For most of my upbringing, I went to church with my grandparents every Sunday. My extended family was Mormon and I was baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) when I was nine.
As a kid, I wasn’t just religious — I was a competitive, bible-thumping, church mega-nerd.
I won my church’s annual scripture bowl three years in a row, volunteered to give speeches and taught peer lessons. Yeah, I was that kind of dedicated Jesus freak.
But when I was about 17, I stopped going to church.
In my quest to know as much about the Mormon church as possible, I starting asking questions about what I viewed as flaws in doctrine. One of the first arguments I remember having was with a Sunday school teacher, who insisted that what I had learned about evolution in a science class was flat-out wrong.
I also disagreed with the church’s requirement that all young men serve a mission — during which you spend two years in another state or country spreading LDS teachings. I worried a mission would derail my future college studies.
I was especially bothered by the church’s view that being gay (specifically, acting on those impulses) is a sin. I questioned why the church would want people to suppress feelings of love. In response to my questions, I was told by teachers not to ask questions, and that I couldn’t “pick and choose” what parts of the religion to believe.
As I got older, it became clear to me that I didn’t believe in the church’s teachings, and I didn’t believe in the concept of God as it’d been taught to me.
Today, I do not have undying faith in a God who created the universe and plays an active role in my day-to-day life.
Technically, I consider myself agnostic. Based on the scientific lack of evidence, I don’t really believe there is a God, but I’m not ruling out the possible entirely. I honestly don’t feel like I’ll ever be able to get a definitive answer in my lifetime, so I’ve sort of decided not to worry about it.
When I first stopped going to church, I was resentful.
I felt soured on religion. I was mad at myself for having spent so much time devoted to a faith I no longer believed in. I explored other belief systems, dabbling in Kabbalah and wearing the red string from the tomb of Rachel around my wrist, but I quickly realized organized religion just wasn’t for me.
The only thing I really miss about going to church are the holiday songs.
During the hourlong, main session of church — called Sacrament Meeting in the LDS church — the congregation would sing three or four songs. Usually one at the start of Sacrament Meeting, another in the middle, followed by the closing hymn at the end of the hour. Sitting between my grandma and grandpa and singing along to the hymns was my favorite part of going to church, with the organ music filling the chapel’s vaulted ceiling. Sure, I loved kicking ass in Sunday school and annoying the hell out of all my teachers with my incessant questions, but singing hymns was my main jam!
During the month of December, I loved the musical reminders that Christmas was approaching. The holiday hymns like “Angels We Have Heard on High” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” really were the best songs in the hymn books, IMO.
Singing church hymns with my grandparents is among my favorite childhood memories.
Holiday songs no longer make me think of God or Jesus; they make me think of my grandma and grandpa. They remind me of times spent sitting in church, but not in a regretful way. Both of my grandparents passed a few years ago, and though I can no longer be with them during the holidays, I can enjoy all the memories I have of great times we shared. Now every time I hear “Silent Night” (my grandfather’s favorite Christmas song), I’m transported back to Long John Silver’s, where we all went for dinner on Christmas Eve. Then we’d drive to Sacramento to look at the holiday light displays, or to my grandparents’ house, where my cousin and I tussled over who got to hang the best ornaments on the Christmas tree.
It took me awhile to get to a place where I no longer felt resentful.
There was definitely a period during which I felt irritated by the lyrics in Christmas songs, which reminded me of my time spent studying religious texts. I had to learn to embrace the fond memories of holidays with my family instead.
But, though I do not possess the faith that so many people around the world have, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy celebrating seasonal holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah.
These days, there’s nothing I love more than singing out to tracks like “O Holy Night” and “Joy To The World” by divas like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion throughout the holiday season.
And by “holiday season,” I mean the weeks between Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Because can we ever have too much holiday music?
When I sing lyrics about God, though, they’re not an expression of religious faith.
For me, the holiday season isn’t about celebrating the birth of one person. It’s about celebrating life and good memories with family and friends.
I can’t help but love all things about the holiday season — from Black Friday shopping to the Starbucks red cups. OMG, and the food! For me, Christmas is a much-welcomed reason to gather around the table and enjoy a meal with my family, and to give gifts to show how much I value the people in my life. It’s a season to celebrate love, regardless of what you believe.
This post was originally posted on Dose.com.