Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Dec/09

24

On Christmas

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A few years ago I stopped saying “Happy Holidays” as my default and switched to “Merry Christmas.” The main issue for me is that I didn’t want to get hung up on a name. As someone who doesn’t accept that Jesus Christ was the Son of God I don’t celebrate the season for that particular reason. But winter festivals have been common across the northern hemisphere long before Christmas, and if you dig through the literature from many fundamentalist Protestants you’ll find they’ve done a good job cataloging the exact pagan antecedents of many Christmas traditions. If I lived in a nation which was mostly non-Christian I would celebrate the same communal holidays which symbolize the importance of such festivals in a properly functioning society, the name would simply be different.

As a person without supernatural beliefs the holidays have no nominal connection to what is “up there” for me. Rather, they are about what is “down here.” We don’t live in utopia, but for this small period of the year we put aside our concerns, worries and grievances, and celebrate all that there is to celebrate.

12 comments

  • John Goes · December 24, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Merry Christmas to you, too.

  • Aaron · December 24, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    “David Hume” writes:

    If I lived in a nation which was mostly non-Christian I would celebrate the same communal holidays…

    Not if you lived in Israel, I bet. It would seem crazy, to Jews and non-Jews, for a non-Jewish Israeli to celebrate Jewish national holidays like Hannukah or Passover. You wouldn’t celebrate the communal holidays because you wouldn’t be considered part of the community. That could largely be explained by the fact (sorry, terminology again, I know I promised) that Israel is a nation and America in some ways is not.

    Nor would I, an atheist, celebrate holidays of the majority religion if I lived in a Muslim state or even in America. I’d only celebrate the Jewish holidays, assuming I could do so safely and legally.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas to you and all the other goyim at Secular Right.

  • mikespeir · December 25, 2009 at 5:06 am

    The other day a customer of mine wished me a merry Christmas, but, though not knowing I’m an atheist, did so tentatively.

    “That’s all right with you?” he asked.

    I replied, “I don’t believe all that stuff myself, but anybody who gets all bent out of shape just because somebody wishes them a merry Christmas has got serious problems.”

    “You’d be surprised!” he returned.

    I grimaced. “Oh, no I wouldn’t!”

    So, I wished him, “Merry Christmas,” as I do to everyone here.

  • Susan · December 25, 2009 at 6:28 am

    Happy Mithra’s Day.

  • Mike H · December 25, 2009 at 6:50 am

    Christmas is part of my culture and you can’t really argue with the reality that general Western civilization and Christianity have had a sort of symbiotic relationship for at least 1500 years. It’s heritage not faith for me. So merry christmas to everyone.

  • Wade Nichols · December 25, 2009 at 7:31 am

    I was in Madras, India years ago for work. (Yes, yes, I know – Chennai – that was intentional!) I was picked up every morning by a driver to take me to the bank I was working at. This was during the time of the southern Indian harvest festival of Pongal. I’ll never forget the morning when the driver greeted me with a big smile and a “Happy Pongal!”. He obviously knew I’m not a Hindu, and didn’t appear to have any of the wishy washy hang-ups that people in the West have about “What should I say……?” He just seemed like a sincere guy who wished to “bid me good tidings”.

    On a somewhat related note, my Pakistani Shiite friend at work told me the other day that the Shiites are having their annual Ashura self-flagellation session on Sunday in Manhattan, and that I’m welcome to come view the spectacle! They usually meet up on Park Avenue and march to the Pakistani Consulate.

    Anyone know what the greeting is for that? – “A mournful Ashura to you!”??? HA HA!

  • John · December 25, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    I’m another athiest who says “Merry Christmas”. I don’t celebrate Jesus’ birth, but I value the secular aspects of the holiday, and more importantly, I don’t like the idea of people wiping out history they don’t like. This is also why I always say BC and AD instead of the politically correct BCE and CE.

  • John · December 25, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    PS: Merry Christmas everyone!

  • mnuez · December 25, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I believe you’re comparing apples and oranges Aaron. If he lived in Israel, Razib would certainly celebrate any holiday that’s celebrated in a similar fashion to how American Christians celebrate Christmas. He likely wouldn’t go to work on Yom Kippur, he’d enjoy some “mangal” (barbeque in the park or beach) on Yom HaAtzmaut and if he had kids they’d almost certainly be involved in Chanuka and Purim activities. Would he shlug kaparos (wave a chicken over one’s head in an atonement ritual)? No, just like 90% of the other Israelis.

  • Aaron · December 26, 2009 at 4:38 am

    @mnuez

    I think you’re the one comparing apples and oranges, by comparing Israeli Independence Day not to American Independence Day, but to Christmas. The whole point is that Jewish holidays in Israel and also, presumably, Muslim holidays in Muslim states are not celebrated like Christmas in America. Razib can celebrate Christmas in America like secular Christians (I assume that’s what he meant) without it seeming too strange, but it would be considered bizarre for him to celebrate Hannukah in Israel like secular Jews. Actually, celebrating Hannukah in Israel that way would be a typically American thing for him to do.

    Regarding school activities, as you apparently know, school holiday activities for secular children in Israel are nothing like holiday activities for secular children in America, at least not like they’ve been in America for the last half century or so. Secular public kindergartens in Israel sometimes have rabbis come in to explain the religious holidays, from a religious viewpoint of course. Could you imagine public kindergartens in America inviting a priest to come in and explain that Christmas commemorates the birth of the Son of God – not as in “this is what Christians believe”, but as in “this is what happened 2000 years ago”? Secular (Jewish) Israeli kindergartens typically do kabbalat shabat on Friday, with candles and grape juice, saying the blessings too of course. And this approach continues through the secular schools. Of course non-Jewish students in the class would also be involved in these Jewish activities, just as Jewish kids in American public schools might have been involved in Christmas pageants half a century ago when there were such things. But that’s very different from Jews in America celebrating Christmas.

  • mnuez · December 27, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Aaron, this is really so unimportant a subject that I feel like an idiot for writing any more about it – But, I have a sickly ego that won’t let your rush of confused words get the last comment in so here I am. :-)

    What in the name of Christ’s bloody wrists are you talking about?! The question is an astoundingly simple one and that is that were Razib to have been an Israeli citizen who moved there is a child and who was now an adult atheist scientist… would he celebrate Chanuka as the average Israeli does (despite his being an atheist) in the same manner as he celebrates Christmas in America the same way that the average American does (despite his being an atheist) and the answer is that he almost certainly WOULD. Leave your ideology-driven smoke bombs and mirrors at home and realize that Christmas in America is a holiday that has almost nothing to do with the bloody bastard and is thus easily acceptable and celebratory to non-Christians just as Chanuka in Israel is a holiday that has nothing to do with bullshit oil stories and is a fun holiday easily accessible and celebratory to non-Jews as well.

    Look, I have no problem with Israel being a “nation” as you wish it were. In some places and in some wqayas in fact iy is but NOT when it comes to the milqtoast way that the median Israeli celebrates the local holidays.

    And for the sake of your ego please respond but as Yahweh is my witness I won’t respond here again to your coming rush of ejaculatory confusion.

    Your brother in Kahane,

    mnuez

  • Cephus · December 29, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    It always struck me as silly for non-theists to refuse to celebrate Christmas, which has been an almost entirely secular holiday for decades. Just because it has the word “Christ” in the name doesn’t make it a religious holiday. The majority of people celebrate presents and decorated trees and Santa Claus, none of which are religious in any way. Just because some people happen to have additional religious celebrations about the same time as a secular holiday doesn’t taint the entire thing with religion to the point that the non-religious cannot possibly have a good time with family and friends in a purely secular manner.

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