by Eric Jayne
I love Christmas! That shouldn't come as a big surprise since it's arguably the most popular holiday in America. However, I might raise a few eyebrows if I added I am an atheist who loves Christmas. Many people might find a tremendous contradiction in a self-proclaimed atheist wishing friends, family, and neighbors a merry Christmas.
Like many freethinking secularists, I see absolutely no contradiction and I will continue to unabashedly practice Christmas traditions with my family while staying consistent with my freethinking philosophy. The way I see it, all of the fun parts of Christmas are secular: decorating trees, exchanging gifts, candy canes, eggnog, cookies, parties, lights, culinary overindulgence, Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, and so on. And, in my opinion, the numerous festive secular and novelty Christmas songs are far better than their dreary religious counterparts.
I understand that Christmas is often recognized as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and "Christ" is the linguistic anchor in the word "Christmas", but it is important to remember that winter solstice pagan celebrations, which predate Christianity, deserve the credit for establishing December 25th as the date of our intoxicating annual snow draped yuletide.
It is commonly understood that after the Roman Emperor, Constantine converted to Christianity he teamed up with the Christian church in the 4th century and co-opted the pagan celebratory day of December 25th. The church, with the Emperor's support, invented and branded that day as the date Jesus was born, thereby facilitating the conversion of pagans to Christianity. It was the ultimate proselytizing strategy.
Presently it seems that contemporary Christmas celebrations have more popular secular humanistic themes than religious. We're often reminded that it's the season of giving and to remember those less fortunate. Collectively, we're a kinder nation during the Christmas season and we donate to disadvantaged families exponentially more than any other time of year. We make extra effort to be with our family and friends and often exchange gifts with our co-workers. It seems that, by way of memetic evolution through natural selection, Christmas is well on its way to becoming an all inclusive humanistic celebration of goodwill rather than an ecclesiastical observance of an ancient legend.
In spite of media pundits and propagandists, there is no threat, or "War on Christmas". We rationalists understand this, but Bill O'Reilly continues to propagate a fanciful organized militant group of Secular Progressives (which he simplifies to "SP's") who are interested in forcing retail employees to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". Of course it's a ridiculous notion to declare a war on a holiday and equally outrageous to suggest secularists wish to trample on the constitutionally protected free speech rights of retail employees. Unfortunately these glaring fallacies matter little as these ideas have been popularized in recent years.
As atheists I believe we should overtly celebrate Christmas and take ownership of a beautiful day that originated as a celebration of the winter solstice. We need to capitalize on the secular themes of Christmas such as decorating trees, donating to charities, exchanging gifts, and visiting with family. We should unapologetically bask in the secular humanistic glory of Christmas traditions. I'm not necessarily suggesting that we freethinking secularists brazenly redefine Christmas (or December 25th) overnight as a solely humanistic holiday, but by nurturing the fun, popular, and secular elements of the Christmas season I believe the date will continue to lose its Christian façade until it's collectively recognized as a day to celebrate the kindness of humanity. Merry Christmas and happy New Year!