven al s’eroo zee haus. Not ah Kreat-ur vas sterin, not eeevan ah maus”

    That’s brought a tear to my eye thinking about that.

  28. We still do the celebrations, like gifts/family/big meals/visiting/baking on holidays. (writerdd – Where’s the cookies and nog??!?) We don’t decorate much unless we are having holiday visitors or a party.

    RussellSugden has it about right to me. Christmas has about as much to do with jebus as nuclear physics does these days. The only ones that prate on about it are the Christers on their way to Walmart * ™ in their SUV’s to stock up on plastic toys made by cheap Chinese slave labor.

    @pseudonochic: We went through the same thing you did when we moved from WI to MO. It was like moving to “Jesusland” and was quite a big culture shock for us. I was glad to leave, in a way. Having lived all over, I just thought of it as “the odd and curious customs of the natives…”

    Even when I was still a little Catholic kid, I could never understand the “Fish on Friday” thing. Made no sense to me. Protein from meat = protein from fish = protein. Why would a deity care what I ate for 1/7th of my life? I mean, you’d think the creator of the universe would have better things to do with his infinite time than check up on my dinner plate… :-D

  29. I feel like I miss out on the singing with a big group of people you don’t know. At this time of year I could go to a carol service but I’d love to go to a secular equivalent with songs like Imagine and Snoopy’s Christmas. :-D

  30. Once one holiday night when I was young, my parents told me to put on a nice outfit so we could go to church. We all got into the car and soon I realized that they had made up the story of us going to church that night, as we instead went to see a magic show at the theatre as a surprise for me.

    It’s one of my favourite holiday season memories ever. There weren’t any real religious traditions in my family, so church was never anything special to me (just a place you could get a doughnut & juice while seeing a friend or two).

    So December 25th, I’ll be singing Happy Birthday to the real guy that matters, Sir Isaac Newton. :)

  31. I don’t miss anything because I still go to church. I don’t believe that any of the stories are true, but it’s a beautiful church with beautiful music and a beautiful, high Episcopal service. Sometimes I feel hypocritical, but I can’t help it – I enjoy chanting communion and watching the priests parade the big, gold cross around.

  32. The only difference between my holiday celebrations now as from my theist days is now I don’t have to stand in the back of a crouded church for an hour (which I actually didn’t mind).

    When I have a family of my own, I’m planning on celebrating the solstices and (to a lesser extent) equinoxes. A bit more special of a meal and some time spent around a bonfire. Storytelling, for sure.

  33. Well, it is not a tradition or anything, but I do miss going in that Christian school I used to attend. It was quiet fun.

  34. First of all, I was brought up Methodist, which, if religion were sex, would be the most vanilla denomination on the planet. We’re talking missionary position, with the lights off, and as much clothing on as is possible. And no talking. NO TALKING!

    Religion, for me, was “Just What People Did,” like school and yardwork. I memorized the stuff I had to, sang in the choir, sat quietly for an hour, and all the other mandatory crap.

    Honestly, I miss nothing about church. Nothing at all. The only half-way decent thing for me was the Sunday youth group, and only because some of my best friends (and a chick I was hooking up with) were involved.

    But, then again, my friends (and the chick I was hooking up with) also met up in other places, so we never really needed the church; it’s just that all our parents went there, so we kind of had to do the youth group thing when we were young.

    So, no. I don’t miss anything about church or religion. My religion is music, my church is wherever good music is played, and my God is David Ruffin.

    May Ruffin bless you all with the eternal groove!

  35. I miss the ceremonies we would have in the dark basement of the abandoned church, the delicious taste of blood freshly drained from sacrificed infants, the chants we would intone until they echoed among the rotting timbers, the strange beings who would visit us and give my parents and relatives such indescribable pleasures. Ah, the good old days, before I became a skeptic.


  36. @russellsugden: Yes, that’s what I’ve been thinking. For instance with St. Nicholos day, my family celebrated that despite not being Catholis, as does basically everyone in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (including my host family who are Jewish). I don’t see how being non-religious means you can’t put your kids’ shoes outside and fill them with candy. I was always told that St. Nicklaus was a real person who lived in Bavaria and gave food and toys to needy children, so to celebrate this we put out our shoes (and a carrot!) and if we are good we will also get toys and chocolate.

  37. @Oskar Kennedy:

    There are lots of places for amateurs to sing both individually and in groups. If you google your city and “singing” or “choir” I guarantee you’ll get lots of hits for secular and non-secular groups a like. My wife was involved in barbershop for a while and that led to numerous other opportunities. The time commitment is huge, though.

  38. I grew up Catholic and hated all the traditions even then and miss them not at all. As a kid I liked getting presents. As an adult, however, I don’t. Increasingly holidays are just a good excuse to spend more time with my wife.

  39. I remember at my step-grandfather’s catholic funeral my sister (who was 6 at the time) asked if she could go up and take communion because she was hungry. My mom refused because she 1) wasn’t catholic and 2) was female. I have spent the rest of my life wishing she had. Would have made his funeral interesting!

  40. I was raised Catholic and I think most of the things I miss are things that I don’t do anymore because I’m older, not because I’m not religious.

    I miss door-to-door Christmas carolling with the church youth group. I did that a couple of times in India and we’d actually go from neighborhood to neighborhood, carolling at doors of Muslims, Hindus and Christians alike. It was always a great reminder of the naturally secular nature of the country at the human level, in spite of the issues you hear about in the news.

