Religious Holidays for Dummies

11 Dec

I was raised Catholic by my father, whose deep faith continues to sustain and nourish him. Going to church with him was a great experience for me, one I feel lucky to have had. The mass itself was a little talky and boring, maybe, but the music–our church used the folk mass, so there were guitars and singalongs–was great. I loved sitting next to my dad every Sunday, harmonizing with him and taking some quiet time to think about things. Things like rollerskating and Nancy Drew, but bigger things, too, I’m sure.

Plus, every week before church we ate these honeybuns my dad had found in the freezer section of the grocery store and served warm alongside scrambled eggs–I would unroll mine into a long snaky strip, saving the middle of the coil between my thumb and index finger as a last sweet soft gluey perfect bite. And after mass the grown-ups set out trays of donuts in the lobby! The whole room smelled like coffee and warm fried confections, and my sister and I would sidle over to the table, swipe two or three, and sneak away to quickly cram them into our mouths, the goal being to have empty hands and a mouth full of the “one” donut we were allowed by the time Dad caught up to us. (Hi Dad!)

When I went away to college I tried to keep up with my faith, but the church on campus used the Latin mass complete with thick clouds of choking, spicy incense which made my eyes water, and my one religious studies class kind of tanked my opinion of religion, and I was trying to be a good lefty, and long story long I drifted away. Upon reflection what I had loved most about church was the time with my dad. And the food–no honeybuns, no donuts, no mass. Another couple of hours of Sunday sleep, please.

And now I have children. My husband was also raised as a church-goer, but neither of us is a devout adult, and we have very much enjoyed quiet Sunday mornings at home throughout our marriage. When we had a baby and a toddler, adding church to the schedule was unthinkable, but now the kids are older, and I must admit to some churchy pangs. I have a creeping suspicion that it’s our responsibility to expose them to a church so they can make an informed decision about church-going. And I feel guilty that they don’t know anything about religious doctrine; for one thing, they’re never going to get blasphemous jokes. Plus they have only a shallow understanding of holidays with religious underpinnings. I went to church faithfully for eighteen years, but my grasp on theology is only so-so; still, it’s better than theirs, so the other night at dinner I decided to make sure my kids knew the story of Christmas, the “Reason For The Season” (or at least the churchy one.)

Me: “So you guys know that Christmas is the day Jesus’ birthday is celebrated, right? I mean, that’s one of the reasons Christmas is a holiday. I mean, it wasn’t actually his birthday? Because he lived a long time ago and no one knows when his birthday was really, or if he even had an actual proper birthday, I mean we just don’t know a lot about him as a historical figure, but anyway it is a day that people who believe in Jesus celebrate his birthday.” (Already sweating.)

8yo: “Wait, who’s Jesus again?”

Me: “He’s the son of God. Like, he’s God represented on earth as a human being.”

Blank looks.

Me: “Like, God put his spirit into a baby, and that baby grew up to be Jesus, and Jesus went around telling other people what God thought about things.”

5yo: “Ok. But Mommy, what’s Easter, then?”

Me: “Right. Well. Easter is… So, imagine if someone was walking around saying they were the son of God and telling all these people what God thought about things, and imagine that a lot of people believed him, and then imagine that Jesus started saying that God didn’t agree with what the government of his country was up to. The government got really mad at Jesus and wanted to get rid of him, so they. Well, they put him to death.”


5yo (eyes huge): “How did he die?”

Me (wincing): “Uh. So you know those plus signs that you see on the front of churches where the down part is longer than the sideways part? That’s called a cross. And Jesus was, um, hungfromacrossandthenhedied. ANYWAY!”

Kids: “He died from being hung from a cro–how did that kill him–didn’t that hurt–how did they hang him–how did he stay up there–did he cry?”

Me: “Right, well, anyway, so it took 3 days and then they put him in a tomb and then his followers came back to visit the tomb and they found the stone in front of the tomb rolled away, and then it turns out God had brought Jesus back to life, and that’s what is celebrated at Easter! Jesus coming back to life!”

5yo: “Mommy, what in the world does that have to do with the Easter Bunny?”

Me: “That’s a really good question, buddy.”

8yo: “And why does the Easter Bunny bring eggs when bunnies don’t even LAY eggs?”

Me: “I have always wondered that myself.”

And it’s at this point that I realized I can’t even explain secular traditions properly. Well, this has been another dispatch from the House of Awesome Parenting. You’ll probably want to print it out for handy reference.

15 Responses to “Religious Holidays for Dummies”

  1. alimonkee December 12, 2012 at 12:28 am #

    I think I will call you when the time comes to talk to Elinor about it. If nothing else we can thoroughly confuse two family’s worth of kids. 🙂

    • amomynous2 December 12, 2012 at 1:19 am #

      It would be my pleasure! Maybe we could let my kids handle it… 🙂

  2. Kay Leigh Ferguson December 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    You might love the book “To Dance with God” which comes from a similar relaxed CAtholic background, but which details really gorgeous meaningful home rituals for children. For example: in an advent calendar way, start a little basket or box as manger. Have some straw or grasses or any soft thing nearby. Each person in the family adds a little soft thing to the nest whenever they feel they have done something good or kind.
    They feel. If all goes well, a soft bed will be prepared for the baby Jesus by Christmas.

    • amomynous2 December 12, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Kay! And thanks for the reco! 🙂

  3. dieckmann December 12, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    you gave it a good go. just leave the rest up to rick reaordon (or however you spell his name).

    • amomynous2 December 12, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

      Is Ricky Schroeder a priest now?!

  4. Casey December 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Hilarious!!! I can just see you at the table. Loved the part about your dad too.

    • amomynous2 December 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

      Thanks for reading, sweet Casey Lou!

  5. Lissie December 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    This is why I send my kids to catholic school. That way they can remind me of all of the stuff I’ve since forgotten.

    Although, none of that answers the Easter bunny questions…

    • amomynous2 December 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

      Yes! I finally just googled that shite out of curiosity. And it pretty much remains mysterious, even after reading the “explanation”! Thank YOU for reading this entry!

  6. dez461 December 13, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    I grew up Catholic, but left it behind after I married. We currently attend a non-denominational, but not religiously (sorry). I do love it. I’m lucky that my mother-in-law is religious in her worship and knowledge. Whenever the kids have a question I can’t answer, it’s always “Let’s call Abby, she knows all the Jesus stuff.” It’s good that you’re trying though, better late than never.

    • amomynous2 December 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

      Thanks for reading, and for the retweet! 🙂

  7. Ken December 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    We are in the same boat…religious experiences as children ourselves, but not so much with the exposing-our-kids-to-religion thing. They went to a christian pre-school where they learned about the basics of Christianity. When we had to bury the family dog on Easter Sunday one year, our (then) three year old asked, “Will Aslan get back up in three days like Jesus did?” These days they have no clue about the genesis of many religious holidays. My solution was to tell my third grader to research it with a threat to remove a Christmas decoration a day until she can tell us the story. She seems motivated. I hope she comes up with something before I have to dismantle the tree.


  1. Santa Baby « amomynity - December 13, 2012

    […] a companion piece to my Religious Holidays for Dummies post, I wanted to transcribe the childrens’ 2012 communications to a higher power they […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: