White Coat Underground

Merry Chirstm–er–

It’s not always easy to figure out that you are not normative. If you grow up in an ethnic enclave, when you’re young you probably think everyone is black/Spanish-speaking/Korean. When I was a little kid one of my parents’ friends remarried. I remarked on how the new wife was Jewish. My mom corrected me.

“But Mom, she talks Jewish.”

“No, honey, she’s just from New Jersey.”

If you’re visibly different from the majority, or you speak a language other than English, you learn pretty quickly what “normal” is supposed to be—and it’s not you. My daughter has grown up in an area of mixed ethnicity, with the majority of our neighbors being white and Christian, but she is around other Jewish families a lot. She understands that there are “Channukah people” and “Christmas people”. When we were at the hospital last week I showed her the big tree and all the decorations. She said, “Daddy, where is the Channukah suff?”

I’d never really thought about it. I’ve known for a long time that ethnically (and politically) I’m a minority. I looked around the first floor of the hospital and found a small Channukah menorah in a cabinet in one of the side hallways.

I’ve long since figured out how to respond to the constant litany of “Merry Christmas” and the uncomfortable looks of people who start to say it an pause. For her, it’s all new. I wonder how she’s going to integrate all of this.

Comments

  1. #1 Katharine
    December 10, 2009

    Hey, it’s even more of an awkward conversation when I mention to people that I’m an atheist and don’t celebrate either of those. I usually proffer a ‘Happy Solstice’ or ‘Happy Festivus’ and a shit-eating grin.

    Because at least it’s considered bad form to hate on Jews in the United States. It’s sadly not considered bad form to hate on atheists yet.

  2. #2 MonkeyPox
    December 10, 2009

    It’s sadly not considered bad form to hate on atheists yet.

    It’s because of all the baby-eating.

  3. #3 JohnV
    December 10, 2009

    Well if you guys would stop eating babies….

  4. #4 Bobus
    December 10, 2009

    What’s with the ‘Happy Solstice’ crap anyway? It seems unnecessary. X-mas is a large part of our economy even for the secular heathens like myself.

  5. #5 PalMD
    December 10, 2009

    What’s with the ‘Happy Solstice’ crap anyway? It seems unnecessary. X-mas is a large part of our economy even for the secular heathens like myself.

    Could I ask you to expand on that idea?

  6. #6 Lab Rat
    December 10, 2009

    I grew up in an overseas ex-pat community in the middle east, so I was always very aware that there were plenty of people around that didn’t celebrate christmas (or did the whole ‘presents’ thing without the ‘christ’ thing). Mostly that took the form of making sure the right people got cards with “Seasons Greetings!” written on and pictures of snowmen annd robins rather than anything involving stars or mangers :)

    Despite the fact that there *were* no snowmen or robbins anywhere…

  7. #7 James Sweet
    December 10, 2009

    My wife was raised Jewish, I was raised Mormon, and we are both unambiguous atheists. Which means we get to celebrate both Channukah and Christmas with nary the slightest qualms about it. Not to mention Passover and Easter. Awesome.

    Which, by the way, makes me uber-pissed at those “War on Christmas” phonies who object to “Happy Holidays”. Um, for my family, it is “Holidays“, emphasis on the plural.

  8. #8 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    I don’t have a religious bone in my body, but wish people a Merry Christmas. Christmas has become as much a cultural holiday as a religious one.

  9. #9 PalMD
    December 10, 2009

    Christmas has become as much a cultural holiday as a religious one.

    This is a viewpoint often held by people who grow up in a majority culture and is laughable to the rest of us.

  10. #10 science-based humanist
    December 10, 2009

    Finally “owning” my atheism was actually a relief when it comes to the holidays. No more awkward, tortured explanations of why we celebrate “this” and don’t celebrate “that.” I say, boys, what would you LIKE to celebrate? Last year, we celebrated Xmas (daddy’s background), Chanukah(mommy’s background), Dawali and Kwanza. Why the heck not?! We are humanists and therefore free to pick-and-choose the best of human culture and expression.

  11. #11 kevin
    December 10, 2009

    Christmas has become as much a cultural holiday as a religious one.

    This is a viewpoint often held by people who grow up in a majority culture and is laughable to the rest of us.

    But see, for a lot of us that celebrate christmas, we could care less about the ‘christ’ part. I’m athiest, and I love christmas. We do a solstice thing too, and one of my kids is really into hanukkah this year for some reason, so maybe we’ll do that. For us, it is a cultural holiday.

  12. #12 PalMD
    December 10, 2009

    Yeah, my point stands.

  13. #13 Donna B.
    December 10, 2009

    Pal… you haven’t yet made your point clear enough for me to understand, unless the fact that “we” who celebrate in a secular way don’t understand… is the point.

  14. #14 becca
    December 10, 2009

    Well, I think “let’s celebrate the birth of a historical dude who people like to believe magical things about by exchanging presents supposedly from another magical dude with reindeer” (hypothetical atheist take on Christmas) feels differently from “let’s celebrate the birth of a historical dude, the death of whom people use as an excuse to hate on our people, by exchanging presents supposedly from reindeer dude” (a possible view for a Jew with a keen sense of history).
    Which of course would still be different from “let’s celebrate the birth of a historical dude during a time of year that is unrelated to his actual birth as an attempt to appropriate older and more diverse spiritual ceremonies surrounding an astrological milestone by crass consumerism that involves exchange of way too many petroleum disposable goods that are produced by raping our mother earth” (enlightened neo-pagan view of the holiday).

