Pharyngula

Our War on Christmas

We atheists have been caught in our ongoing devious strategem for destroying Christmas. The NY Times first expresses some surprise that fervent atheists celebrate Christmas, but then the writer begins to catch on.

“Presumably your reason for asking me is that “The God Delusion” is an atheistic book, and you still think of Christmas as a religious festival,” Mr. Dawkins wrote, in a reply printed here in its entirety. “But of course it has long since ceased to be a religious festival. I participate for family reasons, with a reluctance that owes more to aesthetics than atheistics. I detest Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the obscene spending bonanza that nowadays seems to occupy not just December, but November and much of October, too.”

He added: “So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”

Why, yes. My personal war on Christmas is fought in a way the Bill O’Reillys of the world don’t even recognize: I blithely wish people a Merry Christmas without so much as a germ of religious reverence anywhere in my body. I take this holiday and turn it into a purely secular event, with family and friends and food and presents. I celebrate the season without thought of Jesus or any of the other myths so precious to the pious idiots who get upset when a Walmart gives them a cheery “Happy Holidays!”.

For now, they have to pretend that this myth of the dour atheist, the sour old Scrooge sitting home alone because he refuses to bend his knee to Jesus, is actually true. Someday, though, they might just notice that there are an awful lot of secular folk having a good time in late December and early January. Maybe we need to get a children’s book or a Christmas television special made…

And the Priest, with his priest-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
It came without Jesus! It came without gods!
“It came without reverends, ministers or frauds!”
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Priest thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a church.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…needs a bit more research!
And what happened then…?
Well…in Doubt-ville they say
That the Priest’s small brain
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his brain didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the books! And the logic and reason!
And he…
…HE HIMSELF…!
The Priest skipped church for the season!

(crossposted to The American Street)

Comments

  1. #1 Sakurai
    December 17, 2006

    Hear, hear! My atheist family wages our War on Christmas by having a delicious homemade breakfast buffet and then spending all afternoon opening presents around the tree.

  2. #2 Pierce R. Butler
    December 17, 2006

    Harrrumph!

    PZ Myers: …the pious idiots who get upset when a Walmart gives them a cheery “Happy Holidays!”.

    Some of us old-timers (vaguely) recall when the hyperchristians used to throw tizzies at the commercialization of christmas – just what are we expected to say now that they’re howling against the de-commercialization of it?

    Have a politically correct generic holiday season, everyone!

  3. #3 NCurse
    December 17, 2006

    I absolutely agree with you. I’m an atheist but I also love Christmas. The only time when the whole family gathers together. It’s no longer the holiday of the christians.

  4. #4 doctorgoo
    December 17, 2006

    People who complain about the War on Christmas should realize that it started decades ago when Santa and reindeer became the main focus.

  5. #5 Bruce
    December 17, 2006

    While I agree with Dawkins about the “the obscene spending bonanza”, I like the old Rudolph TV special. What a coincidence though, I wrote about this very thing on my blog just a few days ago, except mine is a little bit funnier.

  6. #6 Ian H Spedding FCD
    December 17, 2006

    What a bunch of “Bah! Humbug!” but then what can you expect from atheists.

    As an agnostic, I have no problem thoroughly enjoying Christmas for all the traditional reasons: over-drinking, over-eating, over-spending, over-the-top sentimentality and falling head-over-heels on the snow and ice. I can even overlook Moran’s grouchiness.

    On the other hand, anything that annoys O’Reilly has to be a good thing.

  7. #7 Magnus
    December 17, 2006

    The vary fact that Jesus was born in the spring should tip most people off to the fact that the origins of christmas has nothing to do with Christ. I Norway we call it Jultides.

  8. #8 Icequeen
    December 17, 2006

    ENTIRE COUNTRIES annoy O’Reilly. I especially love how he uses my country (Holland) as some sort of doom image to scare his public, while he’s talking absolutely easily refutable bollocks.

    As for Christmas, it’s about the tree and winter solstice celebration.

  9. #9 j
    December 17, 2006

    Exactly. I used to say “Merry Christmas” without hesitation. Now I make a point to say “Happy Holidays” because I know Bill O’Reilly would be pissed off.

  10. #10 Ken Cope
    December 17, 2006

    What a bunch of “Bah! Humbug!” but then what can you expect from atheists.

