I know christmas 2012 is a ways off, but I'm already thinking about some issues that might arise and how to deal with it.
Background Info: My boyfriend and I have been together for 4 years, and we've lived together for 2.5 of those years, and we're both atheists (although he's still a bit closeted). We're very much together and in love and we were tired of spending so much time apart for the holidays. Unfortunately, our families live 6 hours apart, so spending some time with each family for each holiday isn't exactly convenient. With that in mind, we decided to split the holidays; in 2012, I went to thanksgiving with his family and he came with me for christmas with family. As you all know, thanksgiving isn't a religious holiday so there weren't any issues there, but christmas for both of our catholic families means going to church and reading from the bible, etc. In 2012, I will be spending christmas with his family. I no longer go to mass with my family, but he still goes with his.
Some Additional Background Info:
My family: For christmas we go down there for about 4 days, spend time together, play games, eat dinner, open gifts etc. Basically for me, it's an excuse to bring us all together (especially for my brother who lives clear across the country). My father still reads from the bible, they still pray, and my parents still go to mass. For a while after I came out to my parents, I also participated in all of these activities (because that's what I was used to doing with them as family) - but then they used it as a tool to get what they wanted. "You have to come with me to mass, it's mother's day," "it's father's day," "it's (insert some yearly occasion here no matter how trivial)." They weren't respecting my decision and I couldn't explain why I'd go for christmas and not mother's day, so I put my foot down and told them that I would no longer go to mass with them on any occasion, ever. I've stuck with that, and they now respect that I do not participate in religious ritual (even though they'd still love me to).
His family: He engages in active debate with his mother regarding skepticism and religion. Since he hasn't come out and said, "I'm an atheist," she thinks that he's exploring but that he's still religious. This has led to some conflict. We started talking about getting married at some point in the future, and she suggested the mission. My boyfriend let her know that if we did have a ceremony, we likely would not have it inside of a church. He's said to me that he would have a church ceremony to make his parents happy, but I, on the other hand, refuse to have a religious wedding for various reasons but particularly because I think it would be confusing for my family. Anyway, when he told her this, she flipped her lid for about week, saying thing like, "that girl ruined him." Thankfully, it only took her a week to calm down and apologize (unlike the 3 months to year with my family). Despite these discussions and conflicts, I still don't think that they get how much of a skeptic and atheist he is in his day to day life. She may expect us to all go to mass as a family for christmas,, as they always have in the past, and I understand that this changing would/will be difficult for her and that I'm the variable that's changing that in her mind.
So here are my choices for christmas 2012:
1) Politely decline when asked to go to mass, but let my boyfriend decide what he would like to do himself. This is consistent with me, what I believe (or don't believe), and my past behavior, but it could lead to some conflict with my boyfriend and his family (which he may or may not be ready for). I fear that if this is the year that he decides to stay back with me that I will once again be blamed for his actions, even if he makes the decision himself.
2) Go with them anyway (if that is what my boyfriend decides to do). This keeps the peace for one more year (even though I think facing the issue is inevitable, I also think that it's his decision how he labels and works through things with his family, I would have hated it if someone pushed me to confront the issue with my family before I was ready). However, if my parents find out that I went to mass with his family even though I do not go with them, they would likely be rather hurt and/or confused, which might just stir up the whole issue in my family all over again.
What do you think? What would you do and why?
I would choose #2... Maybe not for the reasons you might think.
Part of Christmas for me is about traditions to me doing things as a group is a part of it. It is important for some people, and others, not so much. It goes a long way with me. If the BF goes with the family, I would try to rough it and go along. If anyone asks, it is “just not your denomination”.
I like songs about Frosty, but do not believe in him. I would likely take my kid to see Santa as well. I know my mother never cared for football, but went with us when we went as a family to the games. I bet your Dad took you to dance of some other activity he did not care for as well. It is important for me to be myself, but sometimes I would rather not push the issue. I would rather be with my family.
Now do not get me wrong here. I was raised Catholic. I do not participate in the mass. I go, sit and listen to the music and enjoy the cut glass. (Even if I think they are wrong I still have some respect for their beliefs. Not because of the beliefs, but because of THEM. Besides, I cannot convert them if they are not my friends, and do not talk to me.) I still go to weddings and christenings because it is important TO THEM. And hey, I like the parties! If you had an atheist wedding, would you ask them to attend?
Contrary to what some people believe, I hate proselyizers; both Christian and Atheists. You will have an OK time as long as no one is unkind to you and tries to push the issue. There are jerks in every crowd.
Relax, enjoy the other activities, and have a pleasent time.