I am amazed at the giddiness amongst Christian Fundamentalists that has fomented from the mere utterance of a holiday greeting by Richard Dawkins. The counter-insurgents in the War on Christmas … the Red White and Blue, squeaky-faced smirking shits that call themselves commentators or preachers are creaming in their jeans. But they are also stepping over the line, and I’m calling them on it.

I do not really know or care what Richard Dawkins thinks, or said, about Christmas. I do know what I think and how my multi-canonical family celebrates the holidays, and I certainly know a sanctimonious bastard when I see one. And I’m seeing them everywhere on the Internet.

Here’s how it is with me. My closest associate in life is probably my daughter, because she and I have known each other longer and more continuously and spent more time with each other over a number of years than anyone else. She and I have almost the same attitude about Christmas. It’s cool because you get presents. Giving presents is fun too. Which is more fun depends. On the presents.

There are additional things beyond this that we each appreciate. We both like the family gatherings and the food. I don’t care about the tree and the ornaments and the decorations. If it was traditional to put up model train sets I might care more because I have a Y-chromosome, and there’s a train gene on there. But I don’t care about the other stuff. My daughter likes that stuff more than I do.

I like the smell of air that is chilled by two day old snow, served up to my nose at a temperature between 21 and 34 F. This reproduces an olfactory experience that must match some earlier experiences that were pleasant. I don’t think my daughter has those visceral reactions at her age.

Many things about Christmas I find utterly annoying.

So, Julia and I have recently married into a new family, Amanda’s. Her family is part Christian and part Jewish, and of course Amanda and I (and Julia) share our particular “belief system.” Amanda’s extended (and I do mean extended) family is organized among a set of matriarchs. The celebrations of major holidays rotates among the homes of the matriarchs. Since only one of the matriarchs is Jewish, and that’s Amanda’s step mom, Jewish holidays are celebrated there, but the Christian holidays rotate through all the families, with the Jewish matriarch fully carrying out her Christian holiday duties.

There are certain traditions.

The Arrival of Santa. As long as there are pre-sapient offspring, some lucky designee dresses up as Santa and we all conspire to fool the little ones into believing that Santa is real. It’s a lot better than just lying to them. The transition they will experience will not just be “oh, mom and dad made up this Santa thing” but rather, it will be more complex … they will have vague, often olfactory and tactile, memories of each Christmas Santa event, each with a different relative wearing the Santa Suit. Moments after they realize Santa does not exist, it will also dawn on them that each of those Santa’s must have been Somebody … Grandma? Uncle Nate? Duane? You were each Santa??? Holy crap! And so on. Trauma is good for the little ones.

The Bronx Swap. My new family does not call it a Bronx Swap (that’s me, I’m from New York). Rather, they call it “The Gift Exchange” or something genteel like that. Everybody brings one gift, then you draw numbers out of a hat, and so on and so forth. You know the drill.

The food. Say no more.

As long as there is an elder who believes that a prayer should be uttered before every meal, there will be a prayer uttered before every meal. The atheists stand quietly and politely. The agnostics bow their heads half way … it is probably less hypocritical for them to bow their heads than it would be for the atheists, which is probably, in the long run, why they call themselves agnostics. But I digress. The Jews who are atheists (yes, you can be both) bow their heads too. The fundies (there are a couple) squinch their eyes up when they bow their heads.

I imagine it was different back in the 60s and 70s, when the present matriarchs were either too young to be in charge or just coming to their own, but earlier matriarchs ruled. The Jews had not married into the family yet. There were, however, both Protestants and Catholics. Indeed, there were mixed marriages between Protestants and Catholics. Even more importantly, perhaps, there were Norwegians and Swedes mixing it up, interbreeding, getting along, and so on. The limit of tolerance is not known to this family! The whole thing would have had its own pattern different from, yet similar to, today.

Here is my point: There is a spectrum across which all these people, at these events, range. We have people who go to churches where their preacher tells them that gays are sinners, and we have gay people. We have people who worship Jesus and people who may think of Jesus as a somewhat misguided Jewish boy. We have people who are rabid atheists, people who are agnostics (an agnostic is an atheist caught in the headlamps of family matters, really) and Lutherans and Catholics and Promise Seekers. What holds everybody together is that they are related by blood or marriage (but never both!). Any one of these Christmas celebrations (and the same happens for Easter but on a slightly smaller scale) could be a wedding or a funeral, in terms of who shows up. They are just family gatherings, and other than the crazy guy in the red suit and the gift exchange, there is nothing ceremonial that marks the day.