    Whoosh.

  11. #11 Caveat
    December 17, 2006

    Very well put!

    We have always done the Christmas thing – what’s not to like about a tree, lights, gifts and great food that you only eat once a year in the winterime?

    ‘Tis the season to be tacky – the more over the top, kitschwise, the bigger the laughs in my opinion, although I don’t participate in that competition.

    Atheist to the bone, have always liked Christmas, always will and I too have no hesitation about wishing people a Merry Christmas.

    In Toronto last week, a judge ordered that a Christmas tree should be removed from the courthouse lobby and put in a back area closed to the public, because that ‘Christian’ symbol might offend those who don’t aren’t of that religion.

    She was wrong on so many levels and people know it. In fact, the Jews and Muslims are demanding that the tree be returned to its usual place. Wonder how O’Really? would like them apples…

  12. #12 Carl Buell (OGeorge)
    December 17, 2006

    Now I SHOULD have illustrated that Poem!

    Having been brought up in a Christian denomination (cult) that DOESN’T celebrate Christmas at all (Jehovah’s Witnesses), I’m really confused by this all this “war on” stuff. It’s not that I couldn’t say “merry Christmas”…it just wasn’t merry!

  13. #13 jeffk
    December 17, 2006

    I always kinda wished the two biggest holidays of the year could be about the winter and summer solstice, along with maybe a nice fall harvest one. This is kinda what happens anyways (christmas, fourth of july, and thanksgiving) but I have to imagine it being a little different somehow.

  14. #14 Mena
    December 17, 2006

    Last year I was at the grocery store and the bagger was a Hindu lady who wished me a Merry Christmas. Without thinking I said “you too” because I really don’t think of this as a particularly religious holiday either, just like a wedding can be religious or secular (I was married by a judge btw). She didn’t seem offended, I suspect that it’s to the point of “Have a nice day” followed by “You too” at this point for a lot of people.

  15. #15 Edd
    December 17, 2006

    I blithely wish people a Merry Christmas without so much as a germ of religious reverence anywhere in my body.

    Amen!

  16. #16 Arun
    December 17, 2006

    We Hindus generally love celebrations of all kinds, and invent reasons for them at the drop of a hat. 🙂 We’ll happily join in any as long as belonging to the religion is not a pre-condition.

  17. #17 Davis
    December 17, 2006

    I have always said Happy Holidays because I thought it would be inappropriate to say Merry Christmas if I disbelieved the myth. You and Dawkins have straightened me out. I plan to give The God Delusion as a Christmas gift. Not that ironic, though; it’s going to my athiest brother-in-law.

  18. #18 Schwaumlaut
    December 17, 2006

    So I’m working on a full parody incorporating that last staza you’ve got there.

    HOW THE PRIEST SAVED CHRISTMAS
    by
    Dr Seuss

    Parodied by Schwa

    Every Doubt
    Down in Doubt-ville
    Thought Christmas was safe…
    But the Priest,
    Who lived just North of Doubt-ville,
    Chafed!
    The Priest feared for Christmas!
    The whole Christmas season!
    Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
    It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right.
    It could be, perhaps, that his cross was too tight.
    But I think that the most likely reason of all
    May have been that his brain was two sizes too small.
    But,
    Whatever the reason,
    His brain or without,
    He stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Doubts,
    Staring down from his cave with a sour, Priestly frown
    At the warm lighted windows below in their town.
    For he thought every Doubt down in Doubt-ville beneath
    Was busy now, wailing and gnashing their teeth.
    “And they’re plotting against us!” he snarled with a sneer.
    “Tomorrow is Christmas! It’s practically here!”
    Then he growled, with his priest fingers nervously drumming,
    “I MUST find a way to keep the lawyers from coming!”
    For, tomorrow, he thought…
    …All the Doubt girls and boys
    Would wake up bright and early. They’d rush for the pyres!
    And then! Oh, the fires! Oh, the fires! Fires! Fires! Fires!
    They’d persecute Christians! On the fires! Fires! Fires! Fires!
    Then the lawyers, young and old, would file some suits.
    And they’d file! And they’d file!
    And they’d FILE! FILE! FILE! FILE!
    They would start with ‘Merry Christmas!’, and the Nativity,
    Whose banning the Priest just couldn’t bear to see!
    And THEN
    They’d do something he liked least of all!
    Every Doubt down in Doubt-ville, the tall and the small,
    Would stand close together, with menorahs burning.
    They’d stand hand-in-hand. And the Whos would start spurning!
    They’d spurn! And they’d spurn!
    AND they’d SPURN! SPURN! SPURN! SPURN!
    And the more the Priest thought of them denying The Lord,
    The more the Priest thought, “Today, God needs my sword!
    “Why for fifty-three years I’ve heard that’s what occurs!
    I MUST stop the lawyers from coming!
    …My WORD!”
    Then he got an idea!
    A Christian idea!
    THE PRIEST
    GOT A WONDERFUL, CHRISTIAN IDEA!
    “I know just what to do!” The Priest laughed in his chair.
    And he practiced a quick British accent and glare.
    And he chuckled, and clucked, “What a great Priestly trick!
    “With this accent and glare, I’ll look just like old Rick! (ed: Richard Dawkins)

