My Half-Century Cocktail Recipe

cardamomNew Year’s Eve is coming up, so I thought I’d reprint this cocktail recipe. If you want to make it for New Year’s Eve, start making the cardamom simple syrup now-ish.

We invented this cocktail recipe for my 50th birthday (a few years ago — I turn 53 on December 31), and I like it so much I’ve made it several times since. I’m calling it a Half Century. It’s not wildly freaky or anything — it’s roughly a whiskey sour made with lime juice and cardamom simple syrup — but it’s awfully damn delicious. And it has qualities both of a classic cocktail and a weird modern spicy cocktail, which seems appropriate for the occasion it was named after. Plus it has cardamom! Nature’s perfect food. [Read more…]

The True Meaning of Christmas

I’m reposting a bunch of my holiday posts, as a part of a holiday tradition thing. Enjoy!

So what does Christmas really mean?

war on christmas book coverAmong all the traditions of the holiday season, one that’s becoming increasingly familiar is the War on the Supposed War On Christmas. In this tradition — one that dates back to the sweet olden days of overt anti-Semitism — the Christian Right foams at the mouth about the fact that not everyone has the same meaning of Christmas that they do, and works themselves into a dither about things like store clerks politely recognizing that not everyone is a Christian by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Because in the mind of the Christian Right, it somehow disrespects their faith and impinges on their religious freedom to share a country with people who feel and act differently than they do.

Okay. Insert rant here about how the Christian Right isn’t actually interested in religious freedom and respect for their faith. They’re trying to establish a theocracy. They don’t care about religious and cultural plurality. They don’t care about the fact that winter holidays mean different things to different people, and that different people celebrate different ones and in different ways. They don’t care about the fact that not everyone in the country is Christian, and that lots of people who do call themselves Christian are actually pretty secular in both their everyday life and their celebration of the winter holidays.

No, scratch that. They do care about it. They think it’s bad.

But that’s not actually what I want to talk about today.

In the face of Bill O’Reilly and company screaming hatefully about the true meaning of Christmas, I want to talk — in true grade-school essay form — about what Christmas means to me.

Because I actually like Christmas.

lighted treeChristmas; Solstice; Hanukkah; Kwanzaa; Festivus; “the holidays”; whatever. I don’t have a strong attachment to any particular name or date or occasion. Any mid-winter holiday around the end of December will do. Lately I’ve been calling it either “the holidays” or “Santamas” (in honor of what Bart Simpson has described as the true meaning of the holiday: the birth of Santa). I was brought up culturally Christian, though, with Christmas trees and Santa and all that, and I do tend to refer to it as Christmas at least some of the time.

And I love it. I always have. I know it’s fashionable to hate it, and I get why people get annoyed by it — but I don’t. I love it. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

And here’s what it means to me. [Read more…]

Some Thoughts on Spending Christmas Day Alone

I’m reposting my previous holiday posts, as part of my holiday tradition thing. Enjoy!

I’m not spending Christmas Day alone. I’m spending it with Ingrid. I’ve spent Christmas Day with Ingrid for as long as we’ve been together: sometimes with her family, sometimes just with the two of us. And I love spending Christmas with Ingrid, whether it’s with her family or just with her. I’m greatly fortunate in my in-laws — I like them as well as loving them — and we have a whole set of wonderful traditions both silly and touching: some from her family, some that I’ve brought to the table, some that Ingrid and I have created for ourselves. And of course, I’m fortunate beyond words in Ingrid.

But I was single for twelve years before I fell in love with Ingrid. For ten of those twelve years, I was very happy to be single, was single very much by choice, was actively and adamantly resistant to the idea of not being single.

And during those years, I almost always spent Christmas Day alone. I could have visited my family, but I chose not to: I preferred to see my family at times other than Christmas, without the stress of holiday travel/ high expectations/ December in the Midwest. And I could have visited any number of friends who were having Christmas Day gatherings. But I didn’t.

Because when I was single, I loved spending Christmas Day alone. [Read more…]

On Grief, Winter, and Kindling Lights

There’s a thoughtful and touching piece up by Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, about winter sadness, winter celebration, and finding joy and meaning in the face of grief and loss. It’s from a speech he gave at the annual Candle Lighting Service Mount Auburn Cemetery, and it’s titled On Grief, Winter, and Kindling Lights. Here’s an excerpt:

With darkness and cold, as with the loss of love’s presence, naturally come feelings of sadness. We can’t change the season any more than we can change the reality of why we’re here. And yet, we light lights, both to physically warm and brighten our days, and also to symbolically remind ourselves: the light returns. Warmth returns. Love remains. The darkness is worthwhile and beautiful because it is part of a cycle that includes so much illumination.

