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"Why does Eleanor celebrate Annika?"

On our ride home from school the other day, Jackson asked me, "Why does Eleanor celebrate Annicka?"  I found myself stuck.  I don't know how to discuss religion at all.  I guess my biggest concern is trying to discuss the idea of a God and/or Jesus without sounding like too much of a skeptic.  Jackson's question made me realize that I am pretty certain I don't believe in a God or Jesus.  But, I want to let him make his own decisions about religion.  As a kid, I went to Sunday school up to my first communion and attended a Jewish day camp.  I preferred Friday's challah bread and grape juice to Sunday's communion wafers. 

My concern is that I'm only showing Jackson the commercial side of Christmas.  I don't know how to explain the religious aspect of the holiday from an objective point of view.  Lately, we've been heading into the church after school (his school is in part of the church) because Jackson likes to check out the stained glass and the beautiful Christmas tree.  I find myself wondering if I should take him for a service one Sunday.  Or, maybe like me, he just prefers to admire the beautiful church interior and the enjoy quiet open space.

Does anyone know of a good way to introduce religion?  Maybe a book that presents all different religions and belief systems.  Is 3 too early to be trying to discuss religion?  I'd love any suggestions. 

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Hi Erica and happy Boxing Day :) As if there's not enough holidays to keep straight... In my simplistic view of the world I just saw fit to tell Andrew that we were celebrating Jesus' birthday by giving each other gifts. Now I don't necesserily subscribe to Christian Dogma, as it were, but I do believe in Jesus as a historical figure. Of course there's also the whole story about Santa and the elves and the deer and milk and cookies and all that stuff... but I think it's a little early for them to be able to keep it all straight. I think if we just answer their questions as factually as possible, and then admit when we don't know the answers, they will be able to use that information to form their own ideas when that time comes. I have to admit I'd have to do some googling and reading to remind myself of the history and reason behind "Annicka" but it would be a great learning experience for all of our family.

Hmmm. A toughie for me too. We're Jewish, but unreligious in the God/Bible/Torah sense. I also come from a bicultural background (Jewish and Indian) so I have more than one religion in my history, although I was raised to identify myself as Jewish.

My son is fascinated by religion and God, and has been since he was about 3 or 4. (He's 6 now.) Mortality, God, the afterlife, spirits, the whole chebang. He wants to believe in something all-powerful and good, and I've surprised myself by encouraging his belief. Although I don't believe in a literal guy-in-heaven-with-white-beard, I do have a reverence for the world and a sense of gratitude (having kids has really pushed me in that direction). I figure the word "God" can be a symbol for that belief, for now, for my son.

I also want to let my kids make their own decisions about religion - but after they grow up.

This comes from my personal experience growing up with "nothing," but being encouraged to read and think about it on my own. For me as a kid, that just didn't cut it. I wanted to be "something." Like all kids, I loved ritual and tradition and I understood early on that religion was full of those things. And that because my parents could care less about religion, that aspect of life was denied to me. I was so curious about God, about faith, about the Big Questions, but no one really talked about any of that in our house.

I decided at a young age that I was going to bring my kids up with a specific religion. They would have a concrete religious identity. If they wanted to reject it when they got older, fine with me!

And this is what I'm doing. Fortunately for me and my husband, we have a (long-neglected) religious tradition to return to. I imagine that figuring it all out when you don't have that in your past could be more difficult.

I don't think 3 is too young to talk about religion. But what I think makes more of an impact at 3 than talking about it is doing it. My 3yo doesn't understand that he's Jewish or get the concept of God. But he knows where we go on Saturday mornings, and he looks forward to lighting the candles on Friday nights. Making religion part of the rhythms of life will make it real to him. So yeah, go to a church service with him and see how he likes it. (My friend who's started taking her kids to a Unitarian church really likes how they honor a variety of religious traditions, if you're looking for something more universal).

Whew! Sorry to run on so long. Can you tell this is something I've been thinking a lot about?

I was raised Catholic (12 years Catholic school, church every Sunday and everything else) and I am now a devout atheist. We do the winter holidays and, since both our families are Catholic, Christmas is a focal point. But in our little family (hubby, 2-year-old daughter and I), we emphasize the common winter holiday theme of light. We light candles and "Christmas" lights and talk about the darkness and the sun coming back to make the days longer and warm up the earth so things can grow again. And on the Solitice we clap and cheer and jump around because mommy is really, really excited about longer days! I've done some reading on the pre-Christian European traditions that have been folded into the Christmas rituals and feel more comfortable with explaining them as traditions that bind us to our families and our cultural history than as things related to belief in a deity.

