If not for FTB, thanks to the Great Recession and an ill-timed heart attack and blood chemistry issue, I don’t know where I would be this Christmas. Speaking of which, every now and then someone asks us why we celebrate Christmas, or accuses us of hating the season in some way … as we clearly hate God and therefore Christmas [eye/roll]. For the record, most of the people I’ve run across in my life who make it a point not to take notice of Christmas, aren’t Jews or Muslims and they’re certainly not atheists. The largest, most consistent group has always been Christians who carefully avoid the more familiar traditions of the season for religious reasons.
Even as some Christians are telling us it’s an evil pagan holiday that should not be tolerated, others are attacking us for daring to participate in it at all, precisely because it’s such a Sacred Holy Day. I can remember, in Christmas-times past, discussing plans and whatnot when suddenly someone who really, truly makes an effort to avoid celebrating makes a point of informing me they don’t do it. A brief conversation ensues, suddenly I’m defending Christmas! Often along the lines of “OK, but I still have to do XYZ because there’s indeed a holiday called Christmas that a lot of people celebrate with gifts, food, and family”. But more often a pointed retort comes back, “Wait, why do you celebrate Christmas? It’s God’s birthday and you don’t believe, so why do you believe in Christmas?”
First of all, it’s impossible to both ignore Christmas as some Christians insist and still observe it the way others want us to. But what irks me a bit is, even when said casually by a well meaning or curious friend, there’s an implication left hanging in the air when we’re called out like that. It’s the smell of deprivation, a social penalty; that we as atheists don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve the simple, human warmth of families and friends.
Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but some secular revelers might relate. I celebrate Christmas because I like the Fall. Those farther North may take it for granted or view the complications with resignation, but after a few blistering summers, brisk weather and the chance of an ice storm or a snowflake gets Texans giddy and giggling like third-graders. I like the change in weather, the smell of woodsmoke lofting through the air, the refreshing slap across the face from Old Man Winter when going outside on a gray morning.
I celebrate Christmas because for years, throughout my academic and professional career, we had the day off and usually more days off before and after. Lately, on the latter, not so much. Since I joined the economic no-fly list a few years ago, I’ve worked every Christmas and Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve and Day, mandatory, for about $11/hour. That’s life when you are a low level peon in a modern, greed-crazed US corporation managed by the well paid 1% to rinse out every last penny on behalf of the 0.01%. But it’s still exciting, in part because others have it off, and they’re excited. Excitement is infectious!
Mostly it boils down to that unique flavor of excitement, so sublime and pure that, especially as the years go by, you want savor like a fine piece of chocolate rolling around the tongue. For many of us that starts early. My family went the usual route, with a tree and gifts and stockings. Decorating the tree, shopping and hiding and searching for hidden presents, lugging out the Christmas lights, the old ones, where the solid colored bulbs are bigger than a young thumb, are all such pleasant memories.
I celebrate Christmas for the kid in me. Sure, kids do grow up, but don’t we all remember that special excitement? I celebrate in part to faithfully rekindle it in myself and others. For no other reason than it feels good, for no other reason than letting that cooped-up kid, the excited one we all have still inside ready to swarm the tree and start tearing off wrapping paper, out one more time.
I like it, not just the day but the whole season. Even poor and recovering and worried about the immediate future, even with almost no money to spend on any significant gift. I like it, I’m glad it’s here, and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!