Do They Know Why It’s Christmas?

I risk ruffling some feathers with this post, and I risk offending people whom I really like. But it is… not bothering me exactly. It’s truly something — like my Santa issues — that I wonder about every year right around this time. And that’s the spirit in which I am posting. To hear others’ points of views, not to offend.

I am genuinely curious about something: if you are agnostic or atheist, why do you bother with Christmas at all?

I don’t mean to denigrate a person’s decision to practice goodwill towards fellow men and women, or celebrate some winter downtime by hanging out with family and/or giving gifts. It’s just that I read over and over again about the stress of baking and shopping and decorating and spending time with family, and how so many people dislike the holidays, yadda, yadda, yadda, and then some are like “I don’t even believe in God.”

Well then why all the stress?

The thing that keeps me very centered this time of year is my faith. (Obviously, it keeps me centered most of the year, but I lean on it particularly around now. Focus and all.) Christmas is very much about the birth of Jesus Christ, who I believe is the son of God. Christmas is a celebration of the fact that God “so loved the world He gave his only Son”.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the trappings of the season (to an extent): the lights, the food, family, presents. I love driving down the road with my children yelling, “Lights!” from the back seat over and over again. I also completely let myself off the hook this time of year: I do not bake just because I’m supposed to (I don’t bake the rest of the year either; it’s definitely a mom-type short coming). We do not put lights up outside (oh, how I would love to… but I just can’t take it on). Although I love to host, I cannot this year because of my work schedule. I (try to) keep spending and present-buying in check. I do not send Christmas cards. I work firmly within my limits.

But it seems to me agnostics and atheists have the perfect excuse to step away from the madness. A simple, “I don’t believe in God” or “I don’t believe Jesus was the son of God” should suffice. They don’t need to be mean about it, and they shouldn’t be treated rudely for their beliefs (I have complicated feelings about proselytizing, but we can all be civil at least, right?).

I read somewhere about how a mother told her children that Jesus was a very wise man, and that he is why Christmas is a holiday, which is all well and good, but isn’t really the whole story. The reason behind the season is not that I believe Jesus was pretty smart — I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I celebrate his birth in a unique way. After all, Martin Luther King Jr. was a wise man; the presidents were wise men (arguably); there are even some pretty wise women out there who should be feted. But we’re not giving gifts and putting up trees for their birthdays. There’s no Advent before Lincoln’s birthday, you know?

Again, I don’t mean to be insensitive or non-PC. I am sincerely curious about this. Baffled. I am not angry or pissed off; I don’t believe there is a true “war on Christmas” like Christian fundamentalists do. Has the “cultural norm” somehow overridden the religiousity? Is it “doing it for the kids”? Shouldn’t we celebrate differences? Or is that just easy for me to say?

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22 thoughts on “Do They Know Why It’s Christmas?

  1. I don’t think this post is offensive at all (of course, I’m coming at it from a Christian point of view as well, so perhaps I’m biased) There is such a strong knee-jerk reaction anytime someone questions anybody’s worldview or religion, even if it’s out of complete & total curiosity and not accusation or criticism. (And, for the record, you made it totally clear what your motives are.)

    I’ve often wondered the same thing, to be honest. I’m like you- I LOVE LOVE LOVE the decorations and the lights and the non-Jesus-related festivities, even Santa. But I don’t let myself get stressed at Christmas because DUH, it’s not what it’s about. I buy gifts for the people I love, but we keep it under control ($50 max on everyone- well, except for the kid and each other- and we don’t buy for aunts/uncles/cousins because we have a bajillion of them!) I have fun shopping and wrapping and finding things I know people will enjoy. But the moment it becomes A Stress, I take a step back and remember: it DOES. NOT. MATTER. And those who are convinced it does matter are severely misguided- Christian or not.

    Mostly, when I hear people complain about the craziness of Christmas, I just feel sad for them because they’ve missed the point. Whether it’s because of a missing faith or misplaced focus (or an unfortunate situation of a non-awesome family like we have- I think that helps us stay stress-free, actually), it’s a bit sad. Not pity-sad, but you know what I mean.

    Merry Christmas 🙂

  2. OK, let me be the first to come in from a non-religious position.

    I don’t know if I really call myself agnostic… I admit I have doubts… but I definitely have no use for organized religion. I just don’t see, if there is a God, why anyone needs a “middleman.” Just go straight to the source. I don’t believe in all the religious trappings, I believe in the message… just be good to one another. Unite instead of divide.