Our daughter doesn't understand most of that but it does provide ritual and tradition and that is what I remember holding dear as a child (and as a grownup, too). As she grows up, we will talk about what other people believe and why daddy and I believe what we do. And hope we can give/find good-enough answers to her questions.

Amy--I appreciate your thoughtful response. As another devout atheist, I strongly subscribe to the notion that ritual and community can be created outside the church.

Our family seeks out ways to connect with the world through political gatherings, art shows, storytelling shows, neighborhood walks, travel, singing songs, creative projects, doing charitable works, engaging with the natural world, cooking together, telling secrets, writing letters, and making up jokes.

So far, when Max has asked about origins and beliefs, I tell him that there are many theories, and then I share mine--that I beleive in the goodness of all people.

I was born and raised Catholic, but my family practiced the religion in body and not in spirit. Raph was born and raised Catholic, also, but his family is very devout and deeply religious. In his family, there are two monsignors (both of whom married us, then both participated in baptizing both our girls), a cloistered nun, and another aunt took lay vows. Both Raph and I have questioned our upbringing and our religions severely. I have gone without faith for a long while. In the end, though, I believe in a higher power, and I generally call that power "God". I could probably call the higher power many other things, and it would still quench my need for something to believe in.

We have lost two family members in the past two months. Our belief in the higher power and belief that there is some existence beyond our earthly one has helped us cope with the poignant losses. It has even helped us explain the losses to the girls.

When it comes to the girls, we are sharing what we believe with them, be it about religion or about other topics like politics or other views. They are exposed to our talks about how we feel about Bush as much as our talks about how we feel about God. When they become of age, it will be up to them to decide whether they'll want to believe in the Republicans or in God. We can only explain as much as we can why we believe what we do. In fact, it helps to have to explain all that we do as part of Catholicism, as I never really understood much of the meaning when I was a child.

It is probably easier that both Raph and I ended up practicing the same religion. But, since I am pretty loose about my religion, I probably could have been attracted to a variety of faiths.

I will say that I appreciate the tradition, culture, ritual, and community that accompanies the weekly church-going and other things. We have been talking to the girls about higher powers since way back when, and they seem to understand that we are all watched over. Philly appreciates going to church and she is also able to appreciate some rituals and their meanings.

As more time passes, I hope we can continue to be in the presence of difference. Philly has learned some of the histories of San Lucia, Kwanza, Hanukkah, Solstice, and - of course - Christmas. The stories are rich with heritage and culture, and I think it's important for us all to somehow connect with each of them.

The important function of religion for our kids(they 2yo and 4 mo)will be to give them a sense of belonging to a loving and protective force (God) that/who is larger than they(or even Mommy and Daddy). In addition, it is to provide guidance and assurance that there is a home for their soul that is without worry, sadness and is full of happiness. For me, growing up with these feelings/knowledge was empowering, not stifling. The sense of love was real and manifested in many ways throughout my life. So, I guess my point is.. no matter what the belief system, hopefully, there is a set of ideals or faiths and community in which the child can draw strength and guidance from thoughout their lives.
Happy 06 to all!

Erica,
There are so many amazing resources out there to teach wee ones about religion, especially during this time of year. I think the important thing is that your son opened the door to this topic. What a unique teachable moment!

I used to teach at a Jewish school, which ironically enough consisted of primarily non-Jewish families. However, part of the curiculum consisted of teaching all the students about Jewish holidays. We were given resources to help with this process and there were books upon books on the subject, all age appropriate. The children seemed satisfied with the simplistic way these holidays were presented and enjoyed learning about them. It actually taught me how amazingly open-minded little ones can be and that we, as parents and teachers, need to seize this opportunity. I cannot think of a better time to fill their little minds with acceptance of diversity.

The truth is at this young age your son is probably going to believe in what your beliefs are, and as he grows, more than likely he will tweak them in order to fit who he is. I am in my thirties and I still find myself tweaking. The important thing is that he remains respectful of others beliefs.

Hi all,
Thanks so much for all the posts. It is so great to get so many different ideas on how to approach this subject. I'm going to print up all the comments to refer back to. Today, Jackson and I were playing dump truck and fire engine and had our first conversation about God while crawling around the house.
Thanks again and Happy New Year!!

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