101. yule

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Do atheists hate Christmas?

With all of the talk about the “war on Christmas,” it would seem that the answer would be “Yes.” Atheists want to rain on everyone’s parade, and spoil the party with derisive and insistent assertions that “God doesn’t exist and neither did your baby Jesus!” We loudly point out that “Christmas” has pagan origins, and it was only later that the Church jumped on the Saturnalia bandwagon when they saw how they could use it to trick more gullible people into believing into the fictional god person and the even more fictional Jesus (who is just another recycled version of Apollo and Dionysus). We scowl and even growl at the happy people obliviously wishing each other a “Merry Christmas” and aggressively reply with “Happy Holidays.” We sue Christians for putting up crèches on public property, and try to force churches to take down their religious displays. We ban the singing of carols mentioning “God,” “Jesus” or any sacred motif.

Basically, we’re carefully and deliberately eviscerating any joy or fun out of the holiday season because, after all, atheists don’t believe in anything, and if we can’t have any fun, the rest of America doesn’t deserve to either.

At least, I think that’s something like what many of you will be hearing in church this weekend…

Today I saw this posted on Twitter and thought it ties pretty well into what I was going to write about today:

This is my first Christmas as a nontheist. This is the first year that I can remember where I haven’t gone to church on Christmas Eve, heard the songs and the traditional reading of the Christmas story, lit candles, sat with my family in a pew and sang “Cantique de Noël.” Of course, I see the origin of the symbols now:

  • We light candles against the night in order to remind ourselves that morning is coming.
  • We raise our voices together in song to remind ourselves that we are not alone.
  • In the story of the birth of Jesus is the story of the death and rebirth of the sun and the triumph of light over darkness.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these. In the midst of all the reasons we have to despair and lose hope, here are tiny beacons to raise our spirits.

Now, certainly there are atheists who want to rain on everyone’s parade, and who think (like the fundamentalists also most likely believe) that they’re really doing everyone a big favor by setting them straight and down the path to true enlightenment. After all, most people don’t really think about what they’re celebrating during Christmas. They’re just employing the symbols and the language of the season as part of the social traditions that are really just about gathering together with family and friends.

I guess what most irks me now about the Christmas season is the mindless dragging-out of all the trappings, the chintzy songs and the spirit of commercial merriment that any of us who venture out at any point between September and December 25 are forced to endure. It’s having to run the gauntlet of holiday parties, avoiding having what’s left of your soul hammered to death by the relentless stream of advertising campaigns, being saddled with the artificial guilt of having to get everyone in your life some sort of meaningful gift, and listening to the million-and-one iterations of “Merry Christmas!” from well-meaning stranger, friends and family.

No wonder there’s so much depression around this time of year. Every year we’re forced as a society into celebrating a holiday without much context to its symbols or its history, that is little more than a thin pretense for stores to quickly rake in billions of dollars in revenue (and have you noticed that they’re starting earlier every year?). And to make it palatable, it’s thickly coated with a sugary glaze of saccharine emotional appeals. I could delve into a diatribe at this point on everything I hate about commercialism and how it and not atheists are responsible for the evisceration of everything that’s truly special about this holiday.

But I’m trying to focus on the positives.

To be honest, I really don’t object much to Christians having their “special time of year.” If it’s going to get you through the rest of the winter—great, I’m glad you found something that works for you. But for the sake of all that’s decent, I wish they’d observe it at home and in their churches, show a little regard for the beliefs (or non-beliefs) of others, and leave those of us who don’t want to go along with the rest of callow America alone. Because unlike most Americans (it would seem), I take God pretty seriously: Seriously enough to not believe in Him.

And I take words, symbolism and their meanings pretty seriously too. I wish that people who didn’t really believe in God or that “Jesus is the reason for the season” felt that they had to pretend like they gave a damn about God, going to church because “that’s what we do on Christmas Eve;” or that corporations felt the need to bombard us with vaguely religious paraphernalia for three months out of the year because it makes people feel a little more mirthful, a little more generous, and a little more willing to part with their hard-earned money once a year.

