After leaving a high-demand Christian religion, December became a confusing time of year for me. Suddenly I felt really out of place during a time of year that I used to love. I felt like the holidays didn’t have room for me, and if I celebrated anything at all, I’d be a fraud. It was a pretty triggering month at that point, and it took away a lot of the goodness that this festive holiday time used to bring me.
That first December after leaving the religion, I ended up just celebrating how all of my family was celebrating, but I still felt a little uneasy, and it just felt like a weird space. I felt weird singing hymns about things I didn’t believe in anymore, and every religious aspect of the holiday felt heavy and too literal for me to participate in easily. Churches already made me nervous now, but during December they became especially foreboding. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to claim this time of year again, and I thought I would always feel like there wasn’t room for me.
Over the years, I’ve grown and come to understand my own beliefs and standing in the world. I’m agnostic, which is pretty true to my roots before the religion, but I practice a lot of Buddhism and witchcraft as well. I honor nature, empathy, and equality, and I’ve found spirituality in those things. The last few years have shown me that while these beliefs and this unconventional view on life and spirituality are seemingly incompatible with December’s festivities, they’re in reality not all that unrelated.
I intentionally started incorporating Santa Claus into my celebrations. That’s always been the epitome of the season for me anyways, so it was something comfortable that already was big during this time of year. Rather than making it a religious thing, or adding religion to my celebrations, I focused on the goodness of this symbol. Santa represents giving, charity, and magic—all things that are beautiful and worth embracing. In one year, I made my festivities only about Santa Claus. It was beautiful, and I loved the focus on service that it brought into things. This wasn’t religious (although it is rooted in Paganism), and it felt like a safe space for me as far as festivities go.
The next few years involved me understanding that the deep connection I felt for nature was a spiritual one. It “counted” just as much as the spirituality that people felt for their gods or commandments, and just because feeling grounded in nature isn’t seen as a religion (although it can be) that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter or isn’t worth celebrating. Once I owned that, and owned the fact that nature inspires me and is sacred to me, I was able to understand that there are spaces for that as well. I started celebrating Pagan holidays (passively and proactively), and I began to realize that these celebrations can be held during seasonal festivities as well. Not only are Christian holidays rooted in Paganism, but during December, celebrating Yule or winter in general is a beautiful way to nod to the Earth. Everyone needs and relies on the planet, and most can agree that they have some sort of connection or appreciation for it. Many people passively celebrate winter through festivities like ice skating or making warm drinks and watching the snow fall. I just decided to do that intentionally, and make those things into actual celebrations throughout the month.
So at this point in my life, December feels like a magical time of year for me again. There is space for me and everyone during this month, and while I still get triggered sometimes with die hard Christianity during this time, overall this is a really joyful time of year for me. I’ve made it about giving and celebrating the literal season. I do a lot of volunteer work, make time to honor the winter, show my loved ones warmth, celebrate Yule on Yule and Santa Claus on xmas, and I celebrate in ways that are true to myself. I don’t do anything out of obligation anymore. That’s unfair to me, and I have every right to own my own holiday season. I know a lot of people who struggle with all of this. The holidays come, and they feel like they don’t belong in the space. If you feel this way, know it’s completely normal. Depression and stress are at an all time high during the season, and if you’re not religious or don’t belong to a conventional religion, it can feel like there’s not enough room for you during the holidays.
The fact of the matter is that no one has a monopoly on December, and the only person who can decide how you celebrate or what you celebrate is you. Own that. Own your own season. I put up a live tree, make warm drinks, watch holiday movies, decorate winter treats, and do other many conventionally xmas activities. The difference now is that I’m choosing to do them, they’re done intentionally, and they’re not done to honor something that I don’t believe in or feel comfortable with. So whether you want to only incorporate your favorite holiday traditions, but make them your own, or you want to start from scratch and make your own traditions, it’s all valid. Think about what speaks to you during December, and celebrate that. Maybe it is Santa or winter, or maybe it’s not celebrating anything at all. There is no wrong way to spend the month. Spend it volunteering every day or making snowmen or reading about cultural celebrations during this time. They’re all perfectly wonderful ways to celebrate. It’s your month, and so you should decide how it’s spent. We all deserve joy during this season, and whether or not we believe in a god shouldn’t determine that. There is room for everyone at the dinner table and ugly xmas sweater party.
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!
Photo: Emily Degn