Despite our many beliefs and philosophies, what I think this season and this occasion can both mean is that in the coldest, darkest times in life, we can make light for one another. We can acknowledge the cold, be realistic about the dark. This gives us more, not less of an ability to clearly see the hours of light. And at every moment, even in the darkest moments, there is something or someone being born that can give hope, even if not directly to us then to someone else, and maybe eventually, when we’re ready, that someone will give hope to us or to someone we love so much we’d rather they feel the hope than feel it ourselves.

Greg is more interfaithy than I am, but I like this piece a lot. I think some of you might like it as well.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Should Atheists Celebrate Christmas? The Social Justice Angle

why-believe-in-a-god-santa-bus-adSo I’ve been thinking about the question of atheists and Christmas, or other religious holidays that get folded into cultures and subcultures. And I’ve been realizing that there’s a social justice angle.

Context: Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of its flagship magazine Free Inquiry, wrote an essay and a book a few years back, arguing that no atheist should celebrate Christmas ever ever ever — yes, he uses the words “should” and “shouldn’t,” repeatedly. He’s opined about this topic many times, including comments (on Facebook and elsewhere) that atheists who do celebrate Christmas aren’t “real atheists,” are “hypocrites,” and are giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.” He doesn’t even approve of secular Solstice celebrations. In the last couple of weeks, Beth Presswood, of the Godless Bitches podcast and the Atheist Community of Austin, has been ripping him a new one about it on Facebook.

My overall angle on this is that every atheist has to find their own ways of coping with religion’s intrusion into everyday life. Some of us push back on it with everything we’ve got. Some of us are fine with secularized versions of religious traditions — sincere or mocking or both. Some of us are fine going along with religious traditions. And many of us mix and match: pushing back against some religious incursions, accepting or creating secularized versions of others, going along with still others. I have zero problem with this. I’m finding my own way of handling Christmas, a balance of festivity, mockery, tradition, and resistance that works for me, and it does not trouble me in the slightest that other people are more traditional about it, while others are more oppositional, or are simply not interested.

I was thinking about this, and it occurred to me:

Oh. There’s a social justice angle to this.

Yes, different atheists have different ways of handling religion and its intrusions into everyday life. There are lots of reasons for that. But one of the big ones is: How much do they rely on a social support system that’s structured around religion? Are they in a culture or subculture or family that’s very religious? Would refusing to participate in traditions like Christmas — traditions that are religious, or semi-religious, or quasi-religious, or secularized religious — mean alienating people they can’t afford to alienate, for practical reasons or emotional ones? Would refusing to participate mean isolating themselves from the continuity that people get from traditions, the sense of connection to something larger?

And certain forms of marginalization can play into this.

African-Americans are more likely to have deeply religious families and communities, who they can’t afford to alienate or simply don’t want to. Poor people are more likely to have deeply religious families and communities, who they can’t afford to alienate or simply don’t want to. For women, the social costs of disconnecting from family traditions are often greater than they are for men, since the job of perpetuating these traditions is commonly seen as women’s work. Many LGBT people, who have been cut off from their families, find much-needed practical and emotional support in LGBT-friendly churches or other religions, and a much-needed sense of continuity and connection.

So insisting that no true atheist would celebrate Christmas is pretty damn insensitive to the different realities of different atheists — black atheists, poor atheists, women atheists, LGBT atheists, any atheists in other marginalized groups — who are more dependent on religious structures, or whose lives are just more intertwined with religious people.

Atheists with other forms of marginalization are often treated as traitors to their race, their gender, their culture. Why on earth would we want to pile onto that from the other side? Many black atheists already get a bellyful of, “You’re not really black.” It’s messed-up to pile onto that with, “You’re not really an atheist.”


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

My Interview with the “Secular Nation” Podcast!

atheist alliance of americaAre you a podcast listener? If so — check out my interview on the Secular Nation podcast! Secular Nation is the publishing arm of Atheist Alliance of America (they have a magazine as well as a podcast).

In this interview, we talk about some of the ideas in my new book, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God. More specifically, we discuss questions such as: Is the religious view of death truly the most comforting view? How does atheists’ knowledge of death affect attitudes toward ourselves and others?

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 200 JPG

The Kindle edition of Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God is available on Amazon (that’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well); the Nook edition is available at Barnes & Noble; and the Smashwords edition is available on Smashwords. All ebook editions and formats cost just $2.99. (The audiobook version is scheduled for publication on December 30; plans for a print edition are in the works.)

White Wine in the Sun

For the 5% of you who aren’t familiar with it, here is Tim Minchin’s lovely and touching atheist/ humanist Christmas song, “White Wine in the Sun.”