But this is not OK with the right wing Red White and Blue God-boy Preachers and Talk Radio Yahoos. Oh no, not at all. An atheist, like Richard Dawkins or me or anyone else cannot participate in this ancient holiday tradition in a casual manner without Great Meaning being attributed!

When I look at guys like this:

i-332017d3564be144720854c679e50585-blithering_asshole.jpg

staring at me from the Internet, and I read words like this …

The thought of Richard Dawkins singing any carols with explicit Christian content is difficult to hold — unless the Oxford professor intends to sing of a faith he does not profess.

and

We can only wonder which Christmas carols are Richard Dawkins’ favorites. The sight of an avowed atheist joining in the Christmas chorus is a bit hard to imagine.

I get a little angry and a little annoyed.

The cultural celebrations in which my family engages are not really subject to review, criticism, or comment by sanctimonious bastards like this. We have the right to assemble, and we have the right to mix creeds and cultures and approaches in a way that this family has managed to work out over the years very nicely. We do not need to be judged or told that we must stay away from Christmas or do Christmas in a certain way. The right wing fundamentalists do not own this holiday.

There is a lot more wrong with Christmas than there is right with Christmas. A week ago, my wife stopped at a major bookstore to buy a book for a Jewish relative for Hanukkah. She needed it gift wrapped, but they only had Christmas paper. This was during Hanukkah. That was annoying and, frankly inappropriate. That was Borders Books. The carols are annoying. I find all public music annoying, but the Christian carols are an imposition in the public square. I don’t care about Christian Christmas decorations going up in public space as long as the solstice rock (or whatever) and the Giant Inflated Dreidel can go up as well. I object to the spending of public money on any of this, but loaning a bit of public space for others to use is reasonable. It is public space.

The utterance of “Merry Christmas” and the widespread corporate and institutional exploitation of Christmas has never bothered me any more than any commercialism … from fast food to “without life itself chemicals would be impossible” … and not just because I’m used to it. Rather, I grew up in a liberal part of the country where no one really cared too much if you were an atheist or a Hasidim, and it was common to see diverse religious iconography displayed around at various holiday seasons. But this sort of thing has became an issue exactly because the right wing has attacked — attacked the tolerant and the unconcerned, the cultural celebrators and the casual Christmas-doers — from TV and talk radio, the pulpit, and even from state and national legislative bodies!

We are now expected to fall into line and behave as they do, or get out. I am supposed to become like Bill O’Reilly. I would cut my wrists first.

No, Mr. and Mrs Red White and Blue Pastie-Face Right Wing Yahoo, this holiday, or any others, is not yours. Christmas is just as much Richard Dawkins’ .. and mine … as it is anyone else’s. This is what is meant by the term “cultural.” The Cultural emerges from the actions and attitudes of the participants. What you are trying to do is to dictate a narrow theocratically defined and litmus tested range of behaviors. Now, you are telling me what my attitude needs to be about a holiday in order to escape your disdain and ridicule. What will you be telling me to do next?

In fact, this holiday is more ours than yours, because ours is everyone’s and yours is close minded, selfish, parsimonious and pompous. You are mean. Santa is jolly. We’re with Santa, you cold hearted bastards!

Comments

  1. #1 Elf Eye
    December 16, 2007

    Speaking for the Russian-Scottish-Portuguese-Chinese-Peruvian-Catholic-Jewish-Unitarian-Deist-Atheist culture, I must say that your comments are spot on.

  2. #2 Elf Eye
    December 16, 2007

    Oops! I left out Protestant. That should be the Russian-Scottish-Portuguese-Chinese-Peruvian-Catholic-Protestant-Jewish-Unitarian-Deist-Atheist culture

  3. #3 sailor
    December 16, 2007

    I doubt many Xtians will admit that Christmas was already a cultural mid winter festival in the northern latitudes long before Xtianity. If you cannot get people to stop celebrating something you coopt it – which they did. (You could call it stealing). Any way all that bullshit about snow and winter storms, is that really relvant to the climate in Jerusalem?

  4. #4 writerdd
    December 16, 2007

    In this Lithuanian-Russian-Italian-Catholic-Jewish-BornAgain-Atheist family your comments ring true as well.

    I say we godless heathens should take the next step in co-opting Christmas. It’s been a secular holiday for a very long time anyway, with the Christmas tree looming over the tiny manger set under it’s branches. That’s a good picture of the true priorities of Chrsitmas in American society if you ask me.

