by James Zimmerman
‘Tis the season again. Atheists, free thinkers, and other assorted non-Christians purposely sit out the most over-blown religious holiday of the year. Some are passionate in their non-participation; others simply watch the procession from the sidelines. While some have pointed out the incongruity of an ostensibly secular government proclaiming Christ’s birth a national holiday, others have countered that such observations constitute a war on Christmas. When we consider the drain on the environment and checkbook that is Christmas, coupled with the overt religious themes, it’s easy to see how those who reject the Christian god likewise reject his followers’ biggest party.
In this way, I am an anomaly. I grew up in a devoutly religious household. We believed in Jesus. Yet, we never celebrated Christmas. That Christian version of Hanukkah was just another day. My sister and I did get to stay home from school, and my parents had the day off of work, but this was not our choice. If Christmas fell on a Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday, we participated in our routine religious meetings, like we did every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. If Christmas arrived on a Saturday, we did what we did every Saturday: we went dashing through the snow and knocked on doors passing out bible literature. When I became an adult, the day became convenient for catching a movie or getting together with friends who, like me, had the day off from work and nothing to do.
Though I no longer subscribe to that religion, I still agree with a couple of their Christmas concerns:
First, there’s hardly anything Christian about Christmas. Surely, if the gospel writers desired a celebration of Jesus’ birth, they would have said so, as they did regarding Jesus’ death. Since there are no records of Jesus’ birth, no one can even be sure if he was born, conveniently, on Sol Invictus anyway. If we believe the story of the shepherds being out with their sheep that night, then any date in December is highly unlikely. The bible gives no indication that the star that guided the pagan wise men was from god (my religion taught it was from Satan) or that the wise men visited Jesus while he was in the manger or even that there were exactly three wise men. Christmas carols were of heathen origin. Christmas lights were a holdover from the pagan solstice celebrations, when the lengthening of the days was championed with lights. The Christmas tree was likewise non-Christian; a symbol of life at a time when all other trees were either dead or dormant.
Second, Christmas generates rampant materialism, even in a country already bent on consumption year-round. Christmas is no longer a “day”; it has become its own “season,” one that apparently kicks off the day after Thanksgiving. December leads the year in fur, diamond, and luxury watch sales. It leads in liquor and greeting card sales. The only thing it doesn’t lead in is credit card delinquencies. That honor belongs to January.
Now freed from the belief that god, if he even exists, is angered by a day of gift exchanges, large meals, and lousy music, I am content to embrace Christmas and all holidays this season. Already, my wife and I have looked up information on creating dreidels and I’m pushing for a kinara. We have a three-year old son, and we feel it’s important to expose him to the practices and traditions of people around the world. For Yule, in honor of the solstice, I’ll take the opportunity to explain to my son the movement of the earth around the sun and how amazing it is that we humans have figured that out on our own.
One Christmas tradition we will not participate in is Santa. This doesn’t mean Mr. Nick is taboo in our household, merely that he is presented like Paul Buynan, Pinocchio, or Noah and the Great Flood: a fun story, but clearly fictitious. It is absurd to shift my son’s gratitude away from his parents and onto a mythical man that supposedly lives on the Arctic Ocean, employs elves and flying reindeer and swoops down all the good little Christians’ chimneys in a single night despite his rotund stature. Lying to him about an old, bearded man who knows when he is sleeping or awake or when he’s been good or bad smacks of the same mind games religious leaders play on their parishioners. Santa is, essentially, a gateway drug to Yahweh.
In the meantime, let the incessant advertising remind you to give to those who have less. Remember that the government’s involvement in Christmas is more palatable if you keep in mind how secular the holiday really is. And challenge yourself to find some good music.