My Religious Background

My dad is a strictly secular agnostic—simply put, he doesn’t really care about religion. He was not raised in any specific religion, though I know his mother was raised as some variety of Protestant (I forget).

My mom’s religious background is a bit more complicated and far more interesting. She was raised Catholic in a family of nine children. My parents got married in the Church, but my dad likes to joke that, during their Pre-Cana, my mom was the one having “spirited discussions” with the priest, while my dad simply smiled and nodded to everything they were supposed to promise (like, for example, raising their children to be Catholics).

However, sometime between getting married and giving birth to me (her oldest child), my mom left the Catholic Church. When I’ve asked her why, she cites multiple reasons, including (but not limited to) its prohibition of female priests, its treatment of sex abuse scandals, and its stance on gay marriage, though the last is a more recent critique.

After my parents married and moved to where I grew up, my mom went to an Episcopalian church for a while, but the priest (who was female) left for another position; my mom never found another church to attend, so she fell out of the habit. I think she still believes in God, though.

Technically, I am also Episcopalian, since I was baptized in that church soon after I was born. We never went to church regularly as a family, and there’s never really been any mention of us doing so. In fact, because some of my extended family is Catholic, I’ve been to Catholic mass more than Episcopalian mass. Once when I was in elementary school, I asked, “Mommy, I know I was baptized Christian, but which one was it again?” This elicited much sighing from my mom.

I “culturally celebrate” Easter and Christmas. These holidays are now, quite frankly, bigger than Jesus, so that doesn’t sound like anything special. However, the way my family has celebrated Christmas is actually more religious than you might expect from a majority-agnostic family.

Since my mom grew up in a Catholic household, and she still likes those traditions, we do secular things like giving presents, making cookies, etc. But on Christmas Eve, our family of four, rose- and jasmine-scented candles in hand, would perform a small procession through our house, ending at the dining room where the nativity scene sits. The centerpiece, of course, is the brown-haired, blue-eyed, porcelain Baby Jesus, who in December lies in the kitchen cupboard next to the coffee cups until he’s ready to be born. We then read the Bible passage of Jesus’s birth (think A Charlie Brown Christmas) and sing traditional (read: religious) Christmas songs.

Because of this tradition, I know all the words to most major Christmas songs, both religious and secular. All this holds a special place in my heart, not so much because I’m passionate about Jesus saving my soul, but because I associate this tradition with family togetherness and warmth. But, now that I’m married, my husband and I will have to create our own traditions. Will I do something similar if I ever have children? My husband is a Catholic-turned-atheist, so who knows?