  19. #19 Schwaumlaut
    December 17, 2006

    As you can probably guess, I’m not done yet. Anyone else who wants to come up with some of the priest’s tricks for keeping the lawyers away, feel free to post some more lines.

  20. #20 Julie Stahlhut
    December 17, 2006

    I would absolutely love Christmas, with or without the religious connotations, if there were no gift-exchange tradition associated with it. Or, in fact, even if there were a sane gift-exchange tradition associated with it. An appalling amount of truly dreadful crap goes on sale in shops and malls every fall. (Doesn’t everyone want a battery-operated purple plastic puppy that wags its tail when you plug an iPod into it? I mean, that would give most people at least one and a half minutes of amusement before its expensive little plastic butt gets chucked into the closet, awaiting its markdown to 25 cents at Mom and Dad’s 2009 spring yard sale.)

  21. #21 Joshua
    December 17, 2006

    Well, I do hate Christmas, but for reasons other than my atheism. I just think it’s bloody annoying the way to creeps insidiously to take over more and more of each year. All the Christmas crap goes up on November 1st, these days.

    Bollocks to that! I happen to rather like Thanksgiving, so I kindly ask that all you fanatical Christmasists step off it!

  22. #22 khan
    December 17, 2006

    Elsewhere on the Web, an atheist posted how his Christian, Jewish, Pagan, et al friends and family all celebrated the season with food and drink and good cheer.

    Shortly thereafter, a RRR Christian posted that he was disgusted by non-Christians celebrating a Christian holiday.

    With some people, you just can’t win.

  23. #23 miller
    December 17, 2006

    I’ve disliked Christmas music long before I ever even considered atheism. Also church music.

  24. #24 JoeH
    December 17, 2006

    I’m a definite no-gods-exist atheist, but I include a Nativity scene in my Christmas decorations every year. Why? For the same reason that Dawkins stated; I’m a post-Catholic atheist, and erecting a creche is as much a part of Christmas for me as Christmas trees and eggnog.

    Jesus is as real as Santa Claus, and I have no problem enjoying the mythology of Christmas.

  25. #25 Elf Eye
    December 17, 2006

    This atheist has been cheerfully celebrating Christmas for years. After all, the Christians stole the holiday, so I figure I’m just stealing it back. Actually, we celebrate the season at least twice. First we celebrate the ‘nativity’ on December 25th, the traditional merry-making date for most Christians in the U.S. Then we celebrate the season twelve days later on el dia des tres reyes, a custom we adopted from some Hispanic friends. Not that my daughter’s gift-haul has doubled as a result! If there is something I planned to give her that I haven’t laid my hands on by December 24th, I shrug and say, hey, there’s always Three Kings. Believe me: this really takes the stress out of holiday shopping, plus it gives my daughter a kick because she gets to enjoy the pleasure and curiosity of anticipation for another twelve days. In addition, depending on who’s visiting us or who we’re visiting, some years we’ve also celebrated Hanukkah and/or Divali (We’ve got scorch marks on the front porch from the year a Divali candle burned down to a stub.) December and January are cold and dark in my neck of the woods, and I operate on the principle of “Any holiday in a storm.”

  26. #26 Grumpy
    December 17, 2006

    …the sour old Scrooge sitting home alone because he refuses to bend his knee to Jesus…

    For the record, when Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas, it has nothing to do with Jesus (maybe it does in the novel, but never in any of the adaptations I’ve seen). Ditto the Grinch.

