This morning I was reading some comments on Possum Mama's blog. One (Renee's) that was both annoying (because of its off-base assumption) and important (because those same assumptions are SO outrageously prevalent amongst Believers) asked about traditions and cultural/moral memes atheists pass down to their children.
The assumptions always seem to orbit around the notion that atheists have neither morals nor any traditions to cherish as part of a family and a society. The former makes me angry. The latter simply baffles me.
To address the moral issue: Morals have nothing to do with religion. Read Richard Dawkin's fine book, The Selfish Gene. Seriously. It's worth it.
Now, for traditions... We may not read the Nativity story in Luke as part of our Christmas festivities, but otherwise our celebrations probably look quite familiar.
Yes, we celebrate Christmas. When I first left the Mormon church, but hadn't yet finished my journey to atheism, I spent a few years as a Wiccan. Part of what attracted me to Wicca was digging through history and learning more about the roots of our popular holidays (unfortunately for my religious yearnings, studying history and anthropology killed any suspension of disbelief I could muster and left me ultimately admitting to myself that Wicca was as silly as any other religion - just more fun). So for a while I was pretty hardcore about celebrating The Winter Solstice or Saturnalia or anything with less brow-beaten baggage than Christmas. After having G-Rex and feeling a heavy burden to teach her truth, I had to drop cherished religious chestnuts, one by one, until I was left with Atheism. No, not agnosticism. Atheism. When I finally got to that point, I realized that it didn't matter what I called it. My family has called it Christmas for generations, so that's what my kids celebrate.
There are so many good, important things to teach my children. They learn about the Christian Nativity story. They learn about the Solstice and some of the celebrations archaeologists and historians have described. But those details aren't very important.
Important Things I Teach My Children (and specific holiday practical applications):
1. Family is The Most Important Part of Life. Full Stop.
Our Christmases are so wholesome and family oriented, we could make Norman Rockwell tap out. The quintessential American family road trip spirits us away to The Homeland my grandfathers homesteaded where extended families pack into warm homes, nestled in snow drifted mountain emptiness, to eat too much, talk too much, and attempt to fit a year's worth of joy into a week. This is not an easy thing. We have to save money and budget for it. We have to winterize our wimpy PNW cars and traverse icy mountain passes. But it's what we do because it's important. And it has nothing to do with religion.
2. Tolerance matters.
But tolerance is not the same as actively embracing the vivid, intelligent people who might think differently than we do. We love people who disagree with us. And we are loved by people who disagree with us. Homogeny is not necessary and thinking for oneself is not a fearsome thing.
3. It pretty much rocks to give AND receive.
4. History matters.
Those who have gone before leave fascinating legacies. Learning from their strengths and weaknesses can help us more actively and consciously shape the selves and family we are.
5. Solstices are cool.
Astronomy is fun.
There's more, I'm sure, but I'm getting tired of listing and need to go make dinner.
My point is that for holidays, as is true for every other aspect of humanity, nothing of value has been lost for lack of deity. And, for me, an authenticity has been gained that I never would have expected had I not relinquished the safety net of faith to pursue knowledge.
(I'm concerned that the final sentence sounds like I think religious folk have no use for knowledge and that's not what I mean. However, on the search for truth, there is the brick wall of faith... where a person has to decide that there are things they can't understand yet must accept to please God. I defy the notion that accepting anything "on faith" is a good idea. Why stop at faith when, with effort, one might know?)