    And I also love Christmas carols and pffft to anyone who say you have to believe them to enjoy them. I love Greek and Roman mythology too. So does that mean I secretly believe in Zeus and Mars?

  5. #5 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    December 16, 2007

    What a fantastic post!

    I am in the same way about Christmas. Strip the Christ, and an “X” and it is all the same either way. I say Merry Christmas because it truly is a secular holiday, however you many call it. Even if you choose to cal it Solstice, which falls four days sooner, it is the arrival of the sun and the days start getting longer. The GreenMan is reborn. The tannenbaum is lit.

    People wish each other well.

    Happy Christmas, Ron!

    Happy Christmas, Harry.

  6. #6 Zeno
    December 16, 2007

    My Roman Catholic Portuguese-American family has decided to take grievous offense at every occurrence of “Xmas”, despite the fact they go to a church where the labarum (a big XP symbol) is displayed as representative of Christ. (The X is actually an uppercase “chi” from the Greek alphabet, the first letter of “Christ” as rendered in that language.) Xmas was around long before the current batch of Christmas warriors. I’d get a big stack of “Merry Xmas” cards to send out if I still bothered to mail Christmas cards.

  7. #7 mark
    December 16, 2007

    The thought of Richard Dawkins singing any carols with explicit Christian content is difficult to hold — unless the Oxford professor intends to sing of a faith he does not profess.
    I used to wonder about something similar, way back in school, when the Jewish teacher was required to lead the class in the “Jesus Prayer.” And didn’t Stephen Gould claim to have been in a choir singing Handel’s Messiah?
    In my neck of the woods, we’re as likely to see letters to the editors from pastors condemning the pagan aspects of Christmas celebrations as those from wingnuts ranting about the War On Christmas.

  8. #8 chris y
    December 16, 2007

    And didn’t Stephen Gould claim to have been in a choir singing Handel’s Messiah?

    He went further and claimed to have sung Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which contains some pretty nasty anti-semitism. He concluded that he couldn’t take responsibility for the attitudes of the early 17th century, that Bach would not have set those words today, and that his love of the music won out. Good for him, say I.

    When I was a kid I publicly recited the Pervigilium Veneris at a school event. It was regarded as a normal part of a classical education, though what these nutters would have made of it, who knows. I am not, and never have been, a late Roman pagan devotee of Venus.

  9. #9 C. L. Hanson
    December 16, 2007

    Hear, hear!!! I think the real Grinch would agree with you!!! :D

  10. #10 dave X
    December 16, 2007

    The thieving bastards stole the soltice celebration from the pagans and named it Christmas. That’s one more reason it is less theirs than ours.

  11. #11 donsands
    December 16, 2007

    “The Jews who are atheists (yes, you can be both) bow their heads too.”

    But you are no longer a Jew if you commit your life to Christ, and believe He died for our sins, and rose from the dead. A friend of mine has a niece in Israel, and she is being treated as such, since she became a Christian; one who loves the risen Christ.

    And that’s the Christian’s portion sometimes in this life, isn’t it. The genuine follower of the resurrected Jesus Christ the Lord will be misunderstood, and even mocked. But the Lord was mocked, and even killed, and He was kind and loving, and spoke the truth, which is what got Him killed. Although, this too was the salvation for those who killed Him.
    For God is way more merciful than we. He is gracious to those who hate Him, and He will forgive all who trust and fear Him.

    I came over here from another blog, Libbie’s, and thought I’d share my heart, if you don’t mind. If you do, you can surely delete my comment.

    Have a nice day. And have a Merry Christmas.

  12. #12 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    December 16, 2007

    Donsands, I am not so sure about the merciful part. Here is a bit from the “Nice Testament.”

    Ahem: Matthew 25

    41 Then shall he say also unto them on the aleft hand, bDepart from me, ye ccursed, into everlasting dfire, eprepared for the devil and his angels:
    42 For I was an ahungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
    43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
    44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
    45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the aleast of these, ye did it not to me.
    46 And these shall go away into aeverlasting bpunishment: but the crighteous into dlife eeternal.

    Perhaps this is a bit nasty, being taken from a Mormon site, but it makes the point nonetheless. God’s merciful, but only when we beg forgiveness for something we didn’t do.

    Merry Xmas Donsands!

  13. #13 Zeno
    December 16, 2007

    Gee, Donsands has such a nice deity!

