by Bill Lehto
I love all of it. Or most of it at least–I could do without the front-lawn nativity scenes and “Jesus is the reason for the season” and such, but it’s all part of the mix for me.
I’m a little embarrassed to say that I also love opening presents, and even seeing them wrapped up and waiting under the Christmas tree. I love that joyful feeling of anticipation before opening a present–not dissimilar, I must say, from that feeling I love in poker or blackjack of that next card from the deck about to be played. But it’s not that it’s some random item; it’s a gift to you from someone who cares about you. And the flip side of course is that joy in giving, including the anticipation of what someone will think of what you thought to get for them. It’s also a time of being thankful for what you have, and giving what you can (or “are willing” is probably more accurate) to those who are less fortunate.
And, for me, Christmas is entirely secular. Yes, I call it “Christmas”, not “Solstice” or “Holidays.”
The theologically liberal Bishop John Shelby Spong is not a theist, believes that Jesus was a mere human and not divine, and does not believe in the resurrection as an historical event. Nevertheless, he likes to continue to use words like “Christ”, “God”, “Holy Spirit”, and other traditionally conservative religious terms so that the fundamentalists cannot claim them as their own and take them away from him. The terms have meaning to him, and so he takes them back on his own terms, essentially giving the middle finger to the fundies. For me, the fundies can keep “God” and “Christ”, but I’ll keep “Christmas”, although it has nothing to do for me with the mythological and historical-Jesus-perverting word “Christ”. I just have too many warm memories associated with “Christmas” to let them take that from me.
There is no “true meaning of the season.” There is no true meaning to anything, for that matter. The Christians appropriated pagan rituals for their use (indoor trees, gift-giving, mistletoe, even the virgin birth narrative), and I’m appropriating “Christmas” for my use. As Nietzsche said, the form and the meaning of everything is fluid. From his On the Genealogy of Morals: “Anything in existence … is continually interpreted anew, requisitioned anew, transformed and re-directed to a new purpose by a power superior to it … in the process of which their former ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ must necessarily be obscured or completely obliterated.” Indeed.
So Merry Christmas from this atheist. Or Happy Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Solstice, or whatever it is you celebrate. Or, as Ringo Starr likes to say, “Peace and love” to you all this holiday season.
Bill Lehto is the publisher at Freethought House and editor of Atheist Voices of Minnesota.