i like to celebrate the twelve days of christmas. remember my post about christmas overrunning thanksgiving? well, in addition to being completely appalled that christmas somehow descended upon all the shops and radio stations everywhere while most of us were still drunk from halloween, i equally hate that christmas vanishes just as quickly by the time the sun rises on december 26th. can we not have some time to enjoy it now that it’s finally here?!
so as it does every year, our tree stayed intact until january 6th, when i packed the lights and ornaments away and clipped the limbs off to be burned in the fireplace (actually, that’s still an ongoing project as this year’s tree was very full. read: there is an odd half-tree in my living room right now).
though i am no longer religious, christmas still means a great deal to me. perhaps it’s the humanitarian concepts of the holiday; the “peace on earth and good will to all;” the encouragement to think of others and give to them if we can. it’s also the happy memories and good feelings about christmastime that i recall from my troubled childhood. besides, who even needs an excuse to put a tree in their house and smother it with shining, twinkling, colorful trinkets for a whole month?? it’s one of the most wonderful and completely bizarre ideas humans ever came up with if you ask me… and i love it.
do you like to keep christmas going after december 25th? if you’re atheist or otherwise non-religious and enjoy christmas, why? what does it mean to you?
What I think of Christmas is pretty irrelevant to my Atheism. Even when I was religious, it wasn’t a religious holiday. Good Friday/Easter were always more overtly religious to me. The issue I have the Christmas is that I just think it’s so crassly commercial. Not in the sense that we’re not remembering the reason for the season. No, I mean in the sense that materialism and consumption are disproportionally important to our culture, and many aspects of Christmas bring out the worst, and the most glutinous of is, in the West.
But, of course there are things I love about christmas. I love spending time with friends and family. I love cooking the dinner ( when I do cook it) and it’s fun to find the perfect thing for a certain friend or family member, that they really like and would use. But I just think it’s so over the top, so material, that many parts of it, I find problematic.
My favorite christmas was actually in Olympia Washington. I was away from my family, so I spent the evening with this Jewish Friend of mine, who hates Christmas. The local Olympia Movie theatre had a night time showing of “Fiddler on the Roof” and my friend invited me to it. I was a fan of the movie, so I thought why not. I had no idea what it was going to be. He and I smoked a giant joint and went, and the line was HUGE. Like, I couldn’t believe it. And it was almost all Jews. Many of them, dressed in costume of characters from the movie. It was like, a celebration of jewish culture for the people in line, in their on fun defiance of the Omni presence of Christmas. When we got inside, the whole theatre sang along with the songs, clamped, laughed. It was crazy, it was so much fun. It was like a Jewish Rocky Horror Picture show, if you’re familar with that particular subculture. It blew my mind, it was so much fun.
Now, contrast that with how I’d spent my previous Easter. The Passion was still in Theatres, and I went with an Ex-Catholic friend of mine. He had been in training to be a Priest, when he lost his faith. So we went in there, in a theater PACKED with Christians. And we laughed, and laughed at how ridiculous, creepy and weird the movie was. Right up until the torture. There was nothing funny about the pornographic detail that movie goes into Jesus’s torture. After that, it was emotionally draining to watch, just because it was so intensely graphic. It was fascinating to watch, to examine it as a tool of indoctrination, of how effectively it made people feel guilty . People in the theater were crying, because.. I mean, he was doing it for THEM. Their sins had caused this nice fella to get beaten like that. People had brought their small children ( which I think is abuse, honestly) and were sobbing. The movie was essentially a fetishistic snuff film, and they were all making themselves watch it, so they could know exactly what christ did for them. It was really crazy.
It has been impossible for me separate those two movie experiences in my mind, to compare and contrast. How much fun the Jewish people had, celebrating their survival and cultural tradition. Not all of them religious, I imagine most weren’t ( my friend wasn’t) But they were having fun with a shared cultural experience. That’s what I think Christmas, and any holiday should be, not the religious fetishism of that Easter Passion viewing. I don’t think the theology of Judaism is any more valid than Christianity’s, but I’d rather spend the evening socially with a bunch of jews, than a bunch of born again christians. They have better weed, for one.
you know, i hesitated about whether or not to bring atheism into this post. i think i went ahead and did it because i saw so much on twitter about “why do atheists celebrate christmas?” and “atheists shouldn’t be ALLOWED to celebrate christmas!!!” …even my mom asked me, not in a condescending way (i don’t think), “why do you celebrate christmas? what does it mean to you?” and in light of coming out and being more vocal about it lately, it seemed appropriate.