    But that big fat holy book says you shall know them by their fruits, and God’s kind of weak in the results department.

    I hope that everyone has the nice holiday that Donsands is wishing for, but don’t count on that merciful and gracious God to come through.

  14. #14 DJJ
    December 16, 2007

    I sent the following email to Albert Mohler at his website.
    http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=1068
    OR http://www.albertmohler.com/contact.php
    It says they would love to hear from us so I took them up on it.
    :o)

    “RE: Merry Christmas, Dear Atheist

    So, by your logic, if I want to sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” I have to believe in magical reindeer and supernatural little old men.
    Well, I do sing those songs at Christmas, I enjoy them and I do NOT believe in magical reindeer and supernatural little old men. Just as I sing Christmas Carols such as “Silent Night”, Away in the Manger”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and I enjoy them and I do NOT believe in virgin births or choirs of heavenly angels.

    I also enjoy movies such as “The Nutcracker” or “The Grinch who Stole Christmas” and I do NOT believe in dancing flowers or Whoville.

    Does this mean that fundamentalist Christians cannot tell their children about Santa Claus because he doesn’t exist? My parents were evangelical, fundamentalist missionaries and yet as children, we believed in Santa Claus and put our stocking out for him on Christmas Eve.

    The only point you have made in this illogical, silly piece is that, unlike the man whose birth you celebrate, you are intolerant, irrational and hypocritical and your actions and thoughts are based on anything but the “Christmas Spirit”. ”

  15. #15 David Marjanovi?
    December 16, 2007

    (The X is actually an uppercase “chi” from the Greek alphabet, the first letter of “Christ” as rendered in that language.)

    And the P is an uppercase rho, the second letter…

  16. #16 Anne Gilbert
    December 16, 2007

    I, personally, don’t mind a bit that Richard Dawkins sings Christmas carols. More power to him! And I really don’t care how he celebrates or doesn’t celebrate Christmas. That’s for him to figure out. What interested me was, Greg Laden’s family sounds a lot like mine! You have “everything”, including not only churchgoing Catholics and some atheists(I’m not one of them, though), to people who were born in Mexico, and various “racial” configurations. In our family, Christmas is a bit of a family reunion. So there’s carol-singing and food and good conversaton and funny stories and adventures of all sorts. Yes, there are gifts for the kids and “a gift” for the grownups. And some people attend religious services. And some do not. Even more interesting, though is that I realize that Greg’s(and my) family is more and more like many families in this country, and perhaps elsewhere in those places where Christmas is a holiday. Families are blended, and blends, of all sorts of cultures and traditions, and there’s no “one” way to be a Christian(or Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or anything else, for that matter), nor is there just “one” way to “celebrate Christmas”. In part that’s because Christmas itself has always had strong “pagan” or “secular” elements, and probably always will. My feeling that the “commercialism” of the season partly stems from that, but this is just my private view. Unfortunately, the religious far right just doesn’t understand this. So every year, in order to have something to rant about, every year about this time, they trot out the same old tired “war on Christmas” garbage. I don’t know what planet they’re living on, but it’s not Earth.
    Anne G

  17. #17 Anne Gilbert
    December 16, 2007

    I felt so strongly about this entry that there is a link to it in my blog, The Writer’s Daily Grind at:

    http.www.writersdailygrind.blogspot.com

    My views on this are somewhat different, but I’m tired of this sort of “culture war”.
    Anne G

  18. #18 coonass
    December 16, 2007

    Thanks, for voicing a comment I have long felt but not known how exactly to communicate coherently.
    On visiting my in-laws’ home one sad day (I’d just lost my youngest son in Iraq) I saw a sign with the following message:

    “We believe in GOD. Merry CHRISTmas” in a typeface and composition that would not look out of place outside a county jail.

    Ever since then, I’ve been sitting on a blog entitled “Christianity and Barbed Wire” (in homage to C.S. Lewis’ quip about “Christianity and Water”).

    In it, I railed about the (they wish) “fundamentalists” who have tried to stake an exclusive claim to Christmas and all things Christian. I called them everything but children of God, and said everything except the obvious thing – that they might like to try Christianity for a while before deciding that they were Christian and others were not.

    I have been an Episcopalian for, oh, gosh, thirty years now. My mother-in-law decreed that I wasn’t an Episcopalian until I’d been “received” into the faith, but looking back, I don’t recall seeing her special commission from the Episcopal Church of the United States to decide these matters on behalf of Jesus of Nazareth and the Anglican Communion. Before that I was an agnostic and before THAT, a Roman Catholic.

