My wife thought it was odd that I was listening to so much Christmas music this year as an atheist. I have to admit that I had realized it as well. It took a few days before I pieced together that a general change in perspective I’d been experiencing had been accelerated by a change in my mix of brain drugs. However, the more I thought about it, the more that it made sense that Christmas not be a particularly religious time for me and that it didn’t feel weird to be that way.
Let me back up a little bit. I grew up in a bit of a religiously unusual household. Beyond the normal weirdness that being raised by a lapsed Catholic and a lapsed Fundamentalist brings, I had the added benefit of having been brought up in the Church of Christ.
For those not religiously in the know, while things have changed a great deal in the last 25 years, generally members of the Church of Christ did not used to recognize religious holidays as valid. We were free to celebrate them as civil holidays but don’t you go bringing some damn creche into my display of Santa Claus stuff.
I can get into all the whys and wherefores in future entries, if there’s an interest, but suffice it to say that they felt that since the Bible did not endorse celebrating a special day for Jesus birthday, the weekly celebration of “The Lord’s Supper” was the only religious holiday with which we needed to concern ourselves.
So I grew up with all of the usual trappings of Christmas such as the holiday specials and the songs and such but doing so was rather like a mental minefield. I was trying to weave my own narrative from what was out there about Christmas that would allow me to appreciate it as a civil holiday without seeing it as a religious one.
So, even though I considered myself a Christian growing up, I had already been dealing with this question a lot longer many others who become atheists. So I was cool with all of the quasi-religious trappings of the holiday having already considered them either superficial or irrelevant years ago.
In many ways I was extremely grateful to those great pioneers of the American Christmas like Coca-Cola, Irving Berlin, Hollywood, Charles Dickens, and television executives. Thanks to them I already knew how I felt about Christmas without having to even begin the religious. Christmas was a time each year when we chose to give in to the better angels of our nature. We gave people the benefit of the doubt. We showed people that we cared about them. We made it a special time of year for everyone, even the poorest among us, so that, for at least a small part of the year, you wouldn’t think about what a shithole your life was the rest of the time. And it’s to keep the masses buoyed up long enough to get through to the rest of the year.
Christmas was about make-believe, it was about children, it was about joyousness, festivities, family, friends, and showing how much you cared. Did it really matter why we were celebrating like this? Did it diminish the goodwill that was fostered? As a functional deist, the reasons didn’t matter so much as the mere fact that it existed at all.
So, as a now-atheist, who seems to be quickly developing a spiritual but non-religious side, let me wish you and yours a very merry holiday and all the childlike wonder you can stomach.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Io Saturnalia, a Joyous Solstice, and however else you mark this end of the year among yourself, your family, and your friends. May your celebrations be joyous and filled with wonder and may your hearts be filled with gladness.