Celebrating religious holidays when you’re not religious anymore

Abigail Gratzol, Staff Writer

It’s spring. And with spring comes a slew of religious holidays. For some, it’s a season of great rejoicing. For others… it can be a little awkward.

Abigail Gratzol
Abigail Gratzol on Wednesday, July 6, 2016 during summer church camp at Shiloh Park in Marion, Indiana months before her freshman year of high school.

For Jews, there’s Purim: where they celebrate the courageous acts of the Biblical heroine, Esther, in her heroic acts that saved the Jewish people from genocide. They also celebrate Passover (April 20) to commemorate their salvation from being enslaved by the Egyptians. As the story from the book of Exodus goes, after a series of plagues designed to get the Pharaoh to let His people go, God sent His Spirit to kill every first born son in the land. To protect His people from this plague, He had Moses instruct the people to smear lambs’ blood over their doorways so that the Spirit would “pass over” their houses. In the morning, every Egyptian’s first born son was dead, but the Jews were safe. Really sad for the Egyptians but it worked. The pharaoh released the Jews after that.

On March 21, Hindus celebrate Holi, (also called the “festival of love”) a festival where participants light bonfires and throw water and colorful powder at one another, celebrating “the triumph of good over the bad.” Other Hindu holidays this spring are Maha Shivaratri (March 5), Sri Ramakrishna Jayanti (March 8), and Ramanavami (March 26).

For Muslims, the season  kicks off with Ramadan, the month of fasting, on May 5. Laylat al-Isra’ wa al-Mi’rāj, on April 1, commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem, ascension to heaven, and return. Then, on April 19, Laylat al-Bara’at or Nisf Sha‘bān (it goes by several different names) commemorates Allah’s visit to earth to tell His people to repent of their sins.

For Christians, spring is also very busy. A lot of things in the Bible happened in spring. It’s the time of year that Jesus was crucified and then resurrected, which is the basis of the whole religion.

Most of the holidays follow Jesus in the days leading up to his death and resurrection. First, there’s Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Upon his arrival, he was greeted by crowds, who praised him, calling him “Messiah.” Just a week later, these crowds would be calling for the man’s execution. Next, there’s the less celebrated Holy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ famed last supper.

Then, it’s Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified. To Christians, this is a pivotal moment in their history. It’s the day they were saved. Jesus’ crucifiction isn’t just the creation of a martyr. In his act, Jesus is said to have become something of a sacrificial lamb for the Jewish people.

Before, God demanded that, in order for Him to forgive their sins, the Jews had to jump through a series of loops. I don’t feel like going into it all right now (because it’s ridiculously complicated), but the main thing is that they had to visit the temple in Jerusalem and sacrifice something.

Christians believe that, when Jesus died, he became the sacrifice for all humanity. Those who worship wouldn’t have to kill a lamb in order to go to heaven when they die. Now, all they would have to do is pray to Jesus for forgiveness.

So, yeah, that’s really important. So why is there so much more emphasis placed on Easter? Well, Easter is the day that Jesus was risen from the dead. Yep. The Bible has zombies in it.

So, yeah, after Jesus was crucified, his followers were pretty understandably shaken up. They didn’t know anymore whether Jesus was actually the Son of God or not, since he had been killed— a thing that most deities don’t typically do. So, when they found that his tomb was empty and were visited by him, their faith was restored.

Easter isn’t as much of an important date as much as it is a confirmation of faith for Christians. Actually, most religious holidays are the same way.

People want to be validated. Especially religious people. I mean, they dedicated their lives to believing in all-powerful beings that they have no tangible connections with. Who can blame them?

But it causes a few issues for me. A few years ago, I would have been in church on almost all of these days. I would have been on a spiritual high all month. Now…

Photo Courtesy of Aleisha Gratzol
Abigail Gratzol displaying awards won State Bible Quiz in which she had two perfect rounds on May 10, 2014.

Church hasn’t really been a part of my life since freshman year. First, it was because I had just entered the public school system for the first time after three years of being homeschooled. I was very overwhelmed by all the people and work I was now being exposed to and was too exhausted to go to church on Wednesday nights. Then, it got a lot more complicated.

Crap happened. Crap I never would have thought could happen to me. My parents were splitting up. At first, it didn’t affect the other parts of my life, like church. But then…

The change started gradually, my mom and sister stopped going to church. I wasn’t really sure why. People started acting  strangely around me, but I shrugged it off. I thought church was going to get me through it all.

Later, I found out that my mom was basically expelled from the church. Apparently, the Nazarene denomination doesn’t condone divorce— even when a person is trying to escape an abusive relationship.

So, my mother, a person who had given an innumerable amount of time, energy, and money to this church, was told that she wasn’t allowed to be a member of the community she helped build. This infuriated me. Although I wasn’t completely cut off from all church activities for a little while after that, this is the reason I’m not a part of it anymore.

Since being separated from the thing that had influenced every part of my life until that point, I’ve realized how crazy the whole thing is.

Abigail Gratzol
Abigail Gratzol posing for family photo on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014.

Looking at it all now, everything I used to believe in seems so hypocritical now. Just take my mother’s situation for example.

One of christianity’s favorite stories is about how, when some priests were about to stone a “sinful” woman, Jesus told them that anyone who had never sinned should throw the first stone. Realizing that none of them were perfect, they all left. What the actual heck happened to that principle?

My problem with organized religion is that it produces so much evil and hate. Everything becomes a contest of how good a Christian you are.

If your kids act out once, you’re obviously a bad parent. If you say that being gay isn’t a sin, you’re too liberal. If you don’t show up one Sunday, you’re immediately a fake Christian. If you don’t raise your hands during worship, you’re not that close to God.

There is so much social pressure created that it becomes impossible to actually be yourself. Plus, you’re forced to conform to the theology of your specific denomination even if it was thought up by a bunch of misogynistic, racist white guys half a century ago (if not more) or else, your bills won’t get paid.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that organized religion sucks. And it can make its holidays suck too. In the middle of celebrating, I’m often reminded of the hypocrisy I used to be a part of and it sometimes makes me sad. But, surprisingly, I don’t regret it. Despite all of the negative things about it, there are still many positives. For better or worse, it made me the person I am today. The mission work I was involved in made me globally conscious. The Bible lessons gave me a strong sense of morality. It allowed me to develop coping strategies, self awareness, and (believe it or not) acceptance and tolerance.

To this day, I still grapple with many aspects of my upbringing. Even more so during the holiday season.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the GENESIS staff. Email Abigail Gratzol at [email protected] .