    Since my official reception into the Episcopal Church, many changes have occurred, primary among them an abortive land grab on the part of “fundamentalists” (again, they wish… ) who have decided that since the national Church no longer officially deprecates gays, it is no longer a fit custodian for Episcopal Church property.

    My in-laws came out for the losing side of that little attempted swindle, and are now… you guessed it, Roman Catholics (after a flirtation with being the lay ministers of an “Anglican Catholic” parish which failed for lack of co-religionists with open wallets to keep the doors open). All that after an attempt to break up my marriage to their daughter because I wasn’t “officially” Episcopalian. I hope Rome likes them – they seem to be a good fit with the new Pope (who has undone thirty years of careful ecumenism with a pronouncement that our own church is “defective.” This demoted him in my estimation from “the German Shepherd” to a lower breed of canine known as “a bigoted son of a bitch.”)

    My wife and I are still Episcopalians, although she worships at a local Roman Catholic parish owing to the lack of Episcopal parishes within easy driving distance of our home. And we celebrate a Christmas of love, not compulsive control and familial dysfunction.

    My wife gives me space NOT to celebrate Christmas by attendance at her church; I allow her to worship as she sees fit with no snickering or sniping. She might well be right. I’ve been known to err before on important matters. Rather than choosing one or the other’s religion, we chose each other. It’s been almost thirty years, not bad for a first marriage. And we get the most important present of all every Christmas, every year – each other.

    As far as Dr. Dawkins singing Christmas carols, oh, why not?

    I find it small-minded and even Pharisee-like – in other words, un-Christian in the meaning of the word – to criticize Dawkins for wishing to take part in our faith’s adopted winter festival – one which, if you want to be really purist and philosophical about it, is MUCH less important to the Church than Easter.

    EVERYBODY swiped their winter festivals from one pagan rite or another – even the writers of Seinfeld. It’s crazy to behave as though the date of the birth of Christ were known with enough accuracy to make the date December 25th significant – and downright evil to forbid someone else to celebrate it. I suspect that whatever Dawkins may have had to say about Christianity, the fundamentalists who criticize him for singing carols are making his point for him.

  19. #19 peggy
    December 16, 2007

    Thank you for stating so clearly what should be so obvious and yet apparently is not: the Christian right in the United States of America does not have an exclusive claim to “family values.”

  20. #20 Adam
    December 16, 2007

    Hi All

    Christmas is a Summer festival here in Oz, and the natives never had an equivalent that they can remember. Yet we Aussies have happily co-opted Santa into wearing board-shorts, riding surf-boards, steering a kangaroo-drawn sleigh, pulling tinnies from a big ESKY of cold beer, cooking a barbeque for his elves and so forth. We still like singing about a wintry Xmas like you northerners have, but of course none of us have to believe a “White Xmas” is something to dream of.

    I find it sad that little Xian minds and hearts have to have the biggest mouths screaming about how others appropriate their symbology and enjoy the best bits of their culture. I think they scream so loud because such people never were inspired enough, or generous enough, to actually contribute to a Xian culture everyone can enjoy. But such contributions have been the best “evangelism”: the kind that everyone can enjoy – and perhaps reflect on in a quiet moment.

    Jesus knocks gently on the door of the heart, but these Philistines want a SWAT team with a battering ram.

  21. #21 Chris Bell
    December 17, 2007

    My family also has the Focus On The Family Fundamentalists (c) and the raving homosexuals that somehow manage to get along with each other.

    Strange.

  22. #22 Mike
    December 17, 2007

    Greg, I didn’t realize you were from New York! Ironically, my Bronx family calls the gift exchange a Yankee Swap, and we’re not talking about the Bronx Bombers.

    Spot on commentary (and comments!)

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    December 17, 2007

    Mike: Here in Minnesota, I’m from New York. In New York, I’m from Albany, apparently just outside of The City…

  24. #24 Drekab
    December 17, 2007

    Setting up a model train to circle a christmas tree and ‘guard’ the presents is pretty traditional, at least in my family, so you should feel welcome to give it a shot this year.

  25. #25 Leon
    December 17, 2007

    Nice one, Greg. Right there with you.

  26. #26 Libbie
    December 18, 2007

    Hi Greg,

    thanks for your comment on my blog. Actually I don’t have much of a dispute with you here – I’m not suggesting Dawkins is anything other than what he claims – a cultural christian. I understand the definition, and I know real-life atheists (rather than big, cartoonish super-atheists like Dawkins) who hold to it.