    That said, I celebrate Christmas whole-heartedly, from a sense of tradition, ritual and culture. Christmas has become so much more that another religious holiday here. Perhaps that’s what the fundamentalists are moaning about but it’s a done deal. The effect is pervasive… just look at the ads on TV. Heck, the whole economy depends on a robust Christmas season. And whether the religiousness of the season is acknowledged or not, it is a time for togetherness with family and friends. People are happy… after they’re done stressing about the shopping and cooking…

    I love Christmas, especially now that I’m not working in retail. (Anyone that’s worked retail during Christmas seasons, is happy for the break on Christmas Eve when they can breathe, until the day after Christmas when all the returns come back, and that’s about it.) I love the family time, the happiness of the kids opening their presents, the incredible feasts, the glow of a Christmas tree all lit up in a dark room… It’s a time for families to bond and create memories that will last forever.

    As for people being offended by holiday greetings that don’t match their personal beliefs, I think they have to lighten the heck up and maybe adjust their offense-meter. Hunger, poverty, war and AM talk radio is offensive. Well-meant greetings are not.

    Wishing you, your family and your readers a joyous Christmas,
    bluz

  3. A voice from the atheist peanut gallery…. I just came from an entirely non-religious holiday celebration where the focus was on peace, around the world and at home, and the gifts of peace we can give to each other. It’s disappointing that we need a specific time of year to think about “peace on earth, goodwill towards men” but it is what it is. The celebration was beautiful and kids enjoyed it immensely. I cried like a little baby, but that’s a whole other story.

    Yeah, we do stuff for the kids because it’s fun and they enjoy it, but there’s more to the season than Santa or the religious traditions. We try to focus on peace and kindness and hopefully build some momentum to carry us through the new year.

  4. I’m glad you posted this.

    I come from a similar position as BluzDude. I hate the agnostic word because it seems like an excuse, but I definitely don’t believe in religious trappings. I was raised Catholic, and like many grown Catholics, I lapsed in my practice. In my 20s I actually envied people with a strong faith, so I tried to meditate on the Bible. The problem was that the passages in the version I was reading were significantly different than some I remembered jotting down in a favorite quotes book as a CCD kid. That sent me down the rabbit hole of studying the history of the Bible. I had been pretty ignorant about that. (What do you mean the New Testament was written until hundreds of years after Jesus? And not in Latin?!) The more I learned, the less I could accept that book as the word of God. I had already done a similar exercise with the Koran years earlier. The result was I found religion at best meaningless ritual (although I understand it can make people feel good) and at worst dangerous.

    So why do I celebrate Christmas?

    Well, the snarky answer would be to ask why YOU celebrate Christmas in the way you do. Wreathes and trees and even December 25th are stolen from pagan traditions. Rudolph was created as a marketing campaign. Perhaps Atheists should be the only ones who get to have trees and exchange presents! (Okay, you can get presents on Epiphany, but one of them has to be myrrh.)

    But, I’m really not THAT cynical.

    I grew up in a family with few traditions. Extended family was scattered across the country, and we didn’t have strong ties to any “old country.” However, my mother loves Christmas. My annual Christmas party was created because I couldn’t get home for her party that I grew up with. Every year we had more decorations. These traditions may not be unique, but they remind me of home.

    The music, even the religious stuff, is also a big deal to me. Not only did my mother play it in the house constantly starting the day after Thanksgiving, but I also sang in the church choir for years. My mom even wrote a Christmas carol that our choir sang one year. I’ve sung in Handel’s Messiah and chose one of the arias for my senior recital. I don’t take communion, but singing “Joy to the World” at the end of midnight mass (if I go…largely to hear my mother sing) still brings tears to my eyes.

    And, this may be wrong to say, but I relate to the commercialism. We weren’t rich, but we lived below our means for things like houses and cars, which meant my folks could be pretty generous with smaller gifts. I am a bit ashamed at times how spoiled I was, but a big pile of gifts still means Christmas to me. (We’ve been trying to cut down in recent years. At least on non-consumables.) Although I try to show people that I care about them in many ways year ’round, I enjoy having a time of year when I can show it with shopping and baked goods.

    So, that’s why I love Christmas even though I’m not celebrating anyone’s birthday (well…other than my cousin’s).

  5. I agree, and comment on this every year to my (formerly Catholic) mother. I was raised Unitarian and am firmly in the agnostic camp. I’ve been called a Christmas-hater for wondering why in the heck we do this for a religious holiday based on beliefs that I don’t have. Sure, I can sort of appreciate the cultural aspects of it, and love the “excuse” to get together with family, but it is much too commercial and consumer-driven for my taste.

    At the end of the day, I don’t celebrate any other religious holidays, so why do I have to celebrate Christmas?

  6. I’m Catholic, so I can’t really help you out. I have often felt stressed by the holidays, but I think that’s because when I was growing up, my parents were divorced. I had to go to my moms, my dad’s, and two sets of grandparents houses. That’s a lot for anyone to handle, especially a kid. There was never time to relax and hang out with family when you’re running all over creation.

