Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Then What Am I Celebrating?

christian, christmas, secular, atheism, atheist, obama,
From what I understand, the White House is very busy with 17 "holiday parties" before the Obamas leave for their annual vacation in Hawaii. Did you know the Obamas don't celebrate Christmas? And that the Nativity Scene was almost banned from the White House this year?
This bothered me. At first, I scrolled by it on the reader after briefly skimming it. Then I returned to it, read it and moved on. I couldn't stop coming back to it, but I couldn't figure out why.

Apparently, if Obama doesn't want to put a nativity (religious scene) in the White House, he doesn't want to celebrate Christmas. The fact that he does, indeed, celebrate Christmas is irrelevant unless he celebrates Christmas exactly the way Barbara does.

Ignoring the inherent arrogance of proclaiming that you can decide the legitimacy of other people's holiday celebrations, which does bother me, I think what really bothers me is that by Barbara's definition, I do not celebrate Christmas.

First of all, if I'm not celebrating Christmas, what is it that I do every December 25th? What purpose does my Christmas tree serve, precisely, to what end do I display delightful light up deer? Why do I buy presents and wrap them with care? (I wrap presents with such precision that people feel bad opening them and ruining the wrapping. The secret is tape. Lots of it.) Why do I host and cook dinners and bake 8 different varieties of cookies? (The cherry ones are to die for, but the candy canes are my sentimental favorite.)

Secondly, it struck me that Christmas in this country (and probably all over the West) is like marriage in this country: the secular and the religious intwined in an uncomfortable union at best. Christmas traditionally has two sides to it: the secular gift giving and feasting elements, and the religious "O hai, teh savyur iz born" element. Trying to say that one half of that is more legitimate than the other is just silly. The religious element might be more important to you, but you leave my precisely wrapped presents and light up deer alone!

To say nothing of the fact that even if you remove the secular, Santa, presents-n-feasting elements from Christmas, you still have the problem of one religion's celebration being pasted over another religion's preexisting celebration. I think once early Christianity slapped the celebration of the birth of their savior over the pagan Solstice celebration, they lost the right to bitch and moan about secular celebrations occurring on the same date as Christmas. Hello, you already stole the holiday and half its traditions, you can't whinge if someone else does it to you!

So, yeah, I'm an atheist, and yeah I celebrate Christmas. And if you want my light up deer, you can pry them from my cold, dead hands.


  1. Y'know, a friend of mine once set up a nativity feature Joseph & Mary, Baby Jesus, and the Three Wise Flamingos.

    Pink, of course.

  2. LOL!

    We have a tradition in our town, wherein you can pay students of the local Jesuit high school to flamingo someone's lawn. The money goes to the local soup kitchen, but I think everyone does it just for the 5am "Honey, why are there 200 pink flamingos on our lawn?" moment.

    Sometimes this gets out of hand and Christmas decorations end up flamingoed.

  3. Interestingly, there is an old Welsh holiday in the Midwinter timeframe that celebrates the birth of a sacred son (Pryderi) to Rhiannon, a Welsh goddess with roots in Proto-Celtic culture. On the night of his birth, the baby disappeared and there was concern that he would be put to death (not unlike the baby boys in Bethlehem). He wasn't, naturally.

    And we won't talk about the part where Germans decorated their homes and hearths with evergreen boughs to welcome Hertha, the goddess of light...

    And we won't talk about Yule. Nooo, we definitely won't talk about that.

    Yep. Jesus is the only way to mark Midwinter. Definitely.

  4. I couldn't agree more with your post. I am a Christian. I don't care how you celebrate the holiday, and I'll leave your deer alone if you leave my manger scene alone. You are also right that when we Christians placed the "birth of Christ" at the time of the winter solstice we did lose the right to complain about what others do. However, my right to celebrate Christ is not diminished by what ever it is you choose to honor. Have a great holiday.

  5. To me, all that Christmas means, and has ever meant, is the annual Christmas party at my aunt’s place. Large house, the entire family & co. shows up (usually putting us at 50+, easy), food that used to be great until they switched to fast-food chicken (urgh), and the likes.

    Though, for me, it’s always an awkward experience being surrounded by strangers and I always end up retreating to the basement computer. So, come to think of it, I’ll probably just be staying home on my home computer this year. Plenty of Hot Pockets to make up for it. Eh.

  6. Good analogy between marriage and Christmas. To extend it further, restricting marriage to one man and one woman would be like telling Americans there is only one true way to celebrate Christmas.

    Anyway, I can't remember the last time I was at a Christmas celebration, gathering, or dinner that even mentioned the baby Jesus. Even among my Christian friends and relatives, it's all about cookies, presents, and socializing.

    And also, 8 different varieties of cookies? I'll be right over!

  7. 'Tis the season to experiment with new cookie recipies. Care to share?

  8. I'm Jewish - we used to have our (equally Jewish) friends over on Christmas and eat food and watch movies, but since they started taking their vacations in December, we have family over instead and get takeout Chinese. We are so stereotypical.


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