Sunday, December 7, 2008

Happy Holidays Merry Christmas

The other night, my friend remarked about my relationship with the holiday season: "Travis is an atheist, but I think he is more into Christmas than most people I know.  Isn't that funny??"  Well, that is not the exact quote, but you get the idea.  

But it is true.  Right now it looks like Christmas vomited in my living room.  Last night I was inspired by the decorations in a bar, and I want to copy their ideas in my apartment.  But to prevent my living spaces from being overtaken with a total lack of tact, I will refrain (mostly because my ceiling isn't high enough).   

But overall, there is nothing Christian about Christmas that I celebrate.  

I agree with the Bill O'Reillys and Pat Robertsons of the world that the holiday season is over-commercialized.  I agree that there is a "spirit of Christmas," but I do not think it has as much to do with Jesus as it does with Santa Claus.  I may as well be celebrating the Winter Solstice, just a few days late.  

I bring all this up because I just came across a fun article from a few years ago talking about the relationship famous atheist writers have with Christmas.  An excerpt:
“It seems to me to be obvious that everything we value in Christmas — giving gifts, celebrating the holiday with our families, enjoying all of the kitsch that comes along with it — all of that has been entirely appropriated by the secular world,” [Harris] said, “in the same way that Thanksgiving and Halloween have been.”

Mr. Dawkins, reached by e-mail somewhere on a book tour, was asked about his own Christmas philosophy. The response sounded almost as if he and Mr. Harris — and maybe other members of a soon-to-be-chartered Atheists Who Kind of Don’t Object to Christmas Club — had hashed out a statement of principles. Strangely, these principles find much common ground with Christians who complain about the holiday’s over-commercialization and secularization, though the atheists bemoan the former and appreciate the latter.

“Presumably your reason for asking me is that ‘The God Delusion’ is an atheistic book, and you still think of Christmas as a religious festival,” Mr. Dawkins wrote, in a reply printed here in its entirety. “But of course it has long since ceased to be a religious festival. I participate for family reasons, with a reluctance that owes more to aesthetics than atheistics. I detest Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the obscene spending bonanza that nowadays seems to occupy not just December, but November and much of October, too.”

He added: “So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”
While I partly disagree because there is a solid portion of the population that celebrate the holiday purely as a religious celebration and reject its secularization, I would argue they are in the minority.  The word Christmas will always retain some religious significance because... well... it has the word Christ in it.  But if you name me one religious aspect to Christmas, I will name five secular ones that have nothing to do with Jesus' birth.  

As corny as it sounds, this time of the year is ultimately about reconnecting and reaffirming your appreciation for family and friends.  It is a time of year to remind everyone to try to be a little bit nicer.  That giving can be more gratifying than receiving.  

If those are the ultimate goals, then Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.  

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