    In other words, PZ, your battle tactics have been employed for over a century, and in cartoons.

  27. #27 JoeH
    December 17, 2006

    “Shortly thereafter, a RRR Christian posted that he was disgusted by non-Christians celebrating a Christian holiday.”

    The proper respone to that is that the ignorant Christian (a tautology, I know) has it exactly backward; Christians hijacked a pagan winter festival, Saturnalia, whence we get the gift-giving and revelry, and the date of Christmas itself was taken from a Mithraic holiday, the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, that was celebrated on December 25.

    Every aspect of Christmas derives from pre-Christian origins, which is why the Puritans banned its celebration during Cromwells’ rule.

  28. #28 Pete K
    December 17, 2006

    Very true. “Christmas” was hijacked or at least modified by Christians, don’t forget. It was originally a celebration of the Solstice, the Sun’s return, which was of fundamental importance to ancient humans, who valued fertility in themselves and the land. Celebrations evolve. Most of us don’t take Halloween seriously at that level either. Anyway, we are fundamentally social, gregarious creatures, and hence lap up the opportunity to get together and enjoy each other, even if it’s a little “false”. Birthdays, saints’ days, bank holidays, mothers’/fathers’ days, Easter, Halloween, Lent, Yom Kippur, Divali, Ramadan, etc etc. Any excuse to drink/eat/swear/sing (or to abstain, in some celebrations) too much! Christimas just happens to be the set of memetic rituals we’ve inherited and built upon, and secularized, in the West, slavishly following them…

  29. #29 Pete K
    December 17, 2006

    JoeH kinda beat me to it…

  30. #30 Jerry Cornelius
    December 17, 2006

    I too will be celebrating the (re)birth of the sun next week. Greetings from merrie England, and may your yuletides be whatever you wish them to be. Now, where did I put that goat?

  31. #31 J.
    December 17, 2006

    Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry FQHS*.

    (Fourth Quarter Holiday Season)

  32. #32 Dave Godfrey
    December 17, 2006

    Working in retail I have a particular reason to loathe Christmas, the decorations go up in November, and come down on Boxing Day in time for the post-xmas sale advertising.

    I treat Christmas as a couple of days off work to spend with the family and see relatives I haven’t seen for a while.

    New Year’s Eve is more important to me as a celebration.

  33. #33 Stanton
    December 17, 2006

    Does this mean you’re going to celebrate Chinese New Years, too?

  34. #34 Jude
    December 17, 2006

    I subbed last month for a high school science teacher. One of his students told me, indignantly, that she didn’t like that teacher because he said that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. I said, “Well, no one thinks that he was born on December 25th. They think he was born in the spring.” I explained the pagan origins of Christmas, then added that I think it’s a great time to have a holiday because December is a miserable month in general, so why not? She became quite excited at learning that Jesus might have been born in the spring. “Maybe he was born on *my* birthday.” Whatever, kid.

  35. #35 William
    December 17, 2006

    PZ: Loved the poem!

    Err… that’s all I had to say… :^)

  36. #36 n3rdchik
    December 17, 2006

    We are as I put it “cuturally christian”, but I think I like post-christian better. We celebrate christmas as both as a goodwill/family gift giving bonanza, and Mr. Isaac Newton’s and Clara Barton’s birthday. We do talk about the nativity mythology – as my 5 year old is a bit obsessed with Jesus and astronomy right now…

  37. #37 J. J. Ramsey
    December 17, 2006

    “I blithely wish people a Merry Christmas without so much as a germ of religious reverence anywhere in my body.”

    The catch is that you could be saying Merry Christmas to a secular Jew who celebrates Hanukkah without a germ of religious reverence anywhere in his/her body. Happy Holidays works no matter what religious, nonreligious, or formerly religious but secularized holiday is being celebrated.

  38. #38 J Bean
    December 17, 2006

    What JoeH said.

    Someone who knew I was a progressive last year asked me if it was okay to wish me a “Merry Christmas”. I have no trouble wishing and being wished a Merry Christmas. In fact, I wish that everyone were lucky enough to be merry most every day. Even my husband who claims he dislikes Xmas is cheerfully singing elaborate John Dowland songs which he only seems to remember around this time of year.