  15. #15 LostMarbles
    December 10, 2009

    It may be a cultural holiday, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is part of that culture. When you go around saying, “…but it’s part of American/Canadian/etc culture so it’s ok” you’re ignoring that there is a sizable population that feels strongly about preserving their non-majority culture. When you ignore the existence of those people you’re well on the way to marginalizing them and telling them they aren’t “normal”. It also creates a monolithic view of the majority cultural traditions that I doubt many people actually fit into.

    Personally, I’ve never really cared too much when greeted with a “Merry Christmas” despite my family never celebrating the holiday. But I do get slightly annoyed when well-meaning people make assumptions about me based on my last name and decide to greet me with “Happy Hanukkah”.

  16. #16 St Thomas
    December 10, 2009

    Christmas tree is actually a German pagan thing the Christians ripped off, so it’s not really Christian. Neither is Christmas, which my Dad always described as an English pagan festival that the Christians took, filed off its serial numbers, and rebranded. Hogmanay, the Scottish pagan solstice festival , was of course infinitely preferable to him, and it traditionally does _not_ feature God looking over your shoulder on your happy excesses!

  17. #17 St Thomas
    December 10, 2009

    The Christmas tree…
    Oops

  18. #18 Anon
    December 10, 2009

    @#9–

    I take your point, and admit I probably have been one of the guilty ones. Well, not really–when I have said it is secular, it has more often been to make a point to christians, rather than to excuse it.

    I think a similar, though smaller, though year-round situation I feel is the ubiquitous “bless you” after a sneeze. No one ever considers it majority-centric, but just the thing you say when someone sneezes. “This is a viewpoint often held by people who grow up in a majority culture”, as you so aptly say. “Laughable”, though? I have sometimes spoken up, and then it seems stupid for speaking up about something so patently trivial, so then I don’t speak up, and it just, just a tiny bit, kills. It’s nothing. But it’s also as if the very air around me is Religious, just as the air in your hospital is (invisibly to some, thick as pea soup for others) christian.

    I don’t mean to compare our cases in terms of seriousness, at all, but just in terms of, well, the way when we are wearing glasses we get to the point where we don’t even notice the outline of the frames, and it looks like this is just the way the world is, not the effect of the particular lenses we wear.

    Anyway, give the daughter a hug from me for seeing more clearly than a hospital full of adults.

  19. #19 Donna B.
    December 10, 2009

    I think I’m beginning to get it. If the majority of people celebrate a cultural thing, it’s bad because it’s not sensitive to those who don’t celebrate it.

    So the majority should just stop doing it? How about we all stop being so damned sensitive? If I say “Merry Christmas” to someone, it’s not a demand they celebrate Christmas and I’d be delighted to get “Joyous Kwanzaa” in return.

    Wow… two people just smiled at each other and wished each other merriness and joy while sharing their culture. Ain’t that sorta cool?

    I’d be annoyed if I said “Happy Holidays” and got a sneering “it’s Christmas… Christ’s birthday, you moron” and I don’t think I’d like to hear “we don’t celebrate” either. What’s gained by that exchange? Now two people feel bad about each other instead of happy.

    We should just all shut up, go home, and pout, I suppose.

  20. #20 MonkeyPox
    December 10, 2009

    Stop being so damned sensitive

    Yep…heard that one a few times.

    Where the fuck did you get your interpretation from? Minority doesn’t like it so majority should stop? Really? Is that what they said? Really?

  21. #21 Santa Claus
    December 10, 2009

    What I don’t understand is the term “holiday gift”. What the hell is a holiday gift? Gift giving on CHRISTMAS is representative of the wise men bringing Jesus gifts. Where does this representation fit in to the other holidays?

    Either way, I still say Merry Christmas. After all, I am American – and I don’t buy from stores who cover it up or censor it and I don’t give to charities who are too stupid or cowardly to be politically incorrect and say what the word Christmas.

    Christmas tree – do the jews or Africans have tree? (I know it is pagan, but who cares)
    Christmas present – does any other groups give gifts representative of Jesus’s gifts?
    Christmas party – now there’s a term that will land you in prison faster than terrorism. mention Christma sat school and they treat you as if you are some kind of crazed school shooter. Idiots.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!

    and Happy new Year – is that one still legal? Has “new Year” been censored yet? After all not everyone’s year starts on Jan. 1. Oops I guess “Happy New Year” is now offensive. Guess what? Go to hell of you don’t like it.

    Damned, the 1950s were so much nicer. THis modern fascism and anti-Christianism sucks.

    Oh, and in case you were wondered, Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) was white and so was Jesus. Stop fucking up history! It only confuses kids. I guees the next thing they’ll think of is an Islamic Santa. Dumbasses.

  22. #22 PalMD
    December 10, 2009

    Poe, is that you?

  23. #23 ginger
    December 10, 2009

    Pedantry is driving me into this discussion, I admit. First, kevin, I question the commitment of any secularist who can’t spell “atheist” – you are not the most athi. You are an a-theist.

    As far as I can tell, Pal’s point is pretty clear: don’t assume everyone celebrates Christmas because you do.

    Me, my policy is to try to wish people what I know *they* observe when they celebrate it. I don’t wish people happy birthday on my birthday – why would I wish Christians L’shana tova on Rosh Hoshanah, or Jews a Merry Christmas? Strangers get “happy holidays” unless they’re sporting a cross (or a star of David or a crescent moon or a pentagram or whathaveyou) and I feel like going out on a limb.

