Saturday, December 6, 2008
So how on Earth - you might well be asking yourself - can I be an atheist and still celebrate Christmas? That's a fair question. The answer is that, to me, Christmas is a secular holiday. I have actually always thought of Christmas as two independent, simultaneous events. It is common knowledge that Christians co-opted the pagan solstice celebration for their own purposes. Despite renaming the holiday after Christ, there is only so much that can be done to honor the birth of someone who died nearly 2,000 years ago. This is where the secular part comes in. Call it Xmas if you like. I'm not a fan of silly language, so I still refer to the holiday as Christmas.
Xmas does not exclude anyone - Christians, Muslims, Jews - anyone can participate. Xmas is not about the birth of Jesus, it has nothing to do with the Three Wise Men and does not revere a mysterious star. Although these pieces of iconography occasionally seep in to Xmas, they mean as much as snowflakes, reindeer and sleighs. Xmas is about joy and giving and generosity. It is about food and drink and excess.
On a less cynical note, it is also about warmth and childhood and memories. I love Christmas because I have great memories of it. Like Pavlov's dog, whenever I hear Jingle Bells, my heart fills with pie and tinsel and my head spins with sugarplums and candy canes. I love to do the same things every year - trim the tree, listen to Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails, drink Brandy Alexanders, eat cookies, bake cakes, shop at the malls (despite - or maybe even because of the crowds), wrap packages, open packages, send Christmas cards, watch Home Alone again, watch White Christmas, watch Millions, watch Bad Santa, eat pie, eat cake... I love the smell of our box of tree trimmings - it smells dusty and dry, but familiar and warm.
I don't put out Nativities, but I do put up stockings. I don't watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, but I do watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I don't like to sing Little Drummer Boy, but I do love Carol of the Bells. Actually, I don't really sing any carols at all, religious or no. If you hate these things, then fine. Feel free to hate Christmas. There has been a lot of fuss about a sign that some Washington state atheists put up - more power to them, I say. Not because I think that Christmas needs to be stopped but because it is a fantastic opportunity to do some advertising and remind people how easy it is to mistake a secular event for a religious one. I wish people 'Happy Holidays' not because the word 'Christmas' offends me or makes my tongue burn, but because so many people do not celebrate Christmas that it seems insensitive to assume that everyone thinks the same thing you do.
As for me, I can find no good reason to not celebrate Christmas. It's fun and friendly and happy. And it is extremely easy to separate the religious aspect from the secular.