Thursday, December 24, 2009

An atheist at Christmas

Here is a disconnect: I love Christmas, and I am not a Christian. I was raised Christian, but life and logic, among other things, has changed my views. So, what right have I to Christmas, especially being an eco-minded individual? Are the cynics right, is Christmas just another holiday built around shopping?

Of course, Christmas is not perfect, presents make me nervous - even if its just a book I worry about packaging that I can't recycle and won't biodegrade. And I stress about getting too much stuff. Luckily I do not have the stress that comes from last minute shopping - I start thinking about Christmas presents around November, or whenever I see something someone might like. There is also the stress of being with family and reality not meeting expectations or desires.

And yet, I love the Christmas season. I love a lot of the songs (though not played ad infinitum while I'm at work... sung by annoying children). I love winter and the foods you eat and snuggling up to a fire reading Christmas stories or watching sappy Christmas movies. Snow and layering on clothes and mulled wine and spiked cider. Making and decorating cookies and finding the perfect gift and making cards. I even enjoy the Christmas Eve service at church.

This year I was not able to go home and see my friends and family, so this Christmas has been a bit lackluster for me. I managed to get some fir branches from a church that was selling trees to put in a vase, I put my few Christmas cards on a shelf, and that has been the extent of my decorations. I haven't looked at lights or gone to see the gingerbread house displays at Disney or anything else festive. The only thing I have done to celebrate the day (aside from gifts of course) is to have Christmas Eve dinner with my bosses and their family, and afterward go with them to Christmas Eve service at church. I enjoyed that. I now know why I enjoy that service; while spending time with their family at dinner and at church I was surrounded by such a warm feeling of family and community and love and peace. It did not matter that they were christian and I am not. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I was raised in a similar environment, and although it is in my past, it is still a part of me. I guess I could test this theory by participating in a Buddhist or some other religion's ceremony to see if I feel the same, or if it is too foreign.

Despite enjoying the service, I still was not sure if I had a right, as a non-christian, to the holiday. Surprisingly enough, it took a sappy Christmas song on my way home to make me realize that I do have a right to Christmas. [side note: Christians, even if you do not agree with my reason for thinking an agnostic/atheist has a right to Christmas, consider: I have as much right to take back a holiday as you did to take it many centuries ago] The song was "Do They Know Its Christmas?" by Band Aid. Maybe it helped that I was primed from listening to John Henry Faulk's Christmas Story on NPR. There might have been another song on that helped get the point across, but it was during that song that I realized that Christmas is about love - for your family and friends and neighbors, and peace and giving. Not just the capitalistic, mad rush to buy a shiny new *thing*, but giving from the heart, and charitable giving. Its about setting aside differences and realizing we are all humans, and learning to coexist peacefully. Its what the Grinch and George Bailey learned. I suppose if I had watched my favourite Christmas movies I would not have had to figure this out on my own.

Granted, these are values we should consider more than once a year, but like Valentines and Thanksgiving or Mother's Day, its good to set aside a day to remind us about these things. And, what would life be if we did not have holidays and traditions to look forward to? If each day was like the next. Or there were only part days like New Years.

That is what I feel anyways. I know I will never convince the cynics who think it is just another mass market capitalistic attempt to get us to spend. And I'm sure I would get a different response from the coalition of put the Christ back in Christmas. But at least I have figured out why I love it, and that it is ok.

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which is more important? i.e. which would you choose at the exclusion of the other?