Just as gay marriage will one day hopefully restore sanctity to marriage (if conservatives get over themselves), I think atheists could actually bring back some of the importance to Christmas by stripping away the artificial trimmings and trappings and getting back to what really matters this time of year: being with the people we love the most. We were doing that before the Church came along and told us we needed Jesus to do it properly.

So let’s welcome return of the triumphant sun, of longer days, the coming summer, and the likelihood that we’ll do all this again next year.

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2 thoughts on “101. yule

  1. Randi Jo Brist

    Fair warning…I loved the Christmas thoughts you brought up in your post, and I’ve been thinking about a lot this lately myself, so I’m going to take a chance and basically write a blog post in response 😉

    I think saying that all atheists hate Christmas is akin to saying that all Christians hate the rest of the year….both are without foundation and rather ridiculous. What most Christians don’t get…and has been driving me crazy lately…is that Christmas doesn’t belong to them exclusively.

    Christmas IS a syncretistic holiday. Anyone who is even marginally educated probably knows that a lot of the traditions we hold dear in the U.S. actually originated in Germany in the 19th century and were imported to the English-speaking world by Queen Victoria. The Winter Solstice is real, too, people. And Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem in December in a nice clean barn. Personally, I have no problem with this fantasy that we celebrate. I like my neo-Victorian, druidic-inspired, pseudo-Jewish Bethlehemic themed Christmas, complete with commercially-driven aesthetics everywhere. It’s not a scam so much as it’s the conglomeration of two and a half thousands years of different cultural and religious traditions–all jumbled together.
    What’s interesting, is we basically all find the same meaning in this holiday. Actually, considering how many traditions got mashed together, it’s amazing that it makes any sense at all anymore.

    You said it really well:
    “We light candles against the night in order to remind ourselves that morning is coming.
    We raise our voices together in song to remind ourselves that we are not alone.
    In the story of the birth of Jesus is the story of the death and rebirth of the sun and the triumph of light over darkness.”

    The deeper meanings here related to emotional holes that a lot of us need to have filled this time of year, regardless of our religious or ideological affiliations. Humans need tradition and symbolism and hope–especially when the world seems so dark (both literally and figuratively).
    For all these reasons, I wish that conservative Christians would stop being offended that secular culture has commandeered “their” holiday. It never really belonged to Christian’s exclusively, despite it’s name. I really don’t consider it a religious holiday as much as I consider it a cultural holiday with religious roots. (Pardon me, I think my liberal state education is probably showing.)

    At this point, the problems with Christmas I think are just as much cultural as they are religious.
    ***Christians get bitchy during the holiday season (esp.when you call it the holiday season)
    ***Businesses make way too much money selling crap that nobody needs and everyone obsesses over. People spend more time shopping than spending time with each other during December, and that is just wrong in my opinion. And so twisted, right?
    ***The trappings of Christmas control us–rather than the other way round. By becoming obsessed with the traditions, we have engorged the traditions to such a point…they’ve become monsters that eat us alive.

    In order to rediscover Christmas, we’d have to get back to the basics. Maybe atheists can help us do that. Without the pseudo religion holding them back and confusing them, perhaps the non-fundamentalist atheists can help us find the golden ore running through the massive Christmas mountain, so to speak. Unlike many Christians, I don’t think the basics means just celebrating the Christmas story (as my parents tried to do in their sweet fundamentalist fashion). Santa’s ok–but keep it classy and magical. Minimize. Use the season to connect with other people and remind each other of what we do share–our humanity.

    This is why I love the Doctor Who Christmas Carol so much. It uses the trappings of Christmas (neo-Victorian, Dickensian atmosphere) to do that very thing–help us reaffirm how we need each other, and what we have in common, basically, that we all want warmth and family and food and good song. In fact, singing a good song together can calm the Christmas monsters.

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