Okay, yes, these days I personally would much rather break bread with Desmond Tutu than Dawkins. But I love the song anyway. This is the animated version of the video, which I’m very fond of. For those who celebrate it — have a happy Christmas! And for those who don’t — have a happy End of December!


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

What To Do Now That “Serial” Is Over: Read More True Crime (Guest Post by Ingrid Nelson)

This is a guest post by Ingrid Nelson.

shock-value coverI started reading and collecting true crime books when I was in college. I’m pretty sure my interest was first piqued by John Waters’ Shock Value. The chapter called “All My Trials” was all about his experiences as a trial buff. He attended the Manson trial, Patty Hearst, Angela Davis, all the most famous trials of the 60s and 70s. I am a California native, so those were all crimes I grew up hearing about, along with the Lindbergh baby, the Zodiac, Jonestown, and the Milk/Moscone assassinations.

The way John Waters talked about true crime, it was like a guilty pleasure: sordid but entertaining. I thought it was hilarious at first, then I went through a phase of feeling guilty about it. Then I started thinking seriously about why I was drawn to these stories, and I decided it was a natural human reaction, and not something I needed to be ashamed of. I am fascinated by people and what makes them tick, so of course I want to learn about what happens when people go horribly wrong. It reminds me of when I was studying anatomy and physiology in nursing school. I always found cardiology sort of confusing — until we studied congenital heart defects. Learning what happened when the heart didn’t work properly was how I came to understand normal cardiac function.

I am now unapologetic about my love for true crime, but I try not to joke about it anymore. If you read John Waters now, it’s obvious that he went through something similar. He has befriended some notorious killers, visits them in prison, even advocates for their release if he thinks they are rehabilitated. He has cast Patty Hearst in some of his movies. He has taught film classes inside prisons. He is careful to avoid any hint of exploitation, tasteless jokes, or gratuitous violence when he writes about it now.

serial podcastLike so many “This American Life” listeners, I have been completely obsessed with the “Serial” podcast. But I was struck by how many fans said they felt guilty or embarrassed. I went through that process years ago, I have made my peace with it, and I am here now to help you all embrace your love of a good crime story. I have formed some serious opinions about how to distinguish good true crime from bad. I look for books that are well written and thoughtful, that are unflinching and honest without being lurid. I look for moral complexity, for writers who try to analyze and understand the horror, but not excuse it. And of course, one of the most important skills is an eye for which case will make a good book.

So, for my fellow “Serial” fans, I present: Ingrid’s True Crime Top Ten. [Read more…]

My Interview with Lindsay Beyerstein at “Point of Inquiry” Podcast!

point of inquiry logoPodcast fans — check out my interview on the Point of Inquiry podcast, with Lindsay Beyerstein! We talk about some of the ideas in my new book, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God — the tendencies we have to avoid and deny death and how it affects our abilities to cope; how the concept of an afterlife may actually be failing to prepare people for the end of their lives; and how we can use our humanism and skepticism to find comfort in the midst of mortality and grief.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 200 JPG

The Kindle edition of Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God is available on Amazon (that’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well); the Nook edition is available at Barnes & Noble; and the Smashwords edition is available on Smashwords. All ebook editions and formats cost just $2.99. (The audiobook version is scheduled for publication on December 30; plans for a print edition are in the works.)

“Greta’s done a fantastic job”: Simon Davis on “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God”

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 200 JPG“It’s not often that two of my favorite subjects — atheism and death — get written about in one book. Greta’s done a fantastic job of combining them. Death happens folks. It behooves us to ponder the matter and Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God is a great way to do that.”
-Simon Davis, “Post Mortem” columnist, VICE Magazine (@SimonKnowz)

Got a nice blurb about my new book, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God (now available in ebook). Thanks, Simon!

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon (that’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well); the Nook edition is available at Barnes & Noble; and the Smashwords edition is available on Smashwords. All ebook editions and formats cost just $2.99. (The audiobook version is scheduled for publication on December 30; plans for a print edition are in the works.)

Here’s the description of the book:

*

If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife — how do you cope with death?

Accepting death is never easy. But we don’t need religion to find peace, comfort, and solace in the face of death. In this mini-book collection of essays, prominent atheist author Greta Christina offers secular ways to handle your own mortality and the death of those you love.

Blending intensely personal experience with compassionate, down-to-earth wisdom, Christina (“Coming Out Atheist” and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”) explores a variety of natural philosophies of death. She shows how reality can be more comforting than illusion, shatters the myth that there are no atheists in foxholes — and tells how humanism got her through one of the grimmest times of her life. [Read more…]