    My birthday falls on the summer solstice and is usually good for a party (a couple of weeks later the city always has a big fireworks display for my dad’s birthday). I have been eating potato latkes for two days now (although I’m serving them with, well, pork chops tonight). I see no reason not to celebrate Dewali too. I can’t celebrate Ramadan because of the fasting part since feasting without fasting loses it’s punch.

    Here’s an atheist who’s a little worried about overly militant atheism.

  39. #39 Ken Cope
    December 17, 2006

    How the Priest stole Christmas sounds like an instant Emanated Holiday Klassic Kartune.

    Phil Austin, of Firesign Theatre fame, citing a Jesusspotting tracked in a Seattle-area paper, observes how incongruous it seems for Jesus to be shoehorned into a spot that is, these days, rightfully Santa’s. His essay culminates in an attempt to put the X back in Xmas for the Xists, by fiXing the carols:

    “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Jesus”

    “I Saw Mommy Kissing Jesus”

    “Jingle Jesus”

    “O Come All Ye Jesus””

    “O Little Town of Jesus”

    “Walking in a Winter JesusLand”

    Don’t miss the comments section for lyrics to some of them, including Krishna Kringle’s Blue Jesus.

  40. #40 Interrobang
    December 17, 2006

    I reluctantly celebrate Christmas, mostly because my family tends to put on a really big shindig. The party starts around dusk on the 24th (“Erev Xmas“) and goes until the morning of the 26th. Of course, my parents were insane enough to get married on the 24th, so that complicates things.

    If my family didn’t do it, I don’t think I’d bother. Doing a really big, pull-out-all-the-stops Christmas once as a novelty is a good experience, but year after year, it just gets tedious.

    Unlike most people, I actually like the gift exchange part (let’s hear it for the potlach culture!); it’s the hanging out with family, overeating, and boredom part I can live without… Oh, yeah, and Christmas music. Don’t even get me started on bloody Christmas music.

  41. #41 George
    December 17, 2006

    I’ve disliked Christmas music long before I ever even considered atheism. Also church music.

    Boo-Hiss. Have you tried Bach? The Christmas Oratorio? Here’s the first bit…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONCRw9sPFLg

    And turn up the volume!

  42. #42 Yiela
    December 17, 2006

    It’s about time a christian holiday gets morphed into something else rather than them turning someone else’s holiday into a christian thing! We celebrate christmas too. Our decorations are heavy on the garland and tree solstice thing but also include angels and christian themes and anything else that we think is pretty with the red and green color scheme. We have a very subdued gift exchange. I don’t think we’ve ever hit $100 dollars per each kid, usually about $40 each. Grownups usually get something funny or a yummy candy or nut treat. Our emphasis is spending the day together, talking and eating. I’ve gotten the “athiests can’t celebrate christmas” thing too. It’s as stupid as “homeschool kids have friends and are socialized?” Duh.

  43. #43 Ed Darrell
    December 17, 2006

    As for me and my house, if you don’t wish us “happy holidays,” I must assume you are wishing us ill in the New Year, or a vexing KWANZAA, you don’t care enough about us to even wonder whether we’d celebrate Eid or Hanukkuh, or you are trying to impose your odd cult on us. What is this warring about Christmas anyway? Isn’t that quite contrary to the theology?

  44. #44 JD Kolassa
    December 17, 2006

    That poem ROCKS!

    Anyways, I see no religious components to Xmas anymore. I just celebrate it to exchange presents. What I really dislike is setting up decorations; in the future I plan on putting up a tree and THAT’S IT.

  45. #45 Mena
    December 17, 2006

    This year Christmas falls way too close to my 40th birthday (12/23) so I’m not looking forward to it! ;^)
    What you guys are forgetting about Saturnalia is that the Christians didn’t take the holiday gracefully, they pretty much pounded it out of people who wanted to remain pagan. Again, how little things have changed.

  46. #46 bernarda
    December 17, 2006

    Here is an appropriate xmas song.

    http://www.falafelsex.com/sounds/GodWill.mp3

  47. #47 William Gulvin
    December 17, 2006

    Right On!

    So I just wish everyone a “Merry Saturnalia and a Happy Winter Solstice!” That gets ’em.