    I’m not PZ Myers, I choose my battles – I respond to Merry Christmas with “you too” rather than hash out my religious beliefs with strangers. But the unquestioning ubiquity of Christian greetings in allegedly secular society is annoying if you’re not Christian.

    (You didn’t celebrate Diwali in December, did you, secular-based humanist? That would just be weird.)

  24. #24 Chris
    December 10, 2009

    I grew up an Army brat, which involved living in other countries. Overseas I learned that Christian folks in other countries celebrate their version of “Christmas” on different days, in different ways, and may also call it something else (which was cool in South America because we got off school from at least before Dec. 24 to after Jan 6th, the Epiphany).

    Then when we were living near an actual US Army base (most of the places I lived in started with the word “Fort”), we attended the generic Protestant service of the post chapel (with a service tried to accommodate all the flavors from having communion both in the pews and at the front… at the same time!). That chapel would have always have three chaplains assigned to it: the Catholic chaplain, the Jewish Chaplin… and the Protestant of the year chaplain. During December there was usually both a creche and a menorah in front. (oh, and there were special meeting groups for other religions, the last time I was in an Army chapel was for my sister’s wedding over 20 years ago… on the bulletin board there was a list of about twenty or more religious groups, some were Buddhist, Islam, Bahai, and others).

    With this kind of background, by the time I was in high school I was very annoyed with the constant use of “Merry Christmas”, so being a typical contrary 16 year old, I started to just say Happy Hanukkah. I would then get asked if I was Jewish, to which I would reply with a question as to did they notice something about my first name. I was amazed at how few got the hint about the name “Chris.”

    I should have actually done what my even more contrary friend did, she just wished everyone a “Happy Saturnalia.” Not many kids got the significance of that either. Though since she was an avowed pagan, she explained that it was actually her holiday and the Christians stole it!

    Right now I am annoyed at the whole season and the stuff that goes with it. If I weren’t married to a lapsed Catholic who loves all the Christmas stuff, I’d just treat December like any other month (though I’d enjoy the lights that brighten up the very short days, it is dark by 4:30 in the afternoon).

  25. #25 scrabcake
    December 10, 2009

    Hmmmm. I like to think I celebrate Christmas like they do in Japan. I go shopping, I give and get gifts, I put snowflakes up in the windows. I think the whole Jesus thing is kind of quaint and the songs are kind of pretty but don’t believe in it, and it really isn’t the central part of the season for me.
    I don’t really get the offense from non-Christians about the Merry Christmas thing, but ok. Frankly, If someone wishes me Merry Christmas I just interpret it as “Good Wishes!” and let it go. Happy Haunnukah, etc. are also synonymous with “Have a Nice Day”. They’re meant as gestures of kindness and politeness, not as discriminatory remarks, and if you choose to interpret them as such you’ve no one to blame but yourself for being offended. No one says “There’s a Jew! I’m going to wish him Merry Christmas so he feels marginalized!” They say it to be polite and don’t think “If this person is Jewish, they’re going to feel marginalized”.
    I mean, would you rather people just didn’t say it at all? Would you rather people asked you what you were before giving you a holiday greeting that is more politeness than anything personal? Would you then get all offended at people asking you all the time?
    Would you have the majority shove their culture under the rug for your sake? Really, I’d like to hear a viable alternative where everyone is treated fairly.

  26. #26 Donna B.
    December 10, 2009

    “Right now I am annoyed at the whole season and the stuff that goes with it.”

    And that’s my point.

  27. #27 Katharine
    December 10, 2009

    Hey Santa Claus, there are other people than Christians in the United States, and ‘freedom of religion’ not only means freedom for other religions in ADDITION to Christianity, but also freedom for people who aren’t religious, such as myself.

    Go to Saudi Arabia if you want a theocracy, asshole. They’ll welcome you there.

  28. #28 scrabcake
    December 10, 2009

    On further thought, there are a few who will wish people Merry Christmas out of a spiteful wish to remind people that protestant Christians are a majority… Or because they perceive themselves to be a poor, persecuted majority.
    Those people should definitely be a little more considerate.
    I’ve just gotten out of the habit of saying it at all.

  29. #29 PalMD
    December 10, 2009

    @scrabcake
    It is easy to underestimate that cohort, and hard to overestimate.

  30. #30 Dr. Free-Ride
    December 10, 2009

    becca @14:

    let’s celebrate the birth of a historical dude during a time of year that is unrelated to his actual birth as an attempt to appropriate older and more diverse spiritual ceremonies surrounding an astrological milestone by crass consumerism that involves exchange of way too many petroleum disposable goods that are produced by raping our mother earth

    Have you considered putting this in a greeting card? I’m betting sales would be brisk.

    /goes to look for aluminum Festivus pole

  31. #31 Mxh
    December 10, 2009

    I don’t care much about people who say merry Christmas, but I do get pissed when people make a big deal about Christmas vs holiday…

  32. #32 Funky Fresh
    December 10, 2009

    Atheists who celebrate Christmas as a “cultural holiday” are a joke who can’t get beyond their own cognitive dissonance.

  33. #33 Santa Claus
    December 10, 2009

    Hey Katharine , Saudia Arabia would not accept me. The hate me just like you hate me.

    The fact is the United States was founded on Biblical principles by men who professed Christianity (most of them). The Pilgrims who settled this land were not militant leftist marxist socialist atheists like some would have us to beleive. So, in that sense, I cannot help you. Everyone in this country has the right to worship as they see fit, but immigrants should not impose their heritage on a Christian center right country (Obama was wrong). They are free to their heritage and their beliefs, but trying to censor ours is disturbing. The fact of the matter is Christmas is two weeks away. Deal with it. No one makes you celebrate it.

