I can’t remember which holiday it was. I think it may have been diwali. At any rate I was annoyed because whatever religious moment it was for whichever religious group, it sounded delicious. And I was jealous.
I’m not a practicing anything. I’m an atheist. So while I eat a nice dinner at Christmas and Easter, I don’t actually celebrate anything besides birthdays the rest of the year and so I miss out on all sorts of opportunities for deliciousness and celebrations. And it’s not just the food. I like that religious celebrations take a moment to pause and appreciate something important, to gather loved ones near and to celebrate a day or a moment or a memory that has a greater meaning that just yeah good food. And so I decided that it wasn’t fair that religious people got all the fun and that I would start celebrating the food and community side of various religious feasts. But not religiously, since I’m not, and so How To Eat Like An Atheist was born as a fun little sabbatical project in my head.
But this has been full of traps. Traps that lead deep into the internet. How do you pick which days to celebrate?
First I picked a handful of countries and decided I would see which religious days they celebrated and what they ate. Surely Christmas in India is different from Christmas in Mexico. But I needed a representative sample of countries worldwide and by the time I got to the end of compiling my list I had 40 countries. I may be on sabbatical but I do not have time to look up the religious holidays of 40 countries. Then I found this list on wikipedia that outlines public holidays by country and I thought awesome - someone has done the work for me. But I fell into a wikihole of epic proportions. Did you know that Albania celebrates Mother Theresa Day? Or that Bhutan has a Blessed Rainy Day? Or that Haiti was discovered on my birthday? Or how complicated lunar holidays get? Neither did I and each country’s listing got me further into the internet and farther away from choosing a celebration for January.
So I abandoned that. Besides, I want religious holidays. Not just public holidays. I shall look at it from the religion perspective. So I started to put together a list of the major religions. I looked at religions based on the number of people who practice them worldwide. But when do you stop? Christianity divides into the Catholics and the Protestants who then unhelpfully divide into a bazillion groups again. There are different types of Judaism. Sunnis and Shiites. Then does Taoism count as a religion or more a philosophy attached to Confucianism? What about newish religions that have popped up in the past hundred years? What about the different religions in India? And I haven’t even BEGUN to touch on the indigenous beliefs in South America, or even blinked at Africa.
Too much! Stop! this is supposed to be fun! And so, after all that, and weeks of falling into wonderlandesque wikiholes. I found this website that holds an interfaith religious calendar. It may not be perfect. It may miss out on some of the more obscure holidays, but this is what I am going to use as my main calendar for the project.
So, the plan is thus. Pick two religious celebrations a month. they may be based on a convenient date (points for falling on a Saturday or Sunday), general interest in the holiday itself (how does one celebrate the circumcision of Christ?), and deliciousness. Since this is an exercise in cooking and eating the food will of course be the most important factor. I am also reserving the right to combine celebrations. There are certain dates that are important to more than one religion and I think it will be fun to combine them and see what food we end up with.
The last piece of the puzzle is the community. Celebrations are a time for family and friends to get together and be with each other over something special. Connecting with loved ones is such an important part of being happy and as an atheist I don’t get as many excuses as others. So this is an open invitation - come hang out with us and eat and be merry.
The game begins January 1, 2011.