Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dear religious right: Christmas isn't yours

I'm a little frustrated by the religious right's siezing one of my little causes as their own. See, I'm a little tired of the de-Christmasification of the holiday season. I have my own reasons for this, which are quite separate from the right's, and it's awfully annoying to try and talk about it these days, without getting all the baggage of the right along with it. And the left, by demonizing the Christ in Christmas, is just making itself look more foolish. Once again, I find myself in the middle of two unreasonable groups yelling at each other, and I want to smack them both.

So, what else is a blog for, but to set up a soap box in an empty auditorium and complain?

Let me get a few things out of the way. First, I was raised in a household where for religious reasons, we did not celebrate Christmas. I am well aware of how it feels to be surrounded by symbols of a holiday you do not celebrate, to be "oppressed" by a majority, and to have thousands of people assume you take part in rituals you actually don't.

Second, I am not only an atheist, but you could say I'm anti-religion. I understand the need that people have for faith, spirituality, and ritual in their lives, but I personally think that organized religion has done more harm while satisfying those needs than good, over the years.

Third? I love Christmas. I love it like a fat kid loves candy.

Why do I love Christmas? Because, to me, it represents something worthy of inspiring awe. At the darkest time of the year, people string up lights to spread joy. Faced with months of cold and hardship, did people lock up their food stores and close their doors? No. They feasted! They shared their meager possessions with their neighbors and families. The weather is awful, the roads might be bad, and you're facing a heating bill that would scare Donald Trump, but you're still going to find time to visit your family, share gifts with friends, and give to the poor. How can you find fault with that?

At its core, I do not believe Christmas is fundamentally different from any of the other celebrations that occur near it. Take a look at the wikipedia entry for the winter solstice for an impressive list of holidays celebrated by different cultures. Read them all, and look at the themes of rebirth, feasting, giving, and light. People through the ages have always felt the need to fight off the advance of darkness and cold with their own celebrations. Obviously these celebrations took on the rich religious symbolism of the faiths which dominated each culture, but to say that the rituals and celebrations are rooted in those faiths is short-sighted.

What about the Christ in Christmas? Really, Christmas is unabashedly pagan in its origins. Serious scholars do not feel Jesus was born anywhere near the Winter Solstice, and early Christians didn't even celebrate the holiday. Neither did the Puritans, nor the modern Jehovah's Witnesses, since the holiday isn't Biblical in its origin. Yule logs, Christmas trees, stockings, the giving of gifts, the lighting of lights -- none of these are Christian. There's almost nothing Christian about Christmas; it's a clumsy grafting of the god-child birth story onto a set of rituals stolen from around the world.

And that's what makes it awesome. Nobody believes that wearing scary costumes during Halloween scares away evil spirits, and don't take my singing of "Oh Holy Night" as a sign that I believe there was a miraculous birth in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. You can honor and celebrate the traditions associated with Christmas without Christ. I do it, and so do many people, whether intentionally or not.

So take your Festivus and your HumanLight and forget about them. You're swimming against an impossible (yule)tide, and you just look like an idiot.

I'll hit on my next pet-peeve of the holiday season later this week: people who get offended when you wish them a Merry Christmas....

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