    And then there is the (more or less true) story of how the image of Santa came to be completely standardized with him wearing a red suit with white trim and black accessories. http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/heritage/cokelore_santa.html Ho! Ho! Ho! He’s truly the proper elf of our modern commercial Xmas!

    Cheers! And Happy Cholidays!

  48. #48 BJHokanson
    December 17, 2006

    Here’s the problem I’m having with Christmas as an atheist: Not only do I despise the religious aspects of it (because as small as they have become, they do still exist and are quite meaningful to many Christians), I also despise the secular aspects of it.

    I just finished reading Tom Flynn’s The Trouble With Christmas (he came to UMN-TC a little while ago, although I couldn’t go), in which he argues that atheists are doing themselves a disservice by celebrating the holiday. Having just come to identify as an atheist this year, I myself am dealing with this for the first time really. Regardless of whether or not celebrating Christmas is helping to legitimize religion, I see no reason why I should celebrate it when I despise both the religious and secular aspects. The religious myths involved are lies; Santa and Rudolph are, yes, lies; the absolutely unnecessary materialism and consumerism is based on the lie that more stuff makes us better.

    Dawkins participates for “family reasons”? Bah. The only good reason we have to be with our families is to celebrate lies? I think not. There are good things that often come along with the holiday, yes – cookies and hugs and warm fireplaces and familiar faces – but they’re totally exclusive of the holiday itself, and the holiday isn’t necessary one bit to enjoy them.

  49. #49 Mark Borok
    December 17, 2006

    In the U.S.S.R. Christmas celebrations were just shuffled over into New Year’s celebrations. Same thing, but on New Year’s, and on top of the tree you had a red, five-pointed star. Also, the Russian Santa Claus, “Grandfather Frost,” was accompanied by “Snegurochka”, the pretty snow maiden. Which is kind of hot, if you think about it.

    When my family emigrated here, we continued the tradition for a while, which meant we could buy really cheap Christmas trees after Dec. 25th.

    Have yourself a very commie Christmas and a Soviet New Year!

  50. #50 clk
    December 17, 2006

    Traditional holiday rituals are more fun:

    The mushroom amanita muscaria was well known to the Koryak tribesmen of Kamchatka in Siberia. The nobles would trade furs and goods for the collected mushrooms and eat them indoors during secret rituals. The poor would know when their rituals were occurring, and would wait outside under roofs or with bowls to collect and drink the urine of the affected men. The urine would be as potent in psilocybin as the original mushroom, and the alkaline effect would make the mushroom’s physical side effects even less severe. Many of the Christian symbols and traditions associated with its holidays were borrowed from earlier Pagan holidays.

    James Arthur in Mushrooms and Mankind writes that many of the symbols of Christmas come from Siberia where the amanita muscaria mushrooms were used. Reindeer are naturally attracted to the mushrooms, and the myth is that they fly on Christmas Eve. Red and white gifts are placed under an evergreen tree, and the red and white amanita mushrooms grow under these trees in Siberia. Mushrooms were traditionally strung up and draped across the fireplace mantle to dry, and limp stockings are strung across the mantle today.

    The Eleusinian Mysteries were secret fertility rites that lasted up to 2,000 years in ancient Greece. The rites at Eleusis are thought to be of a highly sexual nature, and were accompanied by a mysterious brew that produced ecstasy. Gordon Wasson has proposed that the active ingredient in the brew was Ergot, a psychotropic fungus that grows on barley, rye and wheat. The early Christian Church fathers condemned the Eleusinian rituals, yet they persisted for another few hundred more years.

  51. #51 junk science
    December 17, 2006

    If there were actually a “war on Christmas” and not a “war on people who don’t want to kiss Christian ass,” maybe Bill O’Reilly would be offended. If anything, he’d probably be pleased that his side has cowed atheists into giving the lip service to Christmas that Christians find so pleasing.

  52. #52 g
    December 17, 2006

    J Bean: cheerfully singing John Dowland? Isn’t that a bit like intellectually reading Jonathan Wells, or peacefully invading Iraq?

