Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can an Atheist Enjoy Christmas?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I really like Christmas. Burntoast (what a great name I wish I had thought of that) commented on how he deplored the secularization of Christmas. While I am not one of those who write letters to the paper about "how it's not Christmas without Christ" I agree with him.

Firstly let's get something straight. Christ was born in March or April. We know that because the Romans kept records and the census the Augustus ordered which is why Joseph and Mary were in Bethleham took place then.

For centuries possibly millenia before Christmas, people had been celebrating the mid-winter. It is a time of hope, the days start to get longer. In addition the feasting gives people an opportunity to slaughter animals and eat them so they don't have to feed them during the winter and to eat all the perishable food before it spoils. Thus fortified they can face the lean months of Jan thru May.

When Christianity spread to Europe, the Christians adopted the pagan festivals. Afterall if you celebrated Christ's birth in April, it would kind of conflict with celebrating his death in March or April (I have never quite figured out the movable feast thing).

Therefore celebrating Christmas is not a celebration of our Christian heritage; it is a celebration of our (most of us anyway) European heritage. While this leaves our people who emigrated from other (usually warmer) continents who didn't need to celebrate the Winter Solstice, it is largely not these people who object to Christmas. I saw an interesting picture in our local paper of a school choir singing. One of the singers was wearing a full Islamic head scarf. It is largely fellow people of European origin (PEOs?) who are trying to suppress most of the symbols of Christmas most of which are pagan in origin (like the Christmas tree).

Christmas carols it is true are mostly about the birth of Jesus. But, they are great music and way better than most of the secular Christmas music. Joy to the World vs. Grandma Got Runover by a Raindeer? I love Baroque music and what better way to get two hours of it live than attending Handel's Messiah. I can never make out the words anyway.

Therefore when I wake up on Christmas, open my stocking and my presents and watch the sun come up around 8 o clock, I am merely celebrating a millennia-old tradition that is part of my culture (3-4 days late).

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