    I found the whole thing interesting because of Dawkins rather vociferous anti-religious stance. I would have guessed that he would be totally against the religious aspect of the Christmas period. I’m not daft enough to think that Christmas trees and Rudolph are religious elements, and I don’t think Christians of any sort ‘own’ Christmas. But when Dawkins says he sings Christmas carols, he’s being a little inconsistent on the whole religion hating thing, because carols are, by and large, religious things.

    I don’t mind, personally, I think that church is the best place for hypocrites, and I’m fairly sure you’d agree with that ;-)

  27. #27 Daniel Murphy
    December 20, 2007

    I am amazed at the giddiness amongst Christian Fundamentalists that has fomented from the mere utterance of a holiday greeting by Richard Dawkins.

    We saw similar, dehumanizing foolishness some months ago from the religious extremists who wondered what on earth an athiest could be thinking to attend a memorial service at Virginia Tech.

    I very much enjoyed your recounting of how your family spends Christmas. I imagine your experience is not at all unusual. It reminds me of Christmases past with my own American extended family, in which a generation of God-fearing Bible-reading Christians, a mixed generation of church-going, liberal and some-time Christians, and a generation of athiests saw nothing amiss in enjoying our coming together on the nearly shortest day of the year on the holiday called Christmas in our part of the world.

    My other extended family had the good sense to be born in another country, where Christmas is called Yule. There, any of us so seasonally gathered are less likely to attend midnight service, or to introspect about dead men on crosses, and more likely to enjoy a Christmas ale, or to dance around the Christmas tree, but in all other respects, as one year closes and another promises to begin, our purpose and joy in sharing good times and good food with family and friends, wherever we are, is the same. Merry Christmas, everyone.

  28. #28 Armchair Dissident
    December 20, 2007

    Libbie: You’re missing the point entirely. Carols are not religious things; they are things of religious origin, there is a world of difference between the two things. That there are people who still believe them to be songs about true tales does not mean that they are therefore religious, anymore than the works of Homer should be considered religious because some people still worship the gods of the ancient greeks.

    Incidentally, I note from your blog your apparent surprise that Dawkins has used the term “culturally christian”. I suggest reading his books, he’s made this point a number of times. What I found most surprising was that anyone was surprised.

  29. #29 Sobex
    December 24, 2007

    But when Dawkins says he sings Christmas carols, he’s being a little inconsistent on the whole religion hating thing, because carols are, by and large, religious things.

    Why do people keep saying that Richard Dawkins hates religion? He’d wish it was not around but he doesn’t “hate” it, if anything he finds it fascinating. Not to mention, if you actually read most of his books and have seen a lot of his video interviews, you’d be hard pressed to ascribe the emotion of hate to a guy who seems, if anything, meek and polite.

  30. #30 Mu
    December 16, 2010

    You had me until you claimed mixed Norwegian-Swedish events. And that from a German catholic with a Scottish russian-orthodox wife who grew up methodist in a polish neighborhood, bringing up their kids in the southwest. Ever tried halushki with green chilies?

  31. #31 Uncle Bob
    December 16, 2010

    Libbie, your caricature of dawkins couldn’t be further from reality.

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    December 16, 2010

    Santty:If someone is offended by you saying Christmas, then that’s too bad.

    On or around Christmas, I say “Merry Christmas” to Christians. On or around Christmas, you say “Fuck you” to whomever you perceive things differetnly than you. The difference? I’m a good person and you are a bad person.

  33. #33 Westie
    December 16, 2010

    Step, how nice of you to stop by and tell Richard Dawkins what he can and cannot do.

    What about nursery rhymes about obvious fantastical things? Are those off limits to all but the delusional and hallucinogenic?

  34. #34 gwen
    December 16, 2010

    You know, I never thought about it, but (as an African American)I cannot remember a family meal–including christmas, thanksgiving and easter–which always called for a large feast,EVER beginning with any sort of a prayer.

  35. #35 Glendon Mellow
    December 16, 2010

    Wonderfully said Greg!

    Speaking for my un-self-consciously secular upbringing and now mixed family, I’m a big fan of Krismas myself. I like the Bronx swap. Wish my wife’s huge (Irish-Catholic farm-) family would adopt that!

