Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas and atheism

It's been a while since I posted something on this blog.
I've been a little busy with moving house and settling in a new town. Now it's done, and I'll be going back to my work of "rationalising the Bible."
This post is a commentary on the question I'm often asked: "as an atheist, why do you celebrate Christmas."
First let me point out that I don't subscribe to the use of "X" for the word "Christ" as the word doesn't hold some sort of magical power over me. I won't convert to Christianity simply because I choose to not insult my friends and family members who are Christians, by using terms that are intended to insult. For the same reason that I don't commit crime, I also don't deliberately seek to hurt the feelings of people I care about: it's unethical. Therefore, for me Christmas will always be "Christmas."
Then, about the "true" meaning of Christmas.
I like to think that, if the person who is the basis of the "Jesus" character in the New Testament really said the things that are reported in the New Testament, he would be pleased with the idea of one day in the year when the whole world stops to celebrate the idea of "peace" and "goodwill to all men." This is think is the true meaning of Christmas.
In my youth, living with parents of mixed religious beliefs, we never celebrated the holiday as was done in my friends' homes.  My dad used to buy a present which he placed on our beds on Christmas morning, and my mother used to cook a special meal. We were familiar with the Christmas story because we attended Catholic school, and were taught to sing Christmas carols, which I've always liked for the same reason that I like the idea behind Christmas. Not the happy "Boney M" carols, but the religious ones, which were written a long time before Santa Claus became the man in a red suit, and before Jingle Bells rocked. With the evolution of popular music in the middle of the 20th century, Christmas carols also evolved to become songs that are no longer associated with the actual nativity story: White Christmas, and rocking Jingle Bells are more party than church service music.
In my own family, we used to have a meal on Christmas eve, to which we invited friends and family members who didn't have anywhere else to go. On Christmas morning, we sometimes took the children to an Anglican church service so that they would learn how Christians viewed it, but also so that I could sing the carols without someone telling me "enough!" As they grew older, they chose to stop attending the service, and as there was no further need for education, we also stopped going. Now I play the music as often as it pleases me to, and I sing along with it, even while I'm shopping, something only crazy old people and babies can get away with doing in public.
So why the celebration? A whole month of charity, kindness, happy singing, goodwill to the rest of humanity, boosting the economy with excessive spending, sharing festive food, and handing out gifts culminating in a night of anticipation of a new year filled with promise, is a good idea. It is one I hope will continue for a long time after the religious idea of a baby being laid in a manger, while shepherds watched their flocks, and three kings of the "Orient" bore gifts, has passed into the realms of mythology.
I wish all my friends and their families a very Merry Christmas (there I've said it, none of that "Happy Holidays" nonsense for me). May 2013 bring you health and happiness, peace and prosperity. If you're travelling over the holidays, be safe: don't drink and drive.