People who were raised as part of the religious majority in the United States and other countries where Christianity of some sort is the predominant religion often have some questions when they, through choice or circumstance, become part of a minority.
When raised as part of a religious minority, and depending quite a bit on how much of a religious community was in your area, you grow up knowing that a lot of things aren’t for you or don’t apply to you. This feeling is probably familiar to people who are Christian but are part of a non-religious minority group. This feeling is probably completely foreign to people who were always part of the racial, religious, linguistic, and sexual majority. When these people, due to conversion, find themselves no longer part of the religious majority, there can be a feeling of outrage and backlash. That, my friends, is the feeling of loss of privilege (not all your privilege, mind you, but a bit).
Outrage isn’t something that happens to everyone in this situation, and it might not be what comes first. There is confusion, and there is loss. When there is loss, there is grief. According to Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages of grief. First, there is denial. This can manifest in new converts denying that they are no longer part of the majority whose holidays are being celebrated. They might deny that those holidays are indeed religious in nature and assert, instead, that they are cultural holidays and claim to only celebrate the secular parts of those holidays that they celebrated as children. The second stage of grief is anger. Many people are angry for a long time, and that’s ok. No one can tell anyone else how long is appropriate for them to spend in each stage of grief. Anger in this situation frequently manifests as Christian-bashing. Thankfully, such bashing is not usually violent – it’s generally angry and condescending speech. The third stage of grief is bargaining. In this stage, many people make excuses for why they should still get to celebrate the holidays of their youth, and it can look a lot like the denial of the first stage. They might claim that they can celebrate these holidays in a way that makes it ok for them – whether that be to pray to a different god than the rest of their families during religious rites, loudly point out that many of the trappings of these holidays are pagan in origin (if the convert is pagan) regardless of whether the pagan group is the one that they’ve converted to or not, or to do it only so their children don’t feel left out (newsflash: children all over the world who are part of religious minorities are left out of the activities of the majority). The fourth stage is depression. People may question their conversion and wonder if the price they’re paying is worth it. The fifth stage is acceptance. In this stage, people develop celebrations for their own holidays and accept that it’s ok to be different. They stop seeing themselves as less-than simply because they are different.
In the United States, Christmas (December 25th) has been a federal holiday since 1870. Non-essential employees do not go to work, and schools are closed. There are no non-Christian religious holidays that enjoy the same status.
It seems that it is during the major Christian holidays that people most feel the effects of living in a Christian overculture. There are other effects, to be sure, like the references to God on our money and in our Pledge of Allegiance, the format of swearing to uphold the truth in a court of law (though there are alternatives there), and simply living day to day with the assumptions of others.
As another major Christian holiday has just passed, many people have just been thrown into grief and confusion over what to do about this holiday. I grew up in a non-Christian household with Catholic grandparents on one side. I always went to my grandmother’s house for her holidays (Christmas and Easter, generally). My mother always just told me that I was going to help her (my grandmother) celebrate her holidays but that they weren’t my holidays. My mother and I no longer believe the same things, but I think her approach is still a good one. Know who you are and what you think, but accept the hospitality of your family and be a good guest.