    Besides what are you fussing about. We hardly ever hear the term Christmas becuase it has become a crime to say it. I say it anyway. Screw the politically correct tards. I say it to my customers over the phone at work. Who cares. Merry Christmas! Wow, that guy just had a stroke! I don’t think it has ever physically harmed anyone.

    If someone says “happy holidays” to me I reply “Okay, you too”. I certainly don;t say it back and I don’t buy decorations with “happy holidays” on it eaither. If I see it in a magazine somewhere I mark through it with a sharpie and write Merry Christmas.

    There is nothing wrong with calling things what they are!

    Happy holidays my ass!

    Which holiday are you refeering to? I’m sorry. You’ll have to be more specific.

  34. #34 Rumpleforeskin
    December 10, 2009

    becca,

    Raping mother earth?

    Don’t tell me you are one of the envirofreaks. I suppose you agree with the Chinese communists that the world needs a one child policy to save the climate? That is an evil agenda that should be abolished.

    The earth goes through natural stages. This so called warming/cooling cycle is one of them. Glaciers melt, and lakes freeze. deserts are formed. Jungles are created. Natural. Well, actually supernatural since God controls the weather and everything in the universe. Please do away with your pagan witchcraft religion and seek the real God who made the earth.

    I can only imagine the look on Al Gore’s face as he imagines the worldwide flood of Noah and the ice age (the only one) that followed. Now, that’s climate change!

  35. #35 Katharine
    December 10, 2009

    You missed the subtext of what I said, I see.

    Fascism and anti-Christianism? Hardly. It’s called leveling the playing field. And yes, people give gifts for the holidays. Christmas isn’t the only winter solstice holiday, assbag. And not all Americans are Christian. (I see you don’t seem to like Jews or blacks, either. Guess what? America isn’t all white. Some of us know how to be nice to people who are different.)

    As for whether the United States was based on Christianity or not, look up the Treaty of Tripoli. John Adams was probably one of the most conservative of the Founding Fathers, and even he said the country wasn’t based on any sort of religion; most of the Founding Fathers were some variety of Unitarian – certainly not the sort of theism you reactionary idiots espouse. Read a little history.

    The First Amendment specifically says ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion’. Hence, freedom of religion. The majority, where civil rights are concerned, is not to make life hard for the minority. If it were the way you wanted it, blacks would still be slaves and women wouldn’t be able to vote.

    This is not a Christian country. It is a country that happens to be 78% Christian, but it is not a Christian country.

    And apparently the only reason you ever call us militant is because we speak.

    Fuck off, you uneducated fundamentalist right-wing hick.

  36. #36 Katharine
    December 10, 2009

    Rumpleforeskin, would you rather women be popping out children as much as possible? Someone’s a sexist who isn’t secure in his own masculinity. Bet you’ve got a penis the size of my thumbnail.

    Also, you’re going to have to give proof for a deity, you unscientific piece of shit.

    Fuck off.

  37. #37 Katharine
    December 10, 2009

    Time marches on, much as conservatives dislike it, and change and learning does not stop.

    Regression to an earlier, dumber era is not the way of things. As people learn, they grow.

    I find fundies’ double standards about their religion and other aspects of reality odd; they’ll take their clergy’s word that their deity exists and says such and such a thing, yet they, of course, require proof for other things (as they ought, really, but their idea of what constitutes proof is severely skewed, and I’m sure many of them never took the time to read a philosophy textbook, learn formal and informal logical fallacies, and take a few science classes).

    I hate the uneducated.

  38. #38 Ian Musgrave
    December 10, 2009

    On the other hand, the Japanese (Shintoists, Buddhists and all the other religious varieties that they have), have adopted Christmas as their own.

  39. #39 Rumpleforeskin
    December 10, 2009

    katharine,

    You are wrong. Prove there is no diety!

    I hate the educated. They think just becuase some left wing professor brainwashed them, they have the same right to impose their classroom propoganda on society.

    Read YOUR history! Were the Pilgrim Christian? I thinks so. Most of them. Of course there were numerous denominations. I don;t recall any of the people who preceded the constitution to be Islamic, Hindu, or much else. When we refere to the founding of the country we do not refer to any treaty. we refere to the actual people’s personal religious conservative faith.

    Until you can do better, do us all a favor:

    Stick you arm up your ass, grab your uvula, and pull real hard. Get away from your communist college days, and seek pre 1950 education if you want to learn something. You might actually learn that McCarthy was right after all.

    Until then, see http://www.americanvision.com for some history lessons! That is when you find your uvula.

  40. #40 dcotler
    December 10, 2009

    Thinking religion is preposterous doesn’t make my christmas tree less beautiful, our gift giving less meaningful, or our breaking bread together (pigging out repeatedly in multiple cultural styles) less satisfying. And christmas carols are often beautiful fantasies.
    Take the christ out of christmas.

  41. #41 Rumpleforeskin
    December 10, 2009

    Take the Christ out of Christmas?

    That is equivilant to take the Darwin out of evolution.

    It is not possible.

  42. #42 dcotler
    December 10, 2009

    Evolution is an intellectual construct. The mouldering corpse of Darwin is not relevant. Science does not argue from authority, but from facts, logic, and evidence. My christmas has nothing to do with Christ. Nor do I care about the origin of the word December when I use it to identify the month when we celebrate christmas.

