Celebrating Life

Jan Devor

The world that we live in too often seems filled with very serious business. Grim news, grim rules for children ("Don't leave my sight at the mall or someone will kidnap you!")1 and grim expressions on our faces. Teachers, parents, and coaches are constantly telling children to "Get serious!"You have to be a serious student, a serious worker, a serious musician, or a serious athlete to get ahead.

There is indeed a lot to be serious about, from economic concerns to violence and injustice to the seemingly intractable problems of poverty, starvation, and war. That's why nonreligious people are involved in so many social and civic actions: We realize that our efforts in the here and now are the one shot we have at making this world a better place. There is so much to do, so much to work on, so much to think and talk about.

But just as we have only one life, our children have only one childhood. It would be a shame to allow the amazing joy of being alive to be consumed by the grim and serious side of things. So how can you lighten up your children's experience of the world? How do you give them a shot of hope, fun, and excitement, a feeling that growing up is an adventure, imbued with meaning and delight? How do you give them a sense of family and the continuity of time? One great way is through rituals, celebrations, and holiday festivals.

Ritual is something that you do repeatedly. It offers that feeling of continuity to life and to your family. Celebrations are occasions to have a party! You can combine ritual and celebration, of course. Birthday celebrations provide a perfect example. They vary from year to year but usually include some element of tradition as well, some golden thread connecting each individual celebration with those that have passed. Perhaps the parents always read a poem that they've written about the birthday person. Maybe you always slept over at Aunt Meg's house on the last day of school.

Holiday festivals are those cultural and religious celebrations that come around once a year—and usually mean some time off from school! These include both religious and nonreligious holidays, as well as religious holidays with fully formed secular expressions, like Easter and Christmas.

Which brings us to heart of the matter for nonreligious parents. The idea of parallel secular expressions of religious holidays is key to the nonreligious experience of cultural celebrations. That most holidays have religious roots, even those we think of as entirely secular, should come as no surprise, since the church controlled the calendar and traced the rhythms of the year for so many centuries. Both Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day were originally the feast days of saints, after all. Does that have to interfere with our expressions of love or Irishness?

One way or another, nonreligious parents must come to terms with the religious holidays. Kids don't like to feel out of sync with the majority of their friends who are celebrating, for example, Christmas or Easter. Don't be the parents who make your child say, "Happy Spring" instead of "Happy Easter." Instead of discarding religious holidays, make them your own. Many of us were celebrating Christmas as kids long before we even knew that Jesus was involved! Look beyond the religious underpinnings to the human meaning surrounding each holiday and the human needs that are satisfied by it. Generosity, kindness, peace on Earth, the uniqueness of every child—these are values not just for the religious!

There is a wonderful new movement called Krismas that captures all the warmth, spirit, and fun of Christmas but focuses on Kris (Kringle) and his spirit of giving. Many secular families have found Krismas the perfect solution to the conundrum of that particular holiday, bellowing out "Merry Krismas!" to friends and neighbors and meaning it with all their hearts.

This chapter includes many more suggestions on how to reframe holidays to a more secular view. Also, holidays such as the Fourth of July, Earth Day, and Thanksgiving are perfect opportunities to invite religious relatives over for a celebration unburdened with religious expectations.

Creative rites of passage are meaningful ways to recognize the development of your child. These rites can acknowledge movement between school levels—preschool to kindergarten, middle school to high school, and so on— or a way to remember someone who has died. Some mothers want to recog-

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