Merry Christmas from an atheist
I don’t care what you call it… Christmas, Imbolc, Hanukkah, whatever. I’m still going to celebrate the holiday as I see fit, which will include a healthy mixture of food, intoxication and laziness. I will devote not one erg of my emotional or cognitive energy to imagining the existence of either Santa Claus or the Baby Jesus. They are archetypal stories, finely-resolved expulsions from the figurative-collective unconscious, but that’s about all the import they carry for me. I don’t have to believe in crazy immortals who give out toys or shining baby gods or counter-entropic lamps to enjoy the zeitgeist.
Which is why I really am not bothered by wishes of Merry Christmas. I do in fact hope to be merry, and I don’t really care what motivates someone else’s rationalizations for winter partying. I enjoy the festive lights, the iconic weather (here in Michigan), and having time away from the classroom. Buying a Christmas tree supports tree farmers, having a decorated ceiling-height conifer in my house is undeniably a fun and trippy thing to do, and the ritual reminds me of good times past. Besides, as everyone knows the Christians don’t have any claims on the pagan tradition of idolizing an evergreen as a fertility symbol. They can slap their name on it, true… but that doesn’t make it theirs. A Christmas tree is just another one of those things our culture does for byzantine reasons today largely ignored or lost to time…. things that are fun in and of themselves, such as fireworks on the 4th of July. I know academically that 4th of July fireworks represent the bombs of war, but only in a faded, ignored historical sense, and no one stands up during a 4th of July fireworks display and shouts, “Lookit that! That’s us killin’ redcoat Brits, ain’t it? C’mon, let’s go kill some Brits!”
There were never any Wise Men who traveled across continents to view a cosmic starchild born to paupers, and there never was an undying Orwellian toy-maker living in the Arctic. Neither of those tales means any more to me than do the Greek myths, but if you invited me to an ancient-style Bacchanalia you can be certain I’d love to attend. There, you could regale me with tales of the miracles performed by Dionysus, how he died and was reborn, and how he now resides in splendid glory among the gods of Olympus. I’ll smile and nod and take another drink. I enjoy a celebration as much as the next guy, and as long as you don’t expect me to believe Dionysus is really floating around somewhere, we’re cool. And yes, I realize I’m mixing Greeks and Romans there.
This “War on Christmas” business is so cloying and offensive not because of nice people who honestly wish others good tidings in their own lingo. It’s offensive because of pushy busybodies in love with their own martyr complexes. To such would-be martyrs, Merry Christmas isn’t a pleasant greeting, it’s a command: accede to our demands of absolute priority over every other viewpoint in the world, or else we’ll hold our breath and stomp our feet and cry.
Christians are in the majority in the US, but apparently that isn’t good enough for some of them. They’re offended that other people even exist, and they can barely tolerate that other people are treated as their equals. Majority status is apparently too threatening to the martyrphilic Christians… they’d feel oh so much safer as a totality. Then there would be no one to persecute them…. but no, there are always heretics and witches to hunt down, aren’t there?
I’m not fighting a war on Christmas, just a war on persecution from fanatics. Say “Merry Christmas” to me all you want, as long as you’re being nice. But if you’re testing me for ideological purity, shut up and go away. That being said…
Have a merry Feast of Winter’s Veil!