Well, we’re back, and this week we’re right in the midst of what everyone else is, too.

An Atheist and a Catholic 

Sarah on not being cynical during the holidays:

As for me, I don’t. It’s a constant battle.

Which is where the Catholic Church has really helped me, to be honest. I can write off nearly all the holiday “joy” I see as consumerism, I can make snide remarks about materialism run rampant, and I can even get a grudge about how isolated people’s holiday charity efforts are.

But when that infant is in the manger on Christmas? Something about that makes me pause. Something about that makes me think about the fact that stepping in the dog’s water (again) because the nearly-three-year-old boy was making soup with it (again) while I was juggling five things I wouldn’t have to if it wasn’t for the stupid holidays…well, something about that little person—both the one in the manger who I’m preparing for (imperfectly at best) and the ones under my roof (however temporarily)—makes me think beyond myself.

Then again, did I mention I fail? 🙂

Brittany, in reply:

I suppose “alcohol” isn’t an appropriate answer?

Just kidding. It is really hard to not get caught up in the consumerism and competition and cynicism this time of year. I’m not immune, as my wish for Sarah to have a Happy Shopping (er, Thanksgiving) was what set off this post. Luckily, keeping in mind who and why I’m shopping helps a lot. And seeing the presents under the tree as a representation of the happiness and fun of family gatherings helps, too.

For me, the key is balancing the getting with the giving, and I don’t mean just within my relatively privileged family. It’s a no-brainer that the holidays are the time for lots of charitable giving among believers and nonbelievers alike. I try to give money and time to charity and donate old belongings or unwanted presents to Goodwill or a charity that gives directly to the needy. I also remind myself that if I’m making responsible choices about where I’m spending my money (e.g., at local businesses, from individuals, charities, or through an Amazon affiliate link, which gives a percentage to the nonprofit I work for), than I have nothing to feel guilty about.

And it is true that those people who are “good” only once a year are annoying, but, well, I guess once is better than nothing. It’s easy to be cynical about those once-a-year givers, but on the other hand, many if not most charities depend on those end-of-the-year donations to fund programs for the next year or make up for this year’s budget shortfalls. The rampant spending might even make people more generous, because after spending hundreds on gifts and trimmings, what’s another hundred for a charity? After having to take your SUV to a family gathering to cart home all your gifts, why shouldn’t you take another car-full to Goodwill or a shelter? When you’re picking up the makings of an epic holiday feast, why couldn’t you buy just one extra bag of groceries to take to the food bank? If we’re being pragmatic, maybe we should be grateful for the donation rather than worry about whether it was motivated by momentary guilt or a deeper feeling of charity?

Read all the posts in the An Atheist and a Catholic series here.