Okay, now that we've established that Atheists are people too (my next bumper sticker) I must elaborate on some of the unique challenges atheists face when they attempt to navigate the corporate infested waters of the Religious/Holiday Celebration complex. As an atheist parent, how can I participate in making sweet childhood memories for my family marking certain seasonal celebrations without indulging in the religious aspect of such occasions? I know many people suspect that atheists gather their children together ceremoniously draped in a black robes, stirring a potion made from puppy blood chanting "Another year lost" as we toss a candle into the "meaningless void" of our lonely material existence.
There has always been something disturbing to me about Easter. Christmas always seemed like the more harmless cousin. Christmas is about a Baby (a magic baby surrounded by smelly farm animals) and young children intuitively understand babies and birthdays. Celebrating a baby's birthday is something they love and it doesn't take much for them to make the intellectual leap to "sharing" gifts with others on a special day. Easter as a Holiday is complicated by the whole Jesus Crucifixion, dying for our sins, rising from the dead culminating with his "resurection" up into the clouds and getting to live for fucking ever. Immortality.
Explaining how Santa and his reindeer fly, live at the North Pole, and manage to travel across the world in one night is nothing compared to trying to explain immortality to a 5 year old. Coward that I am, I contemplated sinking to the depths of actually reading my child the Easter story but gave up after glancing through some prominently displayed illustrated "Children's Bibles" in Barnes and Noble where every image of Jesus made him look an aging Soap star with a "Buddy Christ" grin.
As I tried to imagine myself reading the Easter story out loud to my child, I couldn't get past how ridiculous the whole thing sounded. Reading a bed time story about flying unicorns, slaying dragons or swimming with mermaids is more palpable to me because those fantasy creatures and fantastical scenarios are not worshipped or regarded as "real" by 90% of the American public. However, I'm also not comfortable letting major Holidays pass without some sort of activity for my child, and I've searched for secular gatherings that give my kid a sense of wonder without the heavy gravy of Christian guilt.
The Unitarians are the closet thing I can find that meet my criteria, because they appear to be Atheists with some minimal organizational skills. So, twice a year I make an appearance at my local Unitarian church to try to provide my child with some resemblance of the enchanting childhood rituals that I actually enjoyed as a child myself.
Last year I took my 4 year old to a the Unitarian children's Sunday school where we were treated to a stage play with teen actors titled: "The Inevitability of Mortality" - for kindergarteners. A combination of "Waiting for Godot," "The Seventh Seal,"
and "Alice in Wonderland" on acid, the play revolved around a lost circus Bear being stalked by the Grim Reaper. Seriously.
The Bear tries to avoid Death, but no matter what he does or where he goes Death finds him. Finally the Bear has to face the music realizes he has to die, and finds a successor in a young bear cub to whom he passes on his circus unicyle.
(I'm not kidding).
When the curtain dropped and the horrified adults turned to each other too stuned to clap, the sound of crying children filled the foyer. My daughter sobbed and buried her head in my lap and cryptically kept asking me "Where did the Bear go? Mommy what just happened?"
What the hell just happened indeed. I understand now why some ancient parents invented stories about heaven and angels, golden harps, and living forever in paradise. See what happens when you try to level with toddlers about Death!
So, this past Sunday was the Unitarian's annual "Easter Egg Hunt" for children 3-7 years old. Despite our experience with what my daughter dubbed the "scary play" we persisted and decided to show up again for Easter. Last year, the Unitartian children's program director decided that the kids should participate in a food drive for the homeless shelter with no overt symbols of anything Pagen, Christian, or commercial sugar products.
After being greeted with organic coffee (for Mommy) and vegan muffins the children were encouraged to scamper about the church grounds holding recycled brown paper bags hunting for cans of food instead of colored eggs and chocolate bunnies. The Program Director seemed genuinely hurt and perplexed as to why the children were not enthusiastic about searching the bushes for cans of Del Monte string beans. Needless to say my child thought the activity was "not very fun."
And she's right. Hyper contrived secular P.C. bullshit is "not very fun". Not for toddlers, and often not for adults.
Something was lost in the translation attempt, despite the program director's best intentions. It wasn't magical.
Childhood should have a little bit of magic. Children will find out the world is a scary shitty place soon enough -so why rush it?
There are precious few years of your life where you are innocent enough to believe in a large rabbitt laying edible luminesent eggs in brightly wrapped baskets. Later on in this culture you'll be expected to believe that the world was created 6,000 years ago while Adam and Eve rode Dinosaurs through the Garden of Eden - so really it's just a matter of picking which ridiculous poison you are most comfortable with, and want your own child exposed to early on in the hope that they will then develop some sort of immunity.
Wary of our previous Unitarian Easter experience we showed up on Sunday anxious about what we would find this year.
To my surprise, the new children's program director coordinated an actual Easter Egg Hunt - complete with colored easter eggs, decorated baskets, candy, competition, and prizes. And the response was overwhelming - the kids went nuts!
They were thrilled that even their skeptical/ hippie/progressive/vegan/ tattoed parents had let their guard down, just long enough to let them indulge in tradition simply for the fun of it.
" Mommy, I liked church today - can we do it again?" my daughter asked as we left the church with her hoard of Easter eggs and candy. "Of course we can, honey." Death may be stalking us, but damn it he's not going to take away our chocolate bunnies.