Saturday, December 21, 2013

How can you celebrate Christmas?

My wife was asked recently by a relative of hers how we were able to celebrate Christmas when we're both atheists. After all, it's CHRISTmas, which celebrates the birth of the son of God, right? So how could we celebrate something like that?

A Christian friend of mine who's living in Japan expressed some disappointment that while Christmas is big there, Christianity really isn't. So you've got all sorts of Buddhists, Shintoists, and basically irreligious folks getting on board with a Christian holiday.

I also have a friend who called me a "hypocrite" for celebrating Christmas. This is because I go around telling people not to celebrate it, I kick over manger scenes, and I burn down every Christmas tree I see. (Actually, I don't do those things, but that's what I would have to do if he was using the word "hypocrite" correctly.)

Seems to me like a strange thing to wonder why non-Christians celebrate Christmas. It seems even stranger to care, as I don't care if you're a Buddhist who celebrates Hanukkah, a Muslim who celebrates Diwali, or an Odin worshiper who celebrates the birthday of Confucius. You want to have a happy day with rituals? Be my guest. However, unlike those other examples, if we take a look at Christmas, there really isn't all that much that's specifically Christian about it. Check out the following list. What's specifically Christian about any of the items off of this list?
  • decorated trees
  • yule logs
  • Santa Claus
  • flying reindeer
  • elves
  • gift giving
  • mistletoe & kisses
Most of those things are from pre-Christian religious traditions, (You won't even find most Christians arguing this.) and gift-giving is something you're likely to find in all sorts of cultures, so even if you can make the argument that it's a Christian practice, it's not a uniquely Christian one. And yeah, Santa Claus has his origins in St. Nicholas, but he's also got a fair amount of Odin mixed in with him as well.

I'm not trying to say that it's NOT a Christian holiday. Yeah, it's called CHRISTmas, and many people celebrate with songs and decorations that are specifically Christian. (But let's not get too carried away with the name of the holiday. After all, Easter is the name of a pagan goddess, so if the name is what's important, than let's start putting the Ä’ostre back in Easter. And don't get me started on Thor's Day.)

Obviously, if you are a Christian, then it's pretty easy to get into the religious spirit. My point is that the holiday is malleable.There is so much to its traditions that it can be celebrated by anybody. If a Christian thinks that me being an atheist is a problem with me celebrating the holiday and they ask "How can you celebrate Christmas?" then it makes just as much sense for me to turn it around on them and ask them the same question considering how much paganism is involved.

That is, I would ask them if I cared what they celebrated.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


Ingrid Johnson said...

A man from Goa told me that people in his country celebrate EVERY holiday, no matter what religion, and it got to be so bad that the government had to step in and reduce the amount of holidays because there were more holidays than work days. The Nazis celebrated Christmas by worshipping stars and the earth. Obviously Christ didn't celebrate Christmas. People need something to brighten up the dark days, and for those who object to an atheist celebrating Christmas they need to ask themselves why they do, since no one knows when Jesus was born.

ob session said...

Nice article, regards
(from G+ Atheism community) :-)

Tony from Pandora said...

Why is it so hard understand getting on board with Christmas? Presents? Lots of food? A day off work (or 2 weeks for you lazy teachers!)? What's not to like?

I heard Jon Stewart (i think) compare athiests celebrating christmas to KKK members taking the day of work for Martin Luther King Jr. day. Yeah they may not agree with the premise, but hey! it's a day off work!

Tony from Pandora said...

After re-reading this, some may think I'm trying to compare atheists to the KKK. That's not at all the intent, as historically, most KKK members considered themselves God-believing Christians... but that's a separate discussion....


Lance Johnson said...

No worries. I understood your point without making that particular leap.