but i actually do share your sentiment that my atheism has little to do with christmas. not only is christmas gruesomely commercialized (more on that in a minute); it’s also largely cultural, if i may use “cultural” to describe the whole of the usa. i guess it’s fair to say that in a lot of ways, christ *has* been “taken out” of christmas. whether one celebrates christmas at home or not, the christmas tunes are played everywhere we go; the stores ALL put up christmas decorations; most people’s workplaces probably acknowledge or celebrate christmas (or “the holidays”…but really christmas) in some way. i was actually caught very off guard that there really is a sentiment out there, even if it is by a minority, that atheists should have no reason to celebrate this holiday that we probably all grew up celebrating and have good memories associated with it. why would i give up something so happy because i don’t think jesus was a savior?
i almost talked about the commercialization of christmas in this post, but decided it would make me way too negative. the consumerism and materialism especially got to me this season, and a sentiment i shared on social media was this:
nobody is trying to take away christmas or its sacredness (oh wait, except for the retail industry by commercializing the shit out of it, airing marketing campaigns compelling you to be the best gifter in your family, and extending holiday hours into, well, the actual holidays themselves).
i didn’t listen to as much christmas music as i normally do and i avoided the shops even more than usual. what few commercials i saw (we don’t have cable, so i don’t see many commercials, HOORAY) sickened me to death (they all seemed to be about being the bestest, mostest gift-giver?!). and, of course, the fact that the stores have almost changed the meaning of “holiday hours” to MORE rather than LESS… what are these holidays even for anymore? it got terribly hard for me to feel like anybody truly gives a shit about the meaning of them, whatever the meaning might be. i strongly related to cindy-lou who in the beginning of the grinch who stole christmas. ;]
my husband and i decided to get each other one not-very-big-or-expensive gift and fill our stockings with edible goodies for the twelve days. it was exciting to wake up and pull a new treat out each morning to nibble on with our coffee. i feel like it helped me keep the kind of perspective on christmas that i wanted to keep and not become completely embittered and cynical about it.
i’ve been fortunate enough to this day never to have seen the passion. i wanted to see it when it came out, but i knew it would be too intense for me. what you describe about people’s reactions is exactly what i remember hearing about it.
i kind of decided a couple of years ago that if i HAD to be religious, i would want to be jewish. they do seem to have a good time. :]
As a kid, we would leave our trip up until February. We all loved it so much that we just couldn’t bear to take it down so quickly. Nowadays, I like to keep the decorations up for about a week into January. I got everything put away this week and now our house feels so bare!
i love that you used to do that. i don’t love how bare the place looks when the tree comes down! it would be nice to keep it up most of the winter; so bright and cheery.
I agree about the consumerism, of course. It doesn’t even really anger me, or anything, I just find it distasteful and artless. I wish people bought less things, of a higher craftsmanship and beauty. It just see a lot of empty consumerism for it’s own sake in our culture, and I don’t relate to it.
I think the “Atheists don’t celebrate christmas” thing is an outcropping of the absurd war on Christmas. As if, because someone says “happy holidays” they want Christmas to end. Christmas almost entirely drives the retail sales industry, our economy would collapse without it. The idea that there is a war on it, is so paranoid and absurd.
I kind of love Christmas music. I’m a sucker for catchy sing along songs, and pop songs and what not. Even the religious ones, I often think are beautiful. I think the tradition you and your husband have, is truly beautiful. That’s the kind of thing christmas should be, family traditions, new and old.
I think honestly every Atheist should see The Passion. Maybe not the ones who grew up in the church, and know about the manipulation and the guilt. But, if you grew up secularlly, I think the passion would be incredibly informative about the way the Church works in general, and Catholocism in particular. My friend, who was in priest training, pointed out little Catholic specific things about it to me, that I might have missed. It’s very interesting, if you have a strong stomach for torture porn.
I am not religious and Christmas is my favourite holiday. In the cold Scandinavia, where I live, wintertime is very dark. It’s dark when I go to work, and dark when I go home. Christmas is both an excuse for putting up lights (electric lights and candles) everywhere inside and ouside the house, and a celebration that days are becoming longer.
Being an Atheist, I respect other people’s religion and their need for religion. I also support the Christian philosophy of loving thy neighbour and the part about not judging. I therefore have no problems at all singing those carols, which we do while dancing around the Christmas tree. There is such a nice and warm atmosphere around the house at Christmas time, and also I love cooking. Spending hours in the kitchen, cooking delicious food for my family and our guests, thats just great!
that is absolutely beautiful. thank you for sharing your kind perspective!