    I miss midnight mass with my family and walking back in the cold. Santa always came while we were at midnight mass and we got to open one present when we got home. It also meant that we could get to presents earlier the next day – if we had to go to church on Christmas, presents waited until after that – agggh! :)

  41. I agree with several folks that it is mostly the music with others that I miss. Some of the music is beautiful even if the words are inane and the sound of people’s voices blending together is as close to a religious experience as I have ever had. I had the same feeling playing acoustic rock with a band too so it wasn’t just the “setting”.

    I used to do programs for a Unitarian fellowship in a nearby city where I would talk about religious ideas or the joy of evolution and being a part thereof and I would begin each talk with a song I played on guitar that was secular but had a religious or philosophical or moral message in it (from Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” to Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away” to Neil Young’s “Star of Bethlehem”) with readings from Leonard Cohen or the Moody Blues. I really enjoyed that fellowship because it had many older members who were survivors of rational and socialist movements early in the 20th Century and we had great discussions. As those members passed away, the fellowship filled up with New Agers, who were nice but way too woo for me. I miss those moments with my old friends and singing together to just be together.

  42. The only thing I miss, really has very little to do with religion, other that the fact that it deals with Xmas. It was as a child, decorating the tree with the whole family participating. That went away more with growing up than anything else.

  43. … I know Captian Picard doesn’t really fly around in space, or that Penn doesn’t really cut the girl in half …


  44. @Mae: That touches a nerve with me.

    I really hate it when I go to a funeral and everyone present knows the deceased had little to no interest in religion (or had even turned to the “Dark Side” and consorted with Skepchicks and other “demonic forces” ;-) ). The priest/pastor then turns the funeral (which I think should be a celebration of the deceased’s life and accomplishments, as well as a sharing of good memories) into a Hellfire and damnation sermon about needing to come to jebus. That might be appropriate if we are at the funeral of an unrepentant Scrooge, but most people don’t fit that description.

    Give it a rest…it’s not all about church dogma at that point. It’s about the deceased.

    Somebody pulls that shit at my funeral and I’m gonna get out of the casket and whack him upside the head. Then I’m going to haunt his ass for the rest of his life! LOL

  45. @PopeCoyote: Did you ever sing Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas” at one of those. I’ll bet that would have gone over well…

    For those that don’t know the lyrics:

    “They said there’ll be snow at Christmas,
    They said there’ll be peace on Earth,
    But instead, it just kept on raining,
    A veil of tears for the virgin birth.
    I remember one Christmas morning,
    A winter’s light and a distant choir,
    And the peal of a bell ,
    And that Christmas tree smell,
    And their eyes full of tinsel and fire.”

    “They sold me a dream of Christmas,
    They sold me a silent night,
    And they told me a fairy story,
    ’till I believed in the Israelite.
    And I believed in Father Christmas,
    And I looked at the sky with excited eyes,
    till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn,
    And I saw him and through his disguise.”

    “I wish you a hopeful Christmas,
    I wish you a brave New Year,
    All anguish, pain and sadness,
    Leave your heart and let your road be clear.
    They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
    They said there’ll be peace on Earth
    Hallelujah! Noel! Be it Heaven or Hell,
    The Christmas you get, you deserve.”

  46. @QuestionAuthority: I didn’t know that one. It would have been a good one though. But we did do “War Is Over” at Xmas. I did “Imagine” on a couple of occasions and folks there actually HAD listened to the lyrics and still liked it. ;)

  47. I just got back from an Advent party and the food and wine was great. People shared musical talent and I talked with a doctor friend who risks his life training persecuted tribal peoples in isolated areas or Burma. I enjoy these parts of the “holiday” season.

    I grew up in a very nominally Christian home and Christmas was more about our Scandinavian family traditions than anything religious. I became more devout in my Christian beliefs as a teen and twenty five years later I de-converted. I still like doing Christmas things to a point and I enjoy attending the Christmas Eve service at the Episcopalian church I use to attend. I’ve sung in choirs for most of my adult life and love classical music of which some of the best is seasonal religious Christmas music. No reason to give up that art form because of a change in my religious views. I also like eating Christmas things and drinking Christmas things and hanging out with my friends with Christmas as an excuse to get better wine and booze than usual. And that tree really does look fine with all the lights turned out and a fire in the fire place and Ms Fox snuggled up next to me on the couch.

  48. I was raised Jewish so the things I tend to get nostalgic about are the various seasonal/festive foodstuffs. That includes obvious things like all the passover stuff as well as less-obvious things like the Rosh Hashanah first-cholent-of-winter.

    I always hated going to synagogue – even before I became an atheist – so I don’t miss any of that. But I do occasionally miss the peace and quiet of our traditional family-meal-and-no-TV Friday evenings, which I’m sure I would appreciate now a lot more than I did as a kid.

  49. I don’t have much attachment to these things. It was weird fr me as a kid because we didn’t celebrate Christmas thanks to my grandparents being Jehovah’s Witnesses. My folks tried to make it up to us by having something called “anniversary” but that ended after a particularly embarrassing incident.

    At first Christmas was a guilty pleasure because I felt like we were sneaking behind my grandma’s back. (Despite her being dead the year of my first official Christmas.)
    But it became awkward and uncomfortable for me so I opted out.

    Easter was done for me after I cut myself on the ham. Seriously. (Long, stupid story there.)

    We have new traditions now that I really enjoy. Family game night on Saturdays, dinner with my folks on Sunday night. That’s good times right there.

    I do miss the back to school parties my family threw each year. It was a fun way to get excited about a new school year and score some awesome magic markers. I should reinstate that for my two youngest nephews!

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