  43. #43 Rumpleforeskin
    December 10, 2009

    You are correct. The mouldering corpse of Darwin is not relevant. My origin has nothing to do with evolution, nor do I care what the biology textbooks proclaim when I go to church.

  44. #44 Funky Fresh
    December 10, 2009

    And christmas carols are often beautiful fantasies.

    Take the christ out of christmas.

    Ow! The dissonance hurts!!!

  45. #45 dcotler
    December 10, 2009

    merry christmas

  46. #46 Funky Fresh
    December 10, 2009

    Merry -mas, asshole.

  47. #47 Jefrir
    December 11, 2009

    This is as much an issue of being honest with yourself as anything. I celebrate Christmas as a secular festival, but I celebrate this particular secular cultural holiday because I live in a country with a Christian history, and grew up in a family that was historically Christian. The form in which I celebrate it has grown out of the traditions of the society in which I live.
    It is silly and short-sighted to think that just because something is purely secular and cultural for me, it will have the same meaning for everyone else.

  48. #48 ZenMonkey
    December 11, 2009

    My mother grew up with observant Jewish parents who didn’t allow her to have a Christmas tree. As soon as she moved out, she started to have a tree every year, because she loved them. And when she married my (also Jewish) father and they had me, we did all the Hanukkah stuff…but we also did Christmas.

    This tended to confuse people, usually kids my age, who didn’t understand that you could have both holidays. To this day when I mention it I still sometimes get asked “Are both your parents Jewish?”

    I was never taught about Santa Claus because my parents wanted me to understand and be thankful to the real people who gave me my gifts. (An early form of atheism.) And the ornaments on our tree tended to symbolize family-related things, like a girl on skis the year I learned to ski, and so forth. So I grew up with the idea that Christmas was about family, and the beauty of the tree, and presents all around. And now that I’m married, my husband and I have developed our own, yet similar traditions.

    Now that I identify myself as a secular Jew and an atheist, I don’t feel any need to reject Christmas since it never had any sort of religious context for me in the first place. And I keep up with Hanukkah because it’s a nice tradition between my mother and me; this year will be fifteen years that we’ve done the prayer and lit the candles over the phone together, 3000 miles apart.

  49. #49 Katherine
    December 11, 2009

    I never understood why it would be bizarre or uncomfortable to wish someone a happy [your holiday but not theirs]. If you get a different happy [their holiday but not yours] back, it means you will have been wished an EXTRA happy day (unless there is noone around to wish you a happy [your holiday] at all :( ). Everybody; try to collect the set! I mean, surely the point is to wish that other people have a good time, not for you to be wished to have a good time as many times as possible, right?

    I know this is kinda tangential to the main post, and I certainly do not understand what it is like to be in the minority in any sense of the word.

  50. #50 Katherine
    December 11, 2009

    Of course if say, shop assistants are wishing you a Merry [x] simply because it is assumed by the higher-ups that that is every shopper’s holiday, then that should be stopped quick smart. Eek your post converted me to the “happy holidays” way of thinking!

  51. #51 wheatdogg
    December 11, 2009

    Rumpleforeskin –

    Do you post under a different name elsewhere on Scienceblogs? Because this remark

    I suppose you agree with the Chinese communists that the world needs a one child policy to save the climate? That is an evil agenda that should be abolished.

    sounds mighty like a comment I responded to over at Ed Brayton’s place.

    China has a one-child policy to keep an already huge population from overwhelming the food and housing supply here. We may not agree with it from a moral or human-rights standpoint, but from a pragmatic viewpoint it makes sense.

    As I said over at Dispatches, consider the alternative reality if China did not restrict family size. Hungry people with no homes tend to do radical things, like invade other countries or overthrow governments. China has weapons and a huge military. So, you want billions of angry, starving, crowded Chinese? Have fun.

    Furthermore, RFS, you need to brush up on some history, too. While the early settlers in North America were mostly Protestant Christians, not all of them celebrated Christmas and a few were as religiously intolerant as the state churches they fled (Puritans, specifically). The people the Puritans persecuted/banished/executed founded more tolerant colonies like New Jersey and Rhode Island, where all religions were welcome.

    Even Jews and Muslims.

    The Founding Fathers were almost all Deists, and would have been very unwelcome in Puritan Massachusetts. The Constitution, on which our system of government rests — not on the beliefs of the Founders — does not contain the words “God,” “Jesus,” “Christian” or “church.” Ever wonder why?

    I thought not.

  52. #52 Adrienne
    December 11, 2009

    Sigh, I think both sides here are oversensitive. If someone says, “Merry Christmas”, it’s usually meant as a polite and cheery greeting.

    I always say, “Happy Holidays” back.

    I love Christmas too, and I’m an atheist. Yeah, so it’s part of the majority culture. Umm, big deal? If we were in Israel, I’m sure Hanukkah would be part of the majority culture there. If I had been in India back in Oct, Diwali celebrations would have been all around me.

    As long as our gov’t isn’t endorsing Xmas (and yes, plenty of those legitimate fights going on), I’m not offended by Christmas displays in stores, malls, etc.

    And since when was Jesus white? He was Semitic/Middle Eastern. Not blonde and blue eyed, fer chrissakes.

  53. #53 csrster
    December 11, 2009

    Am I a bad person to get irritated with people wishing me a Happy Chanukkah long after Chanukkah is actually finished? Just give me an honest “Merry Christmas” and be done with it.

