I like Christmas. My wife and I normally have a tree and exchange gifts. When our granddaughters were young—and geography and travel permitted—Christmas in alternate years we gathered with my daughters, their husbands, and their kids, with the usual overeating and good spirits. As if that weren’t enough, for over a decade we’ve frequently marked Hanukah with Jewish friends.
Many atheists approach Christmas pretty much the way others do with the exception of the Christ part. (Come to think of it, that’s the way most Christians celebrate it, else there wouldn’t be all those “put Christ back in Christmas” exhortations.) There are exceptions, of course. Tom Flynn, a prominent secular humanist publisher makes a respectable case against atheists participating in Christmas.
Some Christians know how their predecessors stole the holiday from its pagan sources, that except by fiat Christmas has no connection to the birthday of the presumed Jesus, and (for good measure) Easter and much of the Christian story was “borrowed” from earlier religions. (I’ll deal with the plagiarism of Christianity in a later post.) Still, despite these particulars, most Christians act as if Christmas re-enacts the Baby Jesus, wise men, shepherds, and substandard lodging.
I don’t mind greeting others with a hearty “Merry Christmas” or being wished a joyful Christmas myself. Happy Holidays works, too, though some fundamentalists get their noses out of joint about it. Somebody spread the silly rumor that there’s a war on Christmas by unbelievers. Bill O’Reilly and Fox’s previous official clown Glenn Beck partake in that brand of stupidity. Fundamentalists, who seem constitutionally unable to take a joke, get their dander up over every imagined challenge to the hegemony of their superstition.
It’s possible to get rather rigid and doctrinaire about greetings. I’m pretty laid back about it, refusing to treat a sincere greeting as a call to revolution. I happily tolerate “God bless you” from Christians in my home country just as happily as I accept “nameste” in Napal or, for that matter, “happy solstice” from a latter day hippie here. (Funny how we often give greater latitude to foreign cultures than we do to each other in our own.) I feel fortunate to receive genuine well-wishing in whatever faith or culture it’s framed. Seems to me that this world needs all the good tidings we can muster, not rules that cramp their expression, silly rules that discount good will because the words chosen to convey it are rooted in a different take on life.
After all, I have neither pains of conscience nor irritation when I say Thorsday or the common contraction “Go(o)d b’ye,” though there may be atheists who do. I only this month learned of Merry Krismas as a secular greeting from Dale McGowan’s Atheism for Dummies. I like its cleverness in incorporating the fun-in-giving of the Kris Kringle myth. (Atheists like myths as much as anybody, though we rarely confuse even the most wonderful of myths with fact.)
Not being a Christian, I don’t fret much about Jeremiah’s caution (chapter ten) against the vanity of customs wherein “A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman [decorated] with silver and gold [and fastened] with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.” Given the botched-up job I’ve made trying to make trees stand up straight, a craftsman would have been a blessing. But my disregarding of Jeremiah isn’t mine alone; the Christians I’ve known don’t let the stick-in-the-mud prophet interfere with their decorating habits either. Apparently, choosing (and heeding) Bible selections cafeteria-style is as traditional as, well, leaving Christ out of Christmas.
Here’s the deal about Christmas. For billions it is a happy season—sometimes religious, sometimes not—offering at least momentary joy in a world with a joy shortage. There’s no war on it except to stop the pious from enlisting the government to protect their religion for them. (Fundamentalists have a bad habit of trying to control everything, then get upset if someone pushes back.) As I see it, Christians stole it from the pagans, so it’s only a good natured turnabout for us to steal it back!
All in the spirit of the holidays, of course. Merry Krismas!
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