Dear Amy:

I come from an atheist family. As I have grown up, I've come to draw my own conclusions about my beliefs. The majority of my family remains atheist.

Over Thanksgiving my mother, brother and I went to my boyfriend's home and spent the holiday with him, his parents and his grandmother. They are religious people - his parents and grandmother attend church almost every Sunday; Brian goes only for holidays or special occasions. Before we ate, Brian's mother politely informed us that their tradition is to say grace before eating formal meals, so we bowed our heads and grace was said.

This year for Christmas, my oldest brother, his wife and his mother-in-law, all atheists, will be present in our home.

My mother and I want to invite Brian and his family over for Christmas dinner, but when we sit down to eat, prayers for grace will likely not be said because this is simply not our tradition, especially when nearly everyone in my family does not believe in God. I am worried that we will offend his parents and his elderly grandmother.

Does something need to be said, or should we just carry on as usual? If we don't say grace, Brian's family may be offended. If we do say grace, my family will most likely feel uncomfortable and could be offended.

- Clueless in Oregon

Dear Clueless:

When you were guests of your boyfriend's family, Brian's mother politely informed you of their pre-meal faith practice, giving you the opportunity to join in or sit quietly and wait for the meal to start.

When you host this family, you could start by saying, "We don't say grace before meals, but if you would like to, you are welcome to."

A polite guest tolerates the practices and traditions in the home she is visiting. A polite host is concerned with the comfort of her guests.

Your family has every right not to pray; sitting quietly if others choose to shouldn't be too challenging. After all, as atheists you are voluntarily hosting Christmas dinner, which is, after all, a religious holiday.

Dear Amy: We have delightful neighbors who have lived next door to us for 18 months.

During the holiday season, our neighbor brings a large light-up plastic Santa from his childhood and places it in the corner of his yard. This means that we have to spend the season with the back of Santa a few feet from our home, shining into our family room.

We cannot agree whether to say something without starting bad feelings.

- Santa Shining

Dear Shining:

You should invite your friends over to your home for some eggnog and holiday cheer. As you stand together admiring your unique view of their Santa, you could make a joke of this by saying, "Now, we love Santa's backside as much as anyone, but do you guys think you could reposition him just a scooch to the side? Every night we feel as if he's about to 'moon' us."

Ho, ho, ho.

 

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