Although Christmas isn't my favorite holiday (that would be Thanksgiving) it comes in at a close second. As someone who loves giving gifts, baking cookies, singing songs, helping out those less fortunate, and eating good food surrounded by family, I enjoy every moment of it. For the past several Christmases that has been what Christmas is for me. Food, family, presents, and a few holiday traditions like looking at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve and a pancake breakfast on Christmas day. I have resisted attending Christmas Eve services for years as I felt they infringed on family time. Jesus has barely been present in my holiday.
This is in sharp contrast to how I grew up. We owned multiple nativities. My dad spent hours one year making one of those wooden nativity scenes in our front yard. We didn't have Christmas lights, just a huge spotlight on a white wooden nativity. Santa wasn't encouraged as my parents saw it as both lying to your kids and focusing too much on fantasy rather than the true meaning of the season. (the other fantasy) We participated in the Crismons ornament ceremony (look it up. it's weird.) leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve, after going to church, we would gather together to exchange one gift and my parents would read us a version of the nativity story. On Christmas morning our presents weren't touched until we had all eaten a pancake breakfast, everyone was dressed, and we had read the story of Jesus' birth directly from the Bible. Sometimes we would take turns reading it. Christmas was about Jesus.
Let us make no mistake, Jesus is the reason for the season. Everything about Christmas, even the appropriated pagan stuff and the so-called secular stuff is popular because Christians borrowed them for their own purposes. Sure, there are other holidays this time of year, but we all know that in a country with this many people who claim to be Christian, Christmas is where it is at. And there is absolutely this understanding among Christians that to celebrate Christmas without Christ is akin to cancelling the holiday altogether.
Which raises an interesting dilemma for the non-religious. How do you celebrate a holiday that you enjoy, but fundamentally disagree with? Why would you participate in any of it if the reason behind the holiday means nothing to you?
I have thought about this some, but really the answer is simple for me. I live in a society where Christmas, from lights to Santa to presents, is a huge deal. My family and friends make it special by participating in Christmas parties, gift exchanges, big dinners, parades, cookie baking, caroling, and more. Even though the origins of the holiday are religious, I don't have to be religious in order to participate. Richard Dawkins says it better than I, of course, "Feasts have been part of human culture since long before we worshipped a monotheistic god. It is a deep-seated part of our social nature, and humans are arguably the most social animals on the planet. Eating together, breaking bread whilst telling stories about ancestors, about hunting, battles, and travels, were part of everyday life for successful tribes throughout human history. Celebration is not owned by any one culture and especially not by any one religion. It is part of our humanity." He also adds, "Christmas belongs to anyone who wants it, and just because I gave up believing in a god doesn’t mean I gave up believing in the love and joy of family. I did not give up the joy of celebration with my abandonment of the absurd."
So, like Dawkins, I wish my religious and non-religious friends a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah from the bottom of my heart given in the true spirit of humanity, to all who will receive it.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.