  54. #54 Lab Rat
    December 11, 2009

    Jesus was Islamic :p I think I got that it was a joke about then.

    “Damned, the 1950s were so much nicer.” Yeeeah if you were a white straight christian american male (and fairly well off). Otherwise not so much.

  55. #55 Lab Rat
    December 11, 2009

    GAH Jesus not Islamic but was from the middle east. Need to think before typing…

  56. #56 BB
    December 11, 2009

    Happy Chanukah Pal! Hope you have a fun Chanukah with the Pal family (don’t overdo it on the latkes or sufganiot though).

  57. #57 Katharine
    December 11, 2009

    I see dcotler and rumpleforeskin have abandoned any pretense at all of being intelligent and living empirically.

    Because all they care about is their imaginary friend.

    There you go, kids, two grade-A idiots.

  58. #58 Katharine
    December 11, 2009

    Rumpleforeskin, if you actually had a fucking brain in your body, you’d notice that there are, in fact, some rather conservative ‘universities’ (more like cult houses) out there.

  59. #59 Katharine
    December 11, 2009

    I don’t understand anyone retarded enough to think the buy-bull counts as proof of anything.

    Rumpleforeskin is as good a case as ever for re-implementing intelligence-based eugenics.

  60. #60 Slandy
    December 11, 2009

    Wow, Pal, you’ve really opened up a can of worms, haven’t you? What started out as a simple post on the differences we all have as a diverse culture has turned into a bit of a reenactment of the crusades.

    There is room for all points of view, as long as we all learn to tolerate beliefs that are not the same as our own. I’m a secular Jew/atheist, married to a secular Catholic. We “celebrate” Christmas and Chanukah and exchange both kinds of gifts. My family gives my kids Hannukah gifts; hers gives them Christmas gifts. Nobody talks about god or goes to church/synagogue. This is what works for us; it wouldn’t for others.

    I used to be offended when I was wished Merry Christmas by people who knew that I was Jewish. The I realized that they were only trying to be nice, and I learned to take it that way. I do not correct them. I say, “You, too.” Or sometimes (gasp), “Merry Christmas to you, too.” I do not view their wish as an attempt to convert me or marginalize me and the rest of my tribe. Unprompted, I usually say, “Happy Holidays” because my family celebrates both and because I don’t want to “marginalize” anybody.

    On the point of the founding fathers and our country: this is a secular country that was founded on the IDEALS of the Judeo-Christian heritage from which they came. It is NOT a Christian (or any other religion) nation.

    There is plenty of room for all points of view – up to the point where somebody tries to impose themselves/their beliefs on others. That’s where I draw the line.

  61. #61 Dianne
    December 11, 2009

    Happy holidays to everyone who lives in the northern hemisphere and really needs a holiday about now because it’s so cold and dark. And everyone who lives near the equator or in the southern hemisphere who needs a holiday right now because nobody’s going to get any work done now anyway what with all the northern hemisphere types off partying and not answering their emails. Whatever holiday you prefer to celebrate. Shall we set up a big July celebration too to give parity to the people in the southern hemisphere? They’ll need a party around then given how dark it’ll be.

  62. #62 catgirl
    December 11, 2009

    I think I’m beginning to get it. If the majority of people celebrate a cultural thing, it’s bad because it’s not sensitive to those who don’t celebrate it.

    No, you’re not beginning to get it at all. Where did PalMD ever say that everyone should stop celebrating Christmas? You’re the one who is being too sensitive, and assuming that other people want to take Christmas away from you.

  63. #63 PalMD
    December 11, 2009

    I wish I had said this.

  64. #64 PalMD
    December 11, 2009

    Slandy, I agree with most of what you say.

    Then only part I have a bit of an issue with is the Judeo-Christian thing. I’ve always felt that the term is a tool the evangelical right uses to try to co-opt Jews to their beliefs.

  65. #65 Nomen Nescio
    December 11, 2009

    What’s with the ‘Happy Solstice’ crap anyway?

    i dunno about the neopagans or anything, but this atheist celebrates the solstice because the long nights and dark days this time of year really bug me, and the solstice marks the turning point of that. your mileage may vary.

  66. #66 Mandrake
    December 11, 2009

    I don’t understand why some people consider Christmas to be a cultural or secular holiday. It’s not. Christians-for-a-day go to church on Christmas (and no or few other days during the year) just as Jews-for-a-day go to synagogue/shul/temple on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Ask pretty much anyone why Christmas celebrates, and they’ll respond that it celebrates, or is intended to celebrate, the birth of Jesus.

    Just because non-Christians think some of the associated traditions are nice and adopt them doesn’t take away from the very religious basis for the holiday. If Jesus wasn’t born (and let’s assume he was for the sake of argument), there would presumably be no Christianity and no Christmas. Compare that to Chanukah (even though I dislike comparisons between the two holidays), in which if any of the claims regarding the Maccabees and the oil lasting for eight days weren’t true, that really has no major impact on Judaism.

    The bottom line is that both Christmas and Chanukah are oingabluzen (sp?, “overblown” in Yiddish). Charlie Brown had it right in 1965 by noting how commercial Christmas has become. That trend has increased and has taken the meaning out of Christmas. If I were Christian, I’d be upset about what the holiday has become. As a secular practicing Jew, I’m just sick of Christmas carols (there are very few good ones), Chanukah songs (there are no good ones), and how self-imposed stress and nuttiness take over this time of year.

    Living in a majority Christian country, I grumble quietly, complain to few, and smile politely to people who wish me a Merry Christmas.

