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5 Things You Shouldn't Ask Your Atheist Friend During The Holidays

As the old adage goes, say something nice, or say nothing at all.
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The holidays are here, which means many of our Christian or Roman Catholic friends and family are gearing up to celebrate honored traditions, like attending simbang gabi, saying prayers before meals, and honoring the birth of Jesus first and foremost as the centerpoint of the season. However, because not all of us are practicing Christians or believe in God at all, friction among families isn’t at all uncommon. Granted, there are annoying atheists who like to shove their beliefs (or, well, lack thereof) in their relatives’ faces, but for those of us who respect yours, here are some of the things we don’t like to hear: 

1. “So why do you even celebrate with the rest of us?”
Well, we don’t have much of a choice—it’s a national holiday after all, and most Filipino atheists and agnostics tend to be born into Christian or Catholic families that do celebrate Christmas. Of course, receiving presents and getting a few days off from work will always be a welcome thing. It’s unproductive to insinuate that we don’t “deserve” to celebrate Christmas because we aren’t religious or don’t believe in God. Christmas, at its core, is about love and inclusivity, which means celebrating everybody in it—including your atheist relatives.

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2. “Don’t say ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Merry Xmas.’ It should be ‘Merry Christmas.’”
It should be noted that not all nonbelievers are particularly nitpicky about this one—I’m an agnostic who is perfectly fine with saying “Merry Christmas.” But the fact that religious Filipinos prefer to use the term that emphasizes the word ‘Christ’ means Christ is the focus of their festivities. That’s not true for some of us. Besides, what’s important is the intention behind one’s words: if your atheist friend genuinely cares for you and wants you to enjoy your Christmas, it shouldn’t matter if they use “Happy Holidays.”

3. “If you don’t pray for us [your family], it’s like you don’t love us.”
In what universe did we pick up the notion that atheists and agnostics have no morals? Just because we don’t prefer to pray for our family doesn’t mean we don’t love them. We might show our love in different ways, whether it’s physical affection, the giving of gifts, or a listening ear—and just like prayer, we can do this well beyond December 25.

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4. “You can do whatever you want outside this house, but when you’re here, you need to follow our traditions.”
This is a common curveball thrown at us by parents or grandparents: Habang dito ka, susunod ka sa gusto namin. It’s especially effective if you no longer live with family and are just flying in for a reunion. See, the thing is, no one can bring their nonbeliever child, niece, or nephew any closer to God if they are forced to do something they don’t want to do. We have a more genuine shot at finding God if we go through that journey on our own volition, not at the behest of those around us.

5. “Kaya ka _____, kasi di ka naniniwala sa Diyos.”
It’s unfair to attribute someone’s misfortunes or failures in life to a lack of belief in God. Everyone goes through their ups and downs, whether they’re religious or not. This false association might give holier-than-thou relatives a temporary ego boost, but it doesn’t do much to boost the morale of a nonbeliever going through a tough time. Just like you, we want to hear words of encouragement and support, moreso during one of the happiest days of the year.

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Chandra Pepino
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