Family Time at the Holidays: A Challenge for Theists and Atheists

The holiday season sometimes triggers tensions about religion, when family members who disagree about theology are thrown together in religiously-themed celebrations. For ideas about enjoying each other instead of arguing, see my entry of November 25, 2011, How Was Thanksgiving with Your Religious Relatives? Or Your Atheist Relatives? If you’d like suggestions about Christmas gatherings, see my December 16, 2011 post.

For a lighthearted yet thoughtful look at this topic, check out “The Christians and the Pagans,” a song about a modern family Christmas by Dar Williams. For the lyrics go to

There may be YouTube versions available as well. Here’s how the song ends:

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold.

May your family gatherings be a time of love and laughter, regardless of how you answer the Great Big Questions.

Roger Christan Schriner

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How Was Thanksgiving with Your Religious Relatives? Or Your Atheist Relatives?

Over the river and down the road, to Grandmother’s house we went — millions and millions of us all over the country. Thanksgiving can be a joyous occasion, but religious differences sometimes mar family festivities.

So what was yesterday like for you? Did theological matters come up, directly or indirectly? Were there subtle frictions about who offered a blessing for the meal or what was said during this prayer? Was attendance at religious services part of your holiday activities? How was that for you? Will you be going to a church, synagogue, or mosque with your extended family this weekend? Are you looking forward to this, or dreading it?

When family members sense that their religious (or non-religious) convictions have been criticized, they may feel as if their very being has been attacked. One way to ease these tensions is to emphasize that we love each other, we want the best for each other, and we’re all trying to understand life’s mysteries as well as we know how.

If we cannot say these things sincerely, there may be some very basic family issues that need to be resolved before we address religious differences.

A note to Christians, and atheists/agnostics with Christian relatives: Thanksgiving can serve as a dress rehearsal for the religious holiday which occurs one month from today. What can you learn from your recent Thanksgiving experience that will help you on December 25?

May your family gatherings be a blessing rather than a burden, a time of affection and forgiveness rather than resentment and hostility.


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