  67. #67 Epinephrine
    December 11, 2009

    This is a viewpoint often held by people who grow up in a majority culture and is laughable to the rest of us.

    As an atheist brought up in an atheist household, I don’t feel offended when anyone wishes me a Happy Channukah or Merry Christmas. I wish it right back.

    I’m atheist, and I hold the viewpoint that Christmas is at least partly cultural – and I think atheist counts as a minority. I don’t think it’s laughable to say that Christmas has become cultural, in much the same way Yule has become cultural. If you asked the average practicing Christian if they celebrate germanic holy days, they’d deny it – but culturally, they do, much as those who use the celtic cross are carrying a symbol of sun-worship.

    The fact that Channukah hasn’t been assimilated to the same cultural extent is likely partly due to being in the minority, but also the different natures of the religions. Christianity has historically been much less closed, and has integrated the celebrations of other cultures, and when attempting to convert others they simply work existing beliefs into their practice (see Easter/Eostre, Yule, Celtic crosses, etc).

    Anyway, while there are no doubt segments of society for whom Christmas isn’t cultural (those who work to reject Christian influence?), I know some of my Jewish friends growing up had “Channukah bushes,” which they would decorate (the reform Jews, at least – the more conservative certainly didn’t).

    I find your comment, “It is easy to underestimate that cohort, and hard to overestimate,” to be a bit much – how do you know how many Christians are wishing you a Merry Christmas to remind you that they have larger numbers? Could it be that you are projecting?

  68. #68 MonkeyPox
    December 11, 2009

    Could it be that you are projecting?

    Moron. You really aren’t even trying, are you?

  69. #69 Epinephrine
    December 11, 2009

    Moron. You really aren’t even trying, are you?

    Anyone who presumes to know the intentions behind the actions of others is quite possibly projecting. Why call me a moron for mentioning the possibilty? Or is it that I am not allowed to disagree with PalMD on anything? While I generally like most posts here, I found his comment odd, and was calling him on it.

  70. #70 BaldApe
    December 11, 2009

    Please forgive me for posting without reading all the comments first, but I had two thoughts:

    I am reminded of the National Lampoon’s radio show many years ago, where they took a humorous look at Christmas traditions around the world. When they got to the USSR, the commentator said “Perhaps you are disturbed that an officially atheist country celebrates Christmas, but don’t worry; Christmas has no more religious significance in the Soviet Union than it does in the United States.” (not meaning to weigh in on the discussion already ongoing, just sayin’)

    Second, one of the skeptical blogs (or maybe the Brights) had a thread about what to say when someone says “God bless you” if you sneeze. It seems small minded and petty to me to nitpick when someone is simply wishing you well.

    It may well be that some Christians would actually say “God bless you unless you’re one of those nasty atheists, or a Jew, or a (heaven forbid) Muslim.” if they had the time, but I would hope that they are in the minority.

  71. #71 James Sweet
    December 11, 2009

    This is a viewpoint often held by people who grow up in a majority culture and is laughable to the rest of us.

    Um, that’s awfully jumping-to-conclusions. My wife grew up Jewish and she would tell you Christmas is mostly a cultural holiday and not a religious one, too.

    I actually think people who grow up in the “majority culture” with no outside referents are more likely to cling to the ridiculous idea that the Yule log and Christmas tree are somehow related to religion (hint: if they’re related to any religion, it’s paganism). You should be more worried about the people trying to put “Christ back in Christmas.” They’re the assholes, not us secularists who think that winter celebrations are fun and don’t really care whether the origins are based on a lost Pagan ritual, a weird myth about a virgin giving birth in a stable(*), or a story about a lamp that burned a long time.

    FWIW, I didn’t disagree with anything in the post itself, but some of the sniping in the comments puzzles me. I would think that freethinking people would want to secularize Christmas. Ah well, what do I know…

    (*) At least the Christians don’t talk about the creepy-ass blood sacrifice part on Christmas — they save that for Easter. As I mentioned before, our family celebrates both Christian Jewish traditions. I probably prefer Christmas to Channukah (though I certainly enjoy celebrating both), but I definitely prefer Passover to Easter. Hmmm, which is more fun to celebrate? A myth about people escaping slavery? Or a myth about a guy being friggin’ crucified? I’ll take the former, please…

  72. #72 James Sweet
    December 11, 2009

    Second, one of the skeptical blogs (or maybe the Brights) had a thread about what to say when someone says “God bless you” if you sneeze. It seems small minded and petty to me to nitpick when someone is simply wishing you well.

    Well, I agree with your conclusion, but not so much your reasoning. Someone can wish you well and still be an asshole (“I’ll pray for you” comes to mind. Will you also sacrifice a goat for me, too?).

    Worrying about the “bleshyoo” after a sneeze seems silly to me, though, because — like most Christmas traditions, heh — that response to a sneeze has been almost completely secularized. How many people are actually thinking about God when they say that? Probably some, but those people are totally crazy.

    All sorts of things in secular culture have religious roots, and that is A-ok with me, as long as any residual dogma or intolerance has been drained out of it. Hell, maybe there will come a day when even the overtly religious Christmas carols will be entirely secularized — it could happen, if the average person found the idea of “yon virgin mother” to be on par with the idea of a guy with a red suit and beard who “knows when you’re sleeping [and] knows when you’re awake.” Once enough people stop believing it literally, it becomes just a secular tradition with roots in silly old mythology. Like eggs on Easter having roots in a fertility festival. It’s so absurd, we don’t worry about kids painting eggs for fun.