  53. #53 clk
    December 17, 2006

    i’m not quite sure how i managed that, but it should have been a link to http://www.salemiu.edu/resources/psilo/index.htm

  54. #54 suirauqa
    December 17, 2006

    A line from an old Christmastime song goes: “It’s a time to rejoice in the good that we see… A time for trusting and not deceiving…” In a world that has become increasingly fraught with mistrust, deception, violence and other inequities, a true celebration of Christmas would, therefore, be if any individual or a family or a group contributes – even a little bit – whatever they have, in an effort to make a difference, improve the quality of life, even by a small amount.

    But, no. Christmas (and all such so-called celebrations, so aptly termed ‘Hallmark holidays’) now celebrates only crass commercialization; the vaunted ‘holiday spirit’ is no more than a myth.

    Imagine, then, the amount of money that changes hands during these celebrations, in gifts, decorations, shopping frenzy; if a fraction of that amount could be channeled to the poor, hungry, needy, marginalized, disenfranchised people all around the world, I believe it could have made a real difference. Instead, Christmas and its ilk are truly avenues for the privileged members of the society to engage in revelry and needless expenditure of their wealth.

    You may think it is a harsh pronouncement. I do not. I saw a current affairs program recently focussing on Darfur in Sudan, and the horrible reality of organized genocide that hangs harsh on the head of the people there. With such gross human rights abuse happening in the globe, what right do we have to celebrate Christmas, comfortably ensconced in our home and hearth?

    This is my opinion, of course. There are people who would not give a rat’s ass for anyone else but themselves.

    I know of volunteer organizations – started and run by students – that takes in individual donations and uses that to support education of children in underprivileged areas in their home countries. A mere $300 can support the education of a girl child in a remote village of India for a whole year. They do it because they believe that believe that education is a critical requisite and an effective catalyst for social and economic change.

    If you yearn for the true Christmas spirit, share, share what you have, strive to make this world a better place – before it is too late.

  55. #55 khan
    December 17, 2006

    If my family didn’t do it, I don’t think I’d bother. Doing a really big, pull-out-all-the-stops Christmas once as a novelty is a good experience, but year after year, it just gets tedious.

    Given that people are living longer I have a thought: maybe blowout festivals should be celebrated only once every five years.

  56. #56 khan
    December 17, 2006

    BTW, Eid is not a traditional Winter Solstice holiday. It is based on a lunar calendar and makes a full circuit of the year.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_ul-Fitr

    In 2006, Eid almost coincides with Christmas. This only happens once every 30 years, because of the difference between the Muslim calendar (which is lunar), and the Christian calendar, which is essentially solar. Thus Eid shifts 12 days per year on the Christian calendar.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_ul-Fitr

  57. #57 writerdd
    December 17, 2006

    You don’t have to believe in the baby Jesus or Santa Claus to enjoy Christmas! I have effigies of both hanging on my Chrstmas tree…

  58. #58 William Gulvin
    December 17, 2006

    Heh

    “Cheerfully singing . . . John Dowland”? Indeed.

    “Semper Dowland, semper dolens.”
    http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=933078

    With his tongue well in cheek, no doubt.

  59. #59 khan
    December 17, 2006
  60. #60 pkiwi
    December 17, 2006

    I am shocked by the insensitivity and bias exhibited by you non-true-Xmas revellers. What is this winter solstice you speak of?
    Xmas is for firing up the bar-b-que and heading to the beach!

  61. #61 PZ Myers
    December 17, 2006

    Yeah, we might be able to do that here in Minnesota this year.

  62. #62 Steve T
    December 17, 2006

    Thanks for this thread of comments. I’ve been feeling pretty damn grumpy about the whole war on christmas thing for awhile now, and hearing that I’m not alone makes it a little better. Seems like every damn time a group of people stand up to the bullies and ask not to have christianity and christian intolerance crammed down their throats, christianity’s right wing starts to cry about how they are being oppressed. As so many people have already commented, christians hijacked a perfect good holiday season in an effort to either (a) capitalize on all the partying that was already going on, or (b) suppress other religious practices (choose one). Either way, their gall in crying about a war being waged on them is mind-blowing.

    I wish everyone Happy Holidays. When someone replies with a Merry Christmas, I just put on my biggest smile and counter with “and a Blessed Solstice to you, too.” Christians need reminding that not only are they not the only religion that finds spiritual/emotional/personal meaning in this time of year, but they aren’t even the first religion to do so. War, indeed. What hypocrits!

    Sorry for the rant. Happy holidays, everyone!

