Monday, December 20, 2010

Putting the Christmas Back in Christmas

As an Anglo atheist who is married to a Jewish atheist, with whom I share two daughters, my feelings around "the holidays" are complex. We both come from traditions of Christmas celebration - mine through agnostic/hippie/Hindu parents who were raised Christian, hers an agnostic Jewish mother raised non-practicing and father non-practicing Christian.

We both treasure our traditional memories growing up - the tree, the family, the food, the "spirit", the sense of peacefulness and kindness, the decorations, the music, the Santa, the frosty, the presents, etc. If we were to not engage in the ethnic rituals of Christmas we would be denying an enormous part of our culture. Yet as atheists, we obviously feel it is all just a mythology. We both actually love the concept of the baby Jesus, the manger scene, the wise men bringing gifts, etc. - all very bucolic and tender. But a mythology nonetheless.

So when I hear people speak of putting the "Christ back in Christmas", to the extent that I feel I am being addressed - or at the very least not addressed but consciously excluded, I'm offended. I feel I should have a right to celebrate what is a shared cultural ritual in the manner I choose - especially if I am not a part of the Christian faith and have my own worldview.  And let us not even begin to speak of what this means for my two daughters, for whom I hope Christmas to continue to represent the same joys it has always for their parents.

So, it is one thing for Christians to speak to other Christians about the place of the religious in Christmas - that is none of my concern. But when I am being told that I cannot celebrate my own traditions because they don't really belong to me, it feels oppressive. If the conversation is simply about whether we are becoming too commercial, then I'll probably agree. My feelings on the "true meaning" of Christmas are probably very similar to those of  most Christians. And if focusing on the religious element of Christmas helps Christians get back to that place, all the better. But I can come to almost the exact same place without the God-bits (if I thought otherwise, I probably shouldn't be an Atheist, right?).

I love that America is multiculturalism exemplified. I love it that we can all have our own traditions and find what is meaningful in our own way. I love it that America is explicitly not a "Christian" nation. I love it that to us, tolerance means not simply refraining from mistreating each other, but actively seeking to understand the world through one's frequently exotic neighbor's eyes, and trying to learn what the world is like to him. In this way, the "true meaning" of Christmas to me is exactly this - loving your neighbor, creating peace on Earth through humility, and emphasizing warmth and compassion.

As many have often remarked, "We should live each day as if it were Christmas". Let us also let Christmas itself be for everyone - Jew, Muslim or Atheist. Because as long as we are caring for one another, sharing and being joyful, that's what the spirit is all about anyway.

1 comment:

  1. eloquently said. thanks for sharing.