  36. #36 Mick Green
    December 16, 2010

    “Richard dawkins and all other atheist have the right to get with family and be together, but as far as him singing CHRISTMAS carols (not holiday carols) that is a little laughable.”

    No more laughable than Christians singing about things they (probably) don’t believe in, such as sentient snowmen or luminescent caribou.

  37. #37 Uncle Bob
    December 16, 2010

    how embarrassing, I didn’t notice the dates until now….

  38. #38 speedwell
    December 17, 2010

    I’m an atheist and a classical musician by training. I sing and play and conduct and enjoy religious music with great pleasure, whether it be a Catholic mass, a thoroughly pagan Wagnerian opera, a Negro spiritual, Hindu worship music sung by the wife of a friend, the Chichester Psalms (in Hebrew), or, once in Abu Dhabi, a muezzin’s amazing call to worship (it literally stopped me in my tracks).

    Music, you see, is not religious. Music is completely free of all of that. Music can be used to express the emotional states felt by a religious person, and it can be used to accompany words of praise or worship, but it’s not about that. It’s about sound, just sound.

    How dare certain religious people (the “clashing cymbals” and “loud gongs” without love, and without sensitivity, in the book of Corinthians) steal music and attempt to withhold it from the rest of us.

  39. #39 Susannah
    December 17, 2010

    Santy, # 32

    I never knew Greg could become so obsessed with a “holiday” that celebrates the virgin birth of someone he claims never existed.

    Our holiday celebrates the family, getting together in winter, the end of a year and the beginning of the next, family, family, family. Some of us also celebrate the birth of their particular mythical figure. Some celebrate the solstice. Some (mostly the children) celebrate presents. The adults pretend to celebrate Santa; the children play along with it. (They don’t believe; it’s their job to take turns being Santa and Santa’s helper.)

    For some of us, music is an essential element. My grandson does a great Jingle Bell Rock. I sing carols; they bring back happy memories, even though I don’t believe in the story. I sing about Rudolph and Santa, too. And Frosty the Snowman. And Old MacDonald, besides. Belief is not necessary.

    Like Greg’s family, mine is diverse; Christians of every stripe, from fundie to Christmas-and-Easter drop-ins; Buddhists, Hindus, a few Muslims, a fair number of atheists, some NewAgey types, a Pagan or two. Irish and Mexican, Yorkshiremen and Punjabis, Chinese, Norwegians, Swedes, Heinz57 Canadians; a Texan and a Jamaican who may as well be family; they belong with us. Our traditions are a mish-mash of whatever suits us from our mixed backgrounds.

    In the homes of fundies, we say grace; otherwise, we don’t. Even the fundies put up with that. If they want to say grace, they do it privately, without fuss.

    Like Tim Minchin sings, we pass babies from hand to hand. I really like Christmas, too. No fundie is going to take that away from me.

  40. #40 daedalus2u
    December 17, 2010

    It just goes to show the real purpose of religion, at least to those who would criticize anyone for participating in any of its rituals. The real purpose is to “other”. Don’t participate, then you are the “other”. Participate, then you are still the “other”.

  41. #41 daedalus2u
    December 17, 2010

    It just goes to show the real purpose of religion, at least to those who would criticize anyone for participating in any of its rituals. The real purpose is to “other”. Don’t participate, then you are the “other”. Participate, then you are still the “other”.

  42. #42 Bill
    December 17, 2010

    “But I quite like the songs…”

    -Tim Minchin – “White wine in the Sun”

  43. #43 Jennifer
    December 17, 2010

    Merry Christmas Greg! Wonderful post. I too get annoyed with the opposition in the so-called war on Christmas. They claim to be Christians defending… well something. They forget that the winter solstice was certainly not a Christian holiday. It is we who originally usurped it. It was a pagan celebration. Early Christians jumped in on the celebrations and adopted the symbols so they could fit in with the festivities. Ironic that Christians today would fight against inclusiveness on a stolen holiday.
    If Richard Dawkins enjoys Christmas carols, lovely. Merry Christmas to him too. Happy holidays. Many happy returns. No matter your belief system, or lack thereof, I wish your time to be infected with joy, love, and peace.

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    December 17, 2010

    Gwen, I see you are out busting up stereotypes today!

  45. #45 Calli Arcale
    December 17, 2010

    “The sight of an avowed atheist joining in the Christmas chorus is a bit hard to imagine. ”

    Wow. Because how can a person possibly sing a Christmas carol if they don’t believe in the subject matter? Like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire”, or “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch”….