  63. #63 lo
    December 17, 2006

    C`mon you love the days off and having some quality time, but you all certainly despise the increased craziness in the world and hypocrisy during Christmas-season just as much as i do.

  64. #64 BadAunt
    December 17, 2006

    Here in Japan, ’tis the season to take your girlfriend out to a fancy restaurant, give her a present, and spend the night together at a hotel, bonking. I’m not quite sure how this happened, and sometimes I wonder what they think Santa has to do with it all.

    Christmas in Japan is all about sex.

  65. #65 J Bean
    December 17, 2006

    He seems pretty cheerful as he carols merrily about love and pain. Then again, he’s an atheist.

  66. #66 pkiwi
    December 17, 2006

    But PZ will you be wearing flip-flops??

    The point about a summer down-under celebration just highlights that Chrsitmas can be what you want it to be. When I was a kid most Xmas cards came with European imagery (and probably religious icons but I ignored those). Now we get more local ones with beaches and pohutukawa in flower (that really is the best Xmas tree – and still alive). But I love getting an incongrous card with snow and robins on it. And singing Carols with fellow atheists! And piped music in malls. And the commercialisation and bad TV. This is humankind at its silly trashy inconsistent best. Lighten up and just enjoy.

    Merry Xmas.

  67. #67 Tristram Shandy
    December 17, 2006

    J Bean: cheerfully singing John Dowland? Isn’t that a bit like intellectually reading Jonathan Wells, or peacefully invading Iraq?

    What’s wrong with Dowland? Is this part of the War on Renaissance English Madrigals?

  68. #68 Miguel Garcia-Blanco
    December 17, 2006

    I haven’t celebrated Christmas for about 15 years, but I have no qualms with the likes of Dawkins and PZ celebrating it. Although, if somebody calls me a killjoy and tells me that I should celebrate Christmas because Dawkins does, then they’ll quickly receive a smack upside the head 😉

  69. #69 DavidByron
    December 18, 2006

    You have to remember the true meaning of christmas — buying presents and kitsch. Preferably by leaving it until christmas eve. Don’t worry about who you need to get stuff for; just see what you find. Don’t bother with cards. If you really feel you “need” to get someone something and you don’t see something right then just send them some cash. If it’s not fun then why bother?

    Plus I love christmas carols. I like getting little crappy singing geegaws and annoying my co-workers with them. And they like to take a hammer and smash them to pieces in the car park after a few days.

  70. #70 octopod
    December 18, 2006

    cld: I feel somewhat obliged to point out that there’s no psilocybin in Amanita muscaria — it’s mostly muscimol with a bit of ibotenic acid and a few other goodies, IIRC. Other than that your account was dead-on.

    And as far as this atheist is concerned, Christmas music is the only reason to celebrate Christmas in addition to Solstice — what other time of year gives you an opportunity to hear medieval and baroque music in public places? Nothing to sneeze at, that.

  71. #71 C.W.
    December 18, 2006

    Cristmas is the only time of year I’m happy to be a native swedish speaker, since nobody knows what the hell “jul” means.

    God Jul! And I’m not just saying that.

  72. #72 Tukla in Iowa
    December 18, 2006

    they have to pretend that this myth of the dour atheist, the sour old Scrooge sitting home alone because he refuses to bend his knee to Jesus

    Hey, now. My dour, sour Scrooge-like sitting at home-ness has nothing to do with Jesus. I’m like that every day.

  73. #73 Sonja
    December 18, 2006

    I have no problem celebrating the birth of a great humanist philosopher. I recognize the contriubtion of writings such as “the Sermon on the Mount” to our progress.

    It is just that I also recognize the hundreds of years of subsequent thinking and writing by great people, including scientists.

    Who is up for national holidays celebrating Archimedes, Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, Newton, or Einstein (etc.)?

  74. #74 vjack
    December 21, 2006
  75. #75 Joshua
    December 22, 2006

    I’m delving into the forbidden practise of Necromancy here, but even still I thought this was interesting and relevant. It’s a video about the growing popularity of Christmas celebrations in China. There’s an especially good bit where a young Chinese man, when asked about the religious meaning of Christmas, replies that he had no idea there was any.

    Check it: http://www.danwei.org/danwei_tv/sexy_beijing_sexy_christmas.php

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