    I enjoy my quiet Christmases at home now. We often travel for Thanksgiving and stay home for Christmas. I think we’ll do without the tree this year, but I do enjoy baking and just spending time with my Hubby. I’m not even cooking this year- we usually eat Christmas dinner at a chinese restaurant.

    • That does sound like a stressful way to have spent holidays as a kid. I’m glad you’ve been able to grow up and establish your own tradition. It’s something I struggle with a little bit, because frankly I’d like to have Christmas at MY house. We did get to one year (2006) when I was on modified bedrest with my pregnancy with Kate. But it wasn’t wholly what I meant.

      Merry Christmas, rpm

  7. As an atheist (raised Catholic) Christmas celebrator it’s something I do question. I think it’s partly that I enjoy the trappings of the holiday, partly that it’s become so entwined in American culture that it’s almost like religious and secular Christmas are two separate holidays that are celebrated on the same day, and partly the enormous peer pressure to celebrate *something* at this time of year. I feel that pressure from both society at large and from our families. My MIL has a conniption every single year when we refuse to do Easter. We’d probably give her a heart attack if we quit Christmas, too.

  8. Is it me, or do Recovering Catholics make up the most atheists?

    Kim Z, I think you said it all perfectly, and your first paragraph encapsulates many of the reasons I think the way I do.

  9. Wow! Thanks everyone for weighing in! I will have to get back to everyone this weekend, but I just wanted to say I really appreciate that everyone is so thoughtful and honest and kind with their words. And to those of you who do not believe as I do: thank you for answering my questions. I do so appreciate it.

    ciao,
    rpm

  10. Interesting question. I often attribute my realization that there is no God as a metaphor to finding out when you’re a child that there is no Santa. Christmas still comes, you still get presents, and it’s still exciting, even without Santa. And the same goes for life – I’m still a good person, I’m still human, and life goes on, even without God. So why should I quit celebrating the time of year that I love, a time of thinking about others, and being with my family, just because I don’t believe Jesus was born from an Immaculate Conception?

    I even tell people Merry Christmas!! What difference does it make?

  11. I’m catholic and quite frankly I’ve grown to hate Christmas. Lushie has tried for years to get me to appreciate it and that hasn’t happened. Now with Jackson in our life that may start to change but what was once my favorite holiday as a kid has turned into a freaking nightmare as an adult. The bullshit family politics is number one on my list. How fake “peace and love” everyone tries to be in my family (my side, not Lushie’s) and I feel much family anger coming on as I type this so I’ll stop. I hate that society as a whole has become some thoughtless and ruthless during this season for shopping that someone would go to jail fighting for one of those Zhu Zhu pet things. The church we used to belong to in Bellevue before we moved was one big guilt trip and the pastor was a mean guy so we stopped going to that.

    Usually I can make rational posts and not be a spaz but uuuugggggghhhhh this holiday gets my panties in a wad.

    Someone get me an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle

    • 1. You wear panties? My image of you is shattered.

      2. You’ll put your eye out, kid.

      3. I am so, so sorry to hear about the stress and family politics. I hope that between Lushie and Jackson, you can regain some Christmas spirit. If you can, try to pray and find some peace. It sounds as if you get it and you want to go back to enjoying it, and your family (outside of Lushie & Teaspoon) are preventing you. That stinks. It’s so wrong that “family politics” should interfere what is suppose to be a peaceful and loving time of year. Slap some sense into those people!

      Or, just drink a lot of Christmas beer.

      Finally, you do have a perfect excuse to ignore them all this year: Jackson. You can start your own Christmas traditions with him. Or, at least you can try.

      Peace, brother. Give that wife & son of yours hugs from the RPM household.

      ciao,

      rpm

      • I do, they say LOVE MA-CHEEN in leopard print.

        Lushie’s family has been a godsend since we got married. there I can hang out and chill. My fam is more of the “hey lets pretend we’re from a Norman f’n Rockwell painting”. Serious, you should see how dressed up I have to get and how “quint”: things have to be. its like everyone feels uptight. Gimme a beer and let me go play xbox with my nephews.

        Lushie and I have already discussed what we’re doing. Every year you get new PJ’s and the holiday is spent at the house playing with toys and watching a Christmas Story. If people want to visit us thats cool but the day itself is about us.

      • @Doogle:

        I am crying with laughter. Thank you.

        And: Sorry your family is such a pain. And glad Lushie’s is there to provide lots of relief! In-laws FTW. (how many people get to say that?) (I do, too. However, my family also rocks.) Sounds like you will have a lovely Christmas day. Enjoy.

        ciao,

        rpm

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