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Defending My Non-Religion This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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My family celebrates Chanukah, Passover, and Christmas. We are a mixture of Jews, atheists, and agnostics. We never go to church, and don't know any prayers. Well, I know part of one – the Chanukah prayer we say over the candles.

I know a lot of people probably think that's scandalous. They probably think I'll go to hell, not just because I don't believe in God, but because I have the nerve to celebrate religious holidays on top of that. But don't judge me just yet.

I am tired of trying to explain to friends and acquaintances why my family celebrates religious holidays if we're not religious. In fact I gave up trying a long time ago, because no one listened. So now if people ask me why I celebrate both Jewish and Christian holidays, I simply say, “For the presents.” But the fact is, that's not it.

I'll admit, to me Christmas isn't about the birth of Christ, but it's not about presents, either. My family has made Christmas into a hybrid, almost like our own holiday that happens to share a few qualities with Christmas. We decorate a tree and put presents under it, and until I was 12, I believed in Santa Claus.

But the best part of Christmas isn't the presents or the tree. The best part is the visitors. We get to see relatives we haven't seen all year from places as far away as Florida, Virginia, Georgia, and Arizona. For us, Christmas has a precious, non-religious meaning – family. Christmas is all about family. We see distant relatives, and we celebrate our close family as well. Think of it as a family tradition that happens to fall on Christmas.

For us, Chanukah is a hybrid too. My Bubbie (grandmother in Yiddish) is Jewish, but my immediate family is not. And yet we still light the candles, give presents, and stumble our way through the prayer. My mom cooks the world's best latkes (potato pancakes), and we spin dreidels and eat gelt (chocolate candy wrapped in gold foil in the shape of coins). And we don't just do it to humor Bubbie.

Chanukah is another holiday we've made our own. For me, it's kind of a Peace-on-Earth holiday, celebrating coming together and being kind. We have our own prayer that we say in addition to the traditional Hebrew one as we light the candles. It goes like this:

“May all people have the freedom to pursue their dreams and find love in their hearts.”

Passover is another holiday that we celebrate because of what it stands for. Passover is about freedom from slavery, and freedom for all people in general. There are lessons to be learned from the story of Exodus, and they don't only apply to ancient Egypt. One lesson Passover teaches is that everyone has had a hard past, so you should sympathize with others, because that easily could have been you or your ancestors. The lesson I take is that everyone is worth something and that dignity and pride should be respected. Passover teaches that many people, even today, are not free, and we must work to help them. You don't have to be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or anything else to see the value in that. You just have to be human.

We have a poster in our house that reads “How to Build a Community.” It is a list of things you can do to make your community – and the world in general – a better place. The last thing on the list is “Know that no one is silent, though many are not heard. Work to change this.”

No matter what your religion, race, or background, we should all try to help each other. For me and my family, these celebrations are a reminder of that message. So if God does exist, I think He will forgive me for not going to church on Sunday, or occasionally taking His name in vain. I think that when it comes down to it, what matters most is how you live your life, and whether or not you are a good person. I try to be kind to others and not judge them based on stereotypes or gossip. These celebrations are a reminder of the values I seek to live by, and I think that even atheists can enjoy them for this meaning.

Maybe I should make more of an effort to explain all this to people, but honestly, they don't seem to listen when I try. So hopefully you'll read this and take it to heart, because I guarantee that some day you'll meet someone like me. When you do, I hope you keep an open mind.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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publicdomainThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jan. 6, 2012 at 11:59 am:
Cool :) I like your positivity towards things and bringing out the true meanings not only in these holidays but life as well.
 
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