One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
It’s that time of year again – the malls are bustling with last-minute gift buyers, your mailbox is bursting with cards, and Faux News keeps telling you that you are waging a war against it all. As an Atheist, it can be difficult to decide what to make of it. Am I compromising my integrity by participating in a Christian holiday? Or is it okay because it was stolen from the Pagans first and, in any case, is just about secular consumerism?
Christmas is not a Pagan holiday – sorry. The date was moved to coincide with Pagan celebrations and many of its traditions (“O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum…“) are Pagan in origin. But Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, a decidedly un-Pagan topic.
There is no War on Christmas(TM). The whole concept comes from the same place as the Medieval theory that Jews use the blood of Christian babies in their dark rituals. That is to say, it was made up by people who stand to gain from your fear and hate. Most Atheists would be perfectly happy to be wished a “Merry Christmas” and open presents with you.
Christmas, as we know it today, is a very recent invention. Most of its ‘traditions’ have been tacked on in the last 150 years or so and have little or nothing to do with Christianity (in fact, most are either Pagan or commercial – or both – in origin). In other words, the support for a ‘traditional/Biblical Christmas’ is about as hollow as the support for a ‘traditional/Biblical marriage.’
Christmas, whether we like it or not, is a cultural construction. Atheists have as much claim as Christians do to everything beyond the Christ-mass (which I sat through for many years and shan’t miss).
So what does this all mean?
It means that Atheists choose, as individuals, whether to celebrate Christmas or not, whether to wish “Merry Christmas” to others or not, and whether to be offended when it is wished to them or not. As far as my Christian readers go: relax, enjoy your federal holiday, do your holy-day thing, have fun opening your presents, try to make it through without throttling any relatives, and try not to break the law.
What does Mr. Popular Sentiment do?
Last year, I sent out cards wishing my friends and family a “Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.” This year, I stuck to wishing them a “happy New Year.” When speaking, I also just wish people a “happy New Year” (I don’t see much inclusiveness in “happy holidays”).
For the past few years, I haven’t bothered with anything special on the 24-25 unless I am visiting extended family. Christmas with my parents is whenever close to the season we get to see each other. My husband is Russian, so he prefers to open presents on New Year’s day, and I’ve adopted that as well. We do decorate, and we own a plastic tree that gets pulled out of the closet every year for the purpose.
I am never offended by a simple well-wishing in the form of a “Merry Christmas;” however, some people have been taking the War on Christmas(TM) too far. For example, a customer at my work sent out an e-mail to our entire mailing list last year to the effect of “Merry Christmas! That’s right, I said it, because that’s the kind of man I am. I stand by my principles and I don’t care what the liberal PC-police has to say about it!” Turning the phrase as a soapbox launchpad is a huge turn off, FYI.
Another example is the Boys&Girls Club ‘Holiday Angel’ program. Last year, my office decided to donate toys to charity instead of buying each other more useless things. One subset of the office refused to participate because the program title used the term ‘holiday’ instead of ‘Christmas’! I’m sure that all the little children who didn’t get presents that year appreciated that my co-workers stood by their principles.