PZ and Greg Laden have ‘fessed up and long time readers know I write the same thing on my Sermonette each Christmas: I am a big fan of Christmas, godless bastard that I am. It is my favorite secular holiday and there is hardly anything about it I don’t like. Well, there are a few things: like the whining about how commercial it has become and how its “true meaning” has gotten lost. Why do I like Christmas so much?
I want to preface this by saying there are valid reasons some people hate Christmas. It’s a dark and gloomy time of year in the northern hemisphere and some people react badly. Depression is more common and often associated with holiday events (Christmas can bring out the worst in dysfunctional family dynamics). Some people are estranged from or without family and the holiday is nothing but an unhappy and constant reminder. Maybe there are some other reasons, but I’d rather talk about why I like Christmas more than any other holiday instead – even though I’m not a Christian, not even a believer.
Not being a Christian or a believer has nothing to do with it. Christmas in the Western world has become a de facto secular holiday. Our common creed is worship of Mammon, in whose rituals we are all forced to participate — or starve. Commercializing the holiday is the modern way. If big corporations take advantage of (and encourage) people to buy things to make those they care about happy, well, Big Deal. Better than making money selling bombs, bullets or hate. For a change, they are catering to my best impulses, not my worst.
The “true meaning” of Christmas? If there was a historical Jesus (one of the few things about religion I’m agnostic about), evidence suggests he was not born in December or even in the winter. The timing of Christmas makes it yet another version of the many other pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Its true meaning is not celebration of the birth of Jesus (if there was such a person; he might represent a composite or a fiction), but a pagan symbol of rebirth (the shortest day and the start of a new cycle where days get longer). It’s an occasion to reflect and plan, two particularly human qualities. Yes, there’s some religious content, but in the secular version of Christmas I like it’s reduced to this: Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All. I’ll take it. Does it get any better?
The Reveres have Christmas trees, with colored lights and ornaments and presents under them. A dinner for friends and family on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. We have children and grandchildren and Santa Claus is going to try to make them happy.
We know we are lucky. Most of the world doesn’t have these things. Instead of saying Christmas is the one day we should spend our money on charitable giving, we’re going to enjoy it as we always do. And then shoulder the load again to try to do our best the rest of the year to make the world a better place for everyone.
Merry Christmas, All: Christians, non-Christians, questioners and unbelievers.
The Reveres, Christmas 2007