“So if you don’t go to church, why do you celebrate Christmas?” That was the question my Mom asked me a few years back, and my answer to her seemed to satisfy. I had reason to ask myself the same question earlier today, and thought that it might serve as a way to wish everyone “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” or even “Merry Christmas” because they all kind of apply, despite not being Christian.
The answer is two-fold as to why I, an atheist, celebrate the season.
Habit/Tradition: I was raised Lutheran, baptized, confirmed, and, having no other option as a youngster, assumed that this was the way it was. I had questions that really didn’t get good answers from the ministers at Zion Lutheran, so…I went looking elsewhere. I found a whole host of reasons not to believe (or to adopt one of the other thousand-plus religions/creeds/variations), yet, continued to practice (somewhat irregularly) as a Lutheran…until age 20, when either (a) I left the church or (b) they tossed me out, depending on who you ask. Still, I celebrated Christmas, partly because nearly everyone else around me did. I was hardly the rebellious type – heck, despite my lack of church membership and religiosity, I was married in a church (not that one).
My wife and I continued to join our parents and grandparents by celebrating Christmas, though the infusion of religion into the celebrations amounted to saying grace, and that was about it. Mom and my grandfather went to Christmas Eve services, but no one else did. It seemed no big deal not to go, so…no one did (except Mom and her Dad). And when my grandfather was older and less mobile, he stopped going, as did Mom (for a while, anyway). Our family Christmas get-togethers were mostly about food, presents, and family. If it wasn’t for a Christmas tree in the corner (and presents), there was little to distinguish Christmas Day from Thanksgiving, or Easter, or the Fourth of July (well, we didn’t wear t-shirts on Christmas). You get the idea. It was a holiday, but it didn’t seem like a religious one.
And when we moved away, there was no family to get together with, but we still “do Christmas.” Which brings me to the second reason…
The Spirit: Even if you take the “reason” away from the celebration, the “spirit” of Christmas seems to provide its own level of satisfaction. Some might even say that the secular aspects the season seems to be what MOST folks deem important – certainly, it seems more time and money is spent on the right tree, grand presents, lights hung from every corner of the house, food, drink, merriment…and did anyone remember to put the crèche up and does anyone know why that’s important?
Two things I should point out right about now:
- I do know the “Christmas Story,” thank you. But did you know that it’s only in two of the four Gospels (Mark and John felt, for some reason, that it wasn’t important to cover in their books). Also, the story isn’t the same in Matthew and Luke, for some reason. While many speculate as to why this might be, you should also know that…
- Christmas is the reason I became atheist. I could not reconcile all of the irregularities in the Bible (and the teachings of my church), plus, the more I learned from Biblical scholars, publications, and the like, the less the whole thing made sense. Virgin birth? There are at least 32 other stories in various cultures who describe similar virgin births. You believe in one and not the others? Why, exactly? Plus, the idea that Jesus was born in summer and the date moved to December to co-op winter pagan festivals is also well documented. Heck, even a past Pope questioned the date (it’s not documented in the Bible, after all).
I could go on and on about all of that, but it’s not important. What is important is the original question – if I don’t believe, why celebrate? Because I can.
To me, Christmas is a happy time. A time to share (presents and good company). A time to reflect and prepare. A time to remember the message: “Peace on Earth, good will to all.” Yes, some go overboard with how much they spend, how much they eat, how much they drink. We try to keep it simple – no tree, but we have a wreath (I love the smell of pine). No church service, but we play Christmas music a lot, especially these next few days. There has been a ton of music written for the season (some secular, some not), but honestly, some of the BEST music is Christmas music, and we look forward to playing some of our off-beat Christmas CDs (Mannheim Steamroller, Kingston Trio and some compilation albums). We send cards, we make a special meal, and we try to be jolly and merry. And, of course, we wish the best for all our friends and family…and total strangers, too (the last week of December is when we write all of our donation checks).
And I’ll take this opportunity to wish you, dear reader, the best of the season. Choose your greeting below, and See You Next Year!
Happy Boxing Day
Happy New Year!