Sunday, December 7, 2008

My official heathen atheist stance on Christmas

Boyfriend and I decorated our apartment for Christmas yesterday. We have a little table-top fake tree, with some lights and ornaments, as well as some multi-colored lights in the window. Since we both identify as atheists, I thought it would be topical to address My Big Official Stance on Christmas (alternate working title: Why We Keep Celebrating a Holiday that We Don't Believe In).

It is a good discussion topic (unless we are with Boyfriend's Southern Baptist family. In which case, it is the WORST DISCUSSION POSSIBLE). I mean, Christians don't often go lighting menorahs, and I don't know too many Jews who fast for Ramadan. A lot of Christians seem to take offense at non-Christians butting in on their holiday, and I can see why they would be peeved.

Lots of atheists justify celebrating the holidays by claiming "winter solstice" and all that. And it is true that this time of the year was originally celebrated for the winter solstice, back when those crazy Pagans were running the show. Then, the Christians decided that they REALLY wanted that celebration for themselves, so they pretty much just took it and (literally) told the Pagans to go to hell. So in a way, a lot of atheists use the holidays to point out that no, Jesus ISN'T the reason for the season, and yes, we still have a right to exchange gifts and put up a tree.

I feel like that is a fine explanation, but let's be honest here: I am not a pagan, and I do not wish to celebrate the winter solstice. So while I can understand telling people about the solstice (because it does make a valid point regarding the origins of the holiday and the existence of other reasons to celebrate), I don't feel like it really "fits" me.

What does "fit" is the simple fact that I like being with my family and friends, exchanging tokens of appreciation, the smell of pine, and pretty lights. I (and everyone else on earth) like things that conjure up happy childhood memories. I like to make my family happy, as opposed to hurting them by refusing to participate in their religious holiday. In short, we celebrate Christmas as a "cultural" holiday; i.e., one that is inescapable given the value assigned to it by our society and families. A lot of Jewish kids who grew up in Christian neighborhoods know what I'm talking about: Sure, your family doesn't "technically" celebrate Christmas, but on the 25th, your mom gets you some gifts anyway. It's all about inclusiveness. We grew up this way, our families are this way, and the damned town/city/state/country is this way. We will be this way, too, but only in some ways.

I don't go to church anymore, even if my mom asks me (and she hasn't asked in a long time, thankfully). That's where I draw the limit in terms of cultural participation. I will go into churches for weddings, funerals, etc., but I think that going as far as attending a Christmas service would place me in a very hypocritical position. Basically, the "fun" stuff (if you always consider the holidays "fun," which I don't) is something in which I feel safe as a participant. I can justify it as a "cultural" thing, a "winter solstice" thing, a "traditional" thing. That part of Christmas is so far removed from Christianity at this point anyway, thanks to sweet, sweet capitalism. But once I have to sit through a sermon it's no longer something that I feel I can justify in the same way. Not to mention that I just don't want to fucking hear it anymore.

So that's why we have a tree, lights, ornaments, and will exchange gifts with our families on the 25th. Are we greedy and selfish for celebrating a holiday in which we do not believe? Maybe. Do I care? Not really. If anyone feels like challenging me on that, I'd just like you to know that you are totally welcome to celebrate Spaghettimas, even if you don't believe/understand/know anything about the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Pastafarians. See, shouldn't everyone be so generous with their holidays?

By the way, our tree topper is a pink-frosted donut ornament. With sprinkles.


Lucy said...

I'm Catholic and my tree topper is a beautiful red and white bow. I love bows. You know what, I just like this time of year. People tend to be in better moods, even though they are a little stressed. Really, who cares what the reason. Sometimes it is nice to 'decorate' the house and just get along. I won't offend you by saying Merry blah but may I say "Happy Holidays"? Oh, no I guess that is wrong too, not sure what is correct?
Phoebe, you are going to have to help me out on this one and I am not being sarcastic, I do believe in respecting other's beliefs just as I wish for mine to be respected.
Anyways, enjoy the time with your family and friends!

Phoebe Caulfield said...

It's a good question, Lucy! Personally, if an individual who knows me says "Merry Christmas," I'm just fine with it! I am celebrating it, after all. And I frequently say "Merry Christmas" to others. What does bother me is when public schools, public universities, stores, government buildings etc. presumptuously tell me "Merry Christmas" or put up specifically-Christian displays. This is because a) they don't know who celebrates what, so they shouldn't assume, and b) places funded by public money ought to be more sensitive in what they endorse (particularly the government). Some things offend me more than others, though. For instance, if a store clerk says "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy holidays," I make a mental note but I always thank them and don't argue. It's not really a big deal. But government buildings that display nativity scenes are highly offensive to me, because it's a clear establishment of religion by the local government. They would have to put something up for every single holiday in every single religion to make a nativity scene okay (or nothing at all, preferably).

So, Merry Christmas, Lucy!

Lucy said...

Thanks! Sometimes,it is hard at this time of year and Merry Christmas does slide out of my mouth quite often! But, if i am not sure I try to say Happy Holidays!

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