    Wait. I’m Christian, and I don’t believe in Rudolph, Frosty, Santa, Jack Frost, or the Grinch. I guess I can’t conceivably sing any of those songs, then. Hmm. And if we can’t sing about things we don’t believe in, I guess I’d better stop singing along with the soundtrack to Aladdin, because singing things is tantamount to expressing belief. (Sidenote: is this a short step towards banning non-liturgical singing and dancing as a form of Devilry?)

    And of COURSE we mustn’t tolerate an atheist singing Christmas carols. Stuff like:
    Jingle Bells
    Walkin’ In a Winter Wonderland
    I’ll Be Home For Christmas
    Deck the Halls
    We Wish You a Merry Christmas
    O Tannenbaum
    Jingle Bell Rock
    Silver Bells
    I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas
    Let It Snow
    Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
    The Holly and the Ivy
    Carol of the Bells
    Feliz Navidad
    The Twelve Days of Christmas

    Because Christmas Carols are always so intensely religious, and inherently and unambiguously statements of Christian belief, right? Right? Oh, they’re not? Oh. Hmm.

  46. #46 The MadPanda, FCD
    December 17, 2010

    It’s crap like this that renders the holiday season damn near unbearable. Thanks, you hyper-pseduo-Merikan yahoos, for constantly ruining an otherwise wonderful moment in the dead of winter. (I’m looking at you, O’Really, Santty and Step…) It’s enough to convince me that Oliver Cromwell had the right idea by outlawing the holiday as so much Papist nonsense. Almost.

    Lucky for you small-minded wipers of other people’s bottoms, my Cub takes great pleasure in all the pretty lights on people’s houses, and the soft coo and giggle of a delighted child have done much to restore my tolerance for the Solstice. So I’m gonna leave it at that.

    Happy holidays to all and sundry.

    The MadPanda, FCD

  47. #47 Cath the Canberra Cook
    December 17, 2010

    As an atheist preparing to sing at a Christmas Carol service at a local church tomorrow, I can’t help but laugh at the so-called Christians demanding I only sing it if I believe it. Don’t tell me you’ve never sung about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus, or Frosty the Snowman!

    I’m another very much in the Dawkins style of cultural Christianity, and the SJ Gouldian idea that good music trumps everything. I especially love all the glorious medieval and renaissance tunes and their off-beat stories. You can see the nativity morphing into folk-tale (cherry tree carol, Herod’s cock, the rose legend, and so many more); remnants of the pagan druids (holly, ivy and mistletoe); plenty of general wassailing and feasting; and even the good old magical baby isn’t so bad as a symbol of returning light and a fresh new year.

    Yes, we are upside down here, so singing about frost and snow is also amusing, but I actually prefer the earlier music. I do get a bit of a chuckle over all the “king” and “lord” stuff. No thanks, I’m a republican! That’s Australian for “not a monarchist”, do note that’s with a small ‘r’.

    Now excuse me, gotta warm up for rehearsal. dum dum dum HAAAA-LLE-LLU-IA!

  48. #48 Snert
    December 17, 2010

    Ummm – I am a “lapsed Catholic” much to my mothers dismay. I am also a Chorister – I LOVE singing in choirs…I belong to 3.
    So according to those guys I am not allowed to sing Rach Vespers, Mozart Requiem, assorted Brahms/Bach/Verdi Masses. Nor am I allowed to perform Carroling gigs in the local hospitals and nursing homes, to help brighten the day of the old and infirm. Damn! Anyone know a choir doesn’t sing those things?
    Problem is, I enjoy singing those things – as a soprano I particularly enjoy the soaring Descants in some of the Carols. Handels Messiah is fabulous and I hope to be joining a local High Anglican church choir in a singalong Messiah that they put on every year (It means I get to sing it without having to sit through rehearsals). One of my choirs sang some gorgeous traditional Hebrew songs last year, no-one in the choir is Jewish but we all agreed they were lovely and some of us asked the MD if we could do some more.

    Unfortunately most large choirs don’t have much choice, you either sing religious stuff by long dead guys or you pay through the nose to sing stuff still under copyright. I don’t know many choirs that can afford to do more than one concert a year of copyright material unless they have a major sponsor, even that is a stretch.

    If singing makes you feel good then you should sing whatever you want, if you can hold a tune then do it in public, if you can’t then either just torture your family or join a massed choir where the weight of the other voices will drag you on to pitch or drown you out. Just SING!