The Deconversion Guide: Holidays

Welcome to part five of the deconversion guide. Click here for the last entry. 

Some of the biggest holidays of the year are just around the corner. Now is the best time to start preparing for them.

Once again I’m going to be assuming that your loved ones a) know about your deconversion and b) that there is at least the potential for weirdness over this issue.

Of course, some families are extremely comfortable relating to members who don’t share their religion.

And even families who are obviously uncomfortable at one celebration may have a very different reaction at the next gathering. I’ve had a wide range of experiences – from painfully awkward to not an issue at all – with the same exact group(s) of relatives.

So it’s entirely possible that this won’t be an issue at all. If it is, though, here are a few things to keep in mind.


If this is your first visit as a non-theist remember that, at least for some denominations, the feel of a Christmas/Thanksgiving/etc. service is completely different than it would be if you attended an ordinary service. You will almost certainly not be the only visitor there and it’s much less likely that you’ll be pressured into anything.

If you want to avoid church altogether, travel on the day(s) that your extended family typically attend church. For example, Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. There’s nothing wrong with arriving later in the day to sidestep the come to church with us! conversation.

(Incidentally, travelling in non-peak periods can lead to less expensive plane or bus tickets. If you’re driving, arriving a day before or after the crowds can cut down on your travel time, too.)


I don’t mind sitting quietly through a prayer but would be extremely uncomfortable reading the story of Jesus’ birth aloud (which is one of the Christmas traditions of my maternal grandparents).

Every non-theist sees this differently but it wouldn’t be polite or kind for me to participate so intimately in something in which I don’t actually believe whether we’re talking about the Bible, Koran or Bhagavad Gita. Even though I vehemently disagree with certain beliefs I deeply love and respect my theist friends and family members. Pretending to to share their faith, even if everyone knows it’s just lip service, would be incredibly inappropriate.

If you know a particular tradition will be an issue think about how you’ll handle it ahead of time. I, for example, might ask one of the Christians in the family to volunteer to read those verses.

If you want to change some of your traditions figure out what you prefer to do instead:

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen?
  • Have everyone share favourite childhood memories?
  • Bake cookies?
  • Listen for Santa’s sleigh on the roof?

I can’t promise that everyone will go along with it but it’s generally better to have an alternative activity in mind when you’re attempting to change something that has been happening for years.

Awkward Conversations

Oh, you know the ones. One minute you’re slicing the turkey breast on your plate or taking a lingering sip of coffee, the next great-uncle so-and-so swoops down for a friendly post-dinner interrogation.

Good times. 😉

I have relatives and friend with whom I’m comfortable talking about anything and others who are politely redirected to less personal topics.

If you’re like me and can easily get caught off-guard it might help to practice a few stock phrases:

“I’m happy with my life.”

“Thanks for your concern.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Or even outright conversational hijacks like:

“Can you believe how fast little William is growing? It seems like just yesterday he slept through dinner in his father’s arms. How are your kids/grandkids/pets doing these days?’

I’ve mentioned this here before but the message boards at Etiquette Hell are a fantastic resource for learning how to politely wiggle out of uncomfortable situations.


What are your favourite tricks and tips for getting through the holidays? Is there anything you wish you had known from the beginning?

(I’m leaving these questions a little vague on purpose. Please share your story in the comment section if you haven’t done so already.)

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