Do Atheists Hate Christmas?by jason on Dec. 23, 2011, under Arizona Families, Art & Culture, Christian Self-Righteous Arrogance, God & Bible, History, Language, Reason, Religion, Sanity, Science
Ho Ho Ho…or Bah, Humbug?
I’m an atheist. I also celebrate Christmas. By that I do not mean that I celebrate the generic and politically correct “holidays”. Nor do I mean that I celebrate that holiday observed by many atheists and pagans but unknown to virtually everyone else, solstice. I don’t mean that I celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa either. I mean that I celebrate the same blinking light, decorated tree, gift exchanging, tinsel hanging, sappy music playing, Santa Clause, Jesus Mary and Joseph Christmas hodgepodge that most other people in western countries celebrate. I don’t celebrate Christmas with nearly as much gusto as some people do, to be sure. I’ve never had the most decorations on my block or thrown a serious Christmas party or anything like that. I grumble about Christmas stuff in November (too early) and obnoxious decorations (too loud/too much). But I do observe the holiday, as opposed to totally ignoring it or actively trying to replace it with something else as many of my atheist friends do.
I have a very specific reason for celebrating Christmas. Christmas day isn’t important to me per se — the twelve days in the traditional Christmas carol is closer to my actual experience. For me, Christmas has no more to do with Santa Clause and elves than it does with baby Jesus in the manger — two legends that I regard as equally fantastical. It certainly has nothing to do with the crass shop till you drop Christmas commercial obligation that is simultaneously generated and lamented by the general public and the media every single year. It’s not a political statement about peace on Earth and goodwill to men either — although that’s a good idea at any time of year. Neither is Christmas just an excuse for eating and drinking with extended family, although that is a nice and enjoyable aspect of the holiday.
The reason that I celebrate Christmas is that Christmas is the closest thing I’ve found to a time machine — a mental express train linking the present with a chain of Christmases stretching back through my entire life. For me, Christmas functions as a potent associative mental shortcut, not just to memories but to entire states of mind. I can re-experience what I was thinking 15 Christmases ago in a way that I can’t re-experience anything else that happened 15 years ago. I do my future planning every New Years Eve, and celebrating Christmas helps me get me into a frame of mind for thinking about long term planning.
It took two Christmases I spent in New Zealand for me to really figure all that out.
I had no idea what Christmas in New Zealand was going to be like before I went. I figured it wouildn’t be much different from Tucson, since Tucson doesn’t usually have snow and isn’t ever very cold at Christmas. But Christmas in New Zealand was really quite different, because even in Tucson it’s still winter. The air here is dry and crisp even if it’s not very cold. The sun comes up late and it gets dark early every evening. The Center for Inquiry has a cute holiday card that reads “Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season!” Turns out they’re right on more than just an elementary science level.
I called Christmas the two years I was in New Zealand ”The 12 endless summer days of Christmas.” It was summer so of course it felt like summer in every way, which my brain steadfastly refused to associate with Christmas. It was warm, though certainly not hot by Tucson standards. The daily high temps in Tucson and North Auckland where I lived aren’t much different in December, even though at night it gets quite a bit colder in Tucson. The air had that summertime kind of humidity and buzz about. It smelled like summer, we had the sound of birds and Cicadas outside, and we got afternoon thunderstorms now and then.
They played almost the same Christmas music there as here; people decorated stores and houses in pretty much the same way, perhaps not as much as here but still plenty. By far the biggest thing that kept it from feeling like Christmas was the daylight. It was bright sunlight out from about 5:30 in the morning to 9:30pm. Because of my early morning work schedule there I was almost never awake long in the evening when it was dark. We had a Christmas tree and some Christmas lights…but when the heck do you turn them on with it light whenever you’re awake? It always seemed rather pointless. I never realized how much of Christmas is associated with staring at twinkling lights in the crisp (even if not freezing cold) darkness, and how much the holiday is completely out of place in the endless light of a warm summer’s day.
The Christmas memory train just wouldn’t run for me in New Zealand. Those two years were the only times I’ve ever been depressed around the holidays, and it remains a factor keeping me from moving back to New Zealand permanently. But it also helped me to make sense of why our family of happy atheists still feels the need to put up lights and a tree, walk though the neighborhood in the dark looking at everyone else’s lights, and add songs with philosophically repulsive lyrics like “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” to our musical playlists every December. It’s a memory aid, which sounds far more trivial than it actually is.
Some may conclude that the failure of Christmas in New Zealand means I have only been celebrating winter solstice all along. For complicated reasons, I was in New Zealand for two summers in a row but never in the winter. I don’t know for sure, but I strongly suspect that winter without Christmas would have been just as useless in regard to memories as Christmas without winter proved to be. The Christmas train runs on the totality of the Christmas experience, not on any one part of it.
Some atheists probably do hate Christmas, but not me. For those who celebrate Christmas, whether you actually believe in the sky fairies it’s supposedly about or not, here’s wishing you a merry one. Ho Ho Ho! May you relive good memories and create some special new ones. And for those who don’t celebrate Christmas, here’s just wishing you some good times this weekend!