    (Just to be clear, I’m not saying that overtly religious Christmas carols are secular now. It’s important not to sing them in schools, because they still are a religious message today. But maybe someday…)

  73. #73 BaldApe
    December 11, 2009

    OK, now I’ve read the comments. Kinda wish I hadn’t (in some cases)

    FWIW, the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas. In fact, nobody in the US did until the early part of the 19th century.

    And to be completely pedantic, the “wise men” didn’t bring gifts on Christmas (the occasion of the possibly mythical birth of the possibly mythical Jesus) but on Epiphany. The priest at the church I once attended did not allow the wise men figurines to be displayed in the manger scene until that date.

    But I guess it’s too much to ask that wingnuts understand the beliefs they claim to hold.

  74. #74 BaldApe
    December 11, 2009

    Someone can wish you well and still be an asshole

    Well, yeah, but if they wish me well I may not really care if they’re an asshole. I can’t fix that, so why worry about it?

    At least that’s what my wife tells me. ;-)

  75. #75 Adrienne
    December 11, 2009

    LostMarbles@15:
    It may be a cultural holiday, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is part of that culture. When you go around saying, “…but it’s part of American/Canadian/etc culture so it’s ok” you’re ignoring that there is a sizable population that feels strongly about preserving their non-majority culture.

    So what are you (and PalMD?) trying to argue here? That people who celebrate Christmas should avoid saying “Merry Christmas” to others unless they know the other party celebrates Christmas as well? OK, that’s probably the safest and most polite thing to do, but I don’t think we should assume that people who fail to follow this rule are doing it in order to manifest some hostility to minority cultures.

    When you ignore the existence of those people you’re well on the way to marginalizing them and telling them they aren’t “normal”. It also creates a monolithic view of the majority cultural traditions that I doubt many people actually fit into.

    I don’t think that wishing people “Merry Christmas” is tantamount to ignoring people from other cultures. I think it’s generally meant as an expression of good cheer and warmth, is all. Just say, “Happy Hanukkah!” or “Blessed Solstice!” back to get your point across, if you wish.

  76. #76 Adrienne
    December 11, 2009

    Mandrake @66:
    I don’t understand why some people consider Christmas to be a cultural or secular holiday. It’s not.

    Sure it is. The non-religious cultural trappings are far more significant than the religious aspects of the holiday. Just as Halloween is now a cultural holiday far more than it is the religious observance of All Hallows Eve, the religious observance on the eve of All Souls Day.

    Christians-for-a-day go to church on Christmas (and no or few other days during the year) just as Jews-for-a-day go to synagogue/shul/temple on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Ask pretty much anyone why Christmas celebrates, and they’ll respond that it celebrates, or is intended to celebrate, the birth of Jesus.

    I would argue that the fact that Christians make such a big deal of Christmas actually underscores the fact that it is first and foremost a cultural celebration, not a religious one. In fact, the BIG Christian holiday that dwarfs all others in theological significance is Easter, not Christmas. But Christians pay more attention to Christmas than to Easter because of all the other aspects that make it important–the breaks from work, the gift giving, the decorating.

  77. #77 James Sweet
    December 11, 2009

    Ask pretty much anyone why Christmas celebrates, and they’ll respond that it celebrates, or is intended to celebrate, the birth of Jesus.

    Unless you ask my raised-Jewish wife, who will tell you that it is celebrated, like any winter festival, in order to cheer people up in the cold gray depressing winters.

    But I guess you can’t “get it” if you are part of the majority climate. Only us people who live in places with harsh bitter winters will “get it”. :p :p

  78. #78 Stephanie Z
    December 11, 2009

    Funky Fresh, what did you do for Thanksgiving?

  79. #79 RainbowScientist
    December 11, 2009

    I am a Hindu and my husband is Jewish, but we do have a Christmas tree in our home for kids. Growing in India, I have seen lot of different identity and it is just another cultural thing for me to be synchronous with surrounding, and my husband grew up in Russia with Christian majority so it is also a cultural norm for him, not a religious thing. Anyway, we enjoy holiday and festivity of the season, otherwise it would be so boring around in winter. We also celebrate Diwali and Hanukkah. No big deal!

  80. #80 dcotler
    December 11, 2009

    Katharine @ 57 :You have me backwards. I am an atheist of proud Jewish heritage who wishes everybody a merry christmas. December 25, if you have the option, will you be merry?

  81. #81 Rumpleforeskin
    December 11, 2009

    “Take Christ out of Christmas”.

    —–

    If you do that, then all you will have left is the mas (mess).

    Merry CHRISTmas!

  82. #82 Rumpleforeskin
    December 11, 2009

    For those of you who are elusional in history, go to http://www.americanvision.com or check out a pre-1950 high school history book. (Before the liberals rewrote history).

  83. #83 Adrienne
    December 12, 2009

    If you do that, then all you will have left is the mas (mess).

    Taking the Christ out of Christmas pretty much leaves you with Christmas as it’s celebrated in America today, minus the annoying folks who scream whenever menorahs are added to nativity scenes on public property.

  84. #84 Rogue Epidemiologist
    December 16, 2009

    I’m a Buddhist. After examining all the customs and lore, I have decided I like Hanukkah better. Dreidel is fun. Latkes are delicious. And as much as I love Xmas lights and Santa Claus, carols bug the ever living snot out of me.

    I know I have a few days left to say it, so everyone have a happy Hanukkah.

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