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pissing on my christmas tree

Or: Why this atheist celebrates Christmas

Let's talk about Christmas and co-opted holidays and why some people have their panties in a bunch about this time of year and why I don't.

We all know by now that Jesus was not born on December 25. That doesn't really matter to me because Christmas was never about Jesus's birthday to me. It's about so many other things. Sure, I'm not celebrating the "true meaning" of the holiday but then again, no other holiday really gets its true meaning celebrated. Easter has become about bunnies and colored eggs. Halloween is about scary witches and ghosts and candy. Even holidays meant to celebrate births of great figures in American history are nothing more than days off from work and school. Americans love a holiday, that's for sure.

So why does this atheist celebrate a holiday that is supposed to be about religion? It's not the gifts, it's not the gaudy decorations. It's the spirit.

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When I was a child, Christmas time meant so many things. Parties in school, snow on the ground, snooping around my parent's bedroom for hidden presents. The air was filled with a sense of anticipation and joy that was not present most of the year. The calendar was marked down with X's on the dates of December, and every new X meant that special day was coming.

Of course, I loved the presents. But I loved the atmosphere, too. My parents are very social people. During the holiday season, there would be friends and relatives dropping over to say hello, have a drink, maybe a bite to eat. The Christmas tree glowed and sparkled and the windows were covered with those plastic, colorful decorations depicting Santa and snowmen and angels.

Christmas is about traditions. For as long as I can remember, we would gather at my aunt's house on Christmas Eve - we still do - enjoying an Italian feast of fish and pasta, at least 40 of us crowded into the fully decorated basement. We exchanged presents and Santa came and the grownups were all happy and carefree and festive. We would go home late, get tucked into bed and then lay there for what seemed like hours, too excited to sleep. It was a great night to be a kid.

My father would always take us shopping on Christmas Eve day, usually to Sears. We would buy presents for our mother - always Jean Nate perfume and powder - and presents for each other (I still have the music box my sister bought for me one year that played "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head") and we would get home and have hot chocolate covered in whipped cream and wrap our presents. We made cards for our parents and sometimes we would make presents, too; sloppy hand-made ornaments that still hang on my mother's tree.

Even decorating the tree became a tradition of hot chocolate and Christmas songs and sibling fights over who got to put the star on top. We still do that to this day, gathering at my parent's house, now with kids and spouses in tow, and continuing the tradition of decorating and fighting. In fact, we are doing that tonight.

As I got older and discovered - through a spiteful cousin - that Santa no longer existed, none of the excitement and wonder of the holiday season wore off. I became more deft at making hints at what I wanted for Christmas, and still secretly wrote letters to Santa in hopes that my cousin was playing just kidding. Eventually I became ok with my parents being the real Santa. I figured they were more likely to get me a Black Sabbath album than the jolly bearded guy would be.

On Christmas morning, my sisters and I would wake earlier than any human should rise, and we would sit by the fireplace in the half-dark, opening whatever was in the bulging stockings that hung from the mantle, waiting for our parents to wake. Finally, we couldn't take it anymore and we would run into their bedroom, jumping on the bed until they finally got up, bleary eyed and exhausted from wrapping and arranging presents the night before.

After the presents were unwrapped and the fire was roaring, fed by discarded wrapping paper and empty boxes, dad would make a huge breakfast and we would gush over our presents, comparing each other's stack of gifts. Then, while mom cooked, dad would take us out visiting relatives and each aunt or uncle would give us Christmas candy or cookies as we went from house to house.

All these traditions are still intact. Some have changed a bit; there were years when the Christmas Eve party at my aunt's house turned into 3am drunken poker games and most of the cousins hanging out back with the keg and the nickel bags of pot. Then we got older, had kids of our own, and put the magic back in our tradition.

We still open our presents very early, all of us arriving at our parent's house at an ungodly hour, heading straight for the stockings while we wait for our parents to wake up. They greet us with the same bleary eyed look they always did and the presents are still stacked sky high under the tree like they always were. We have a big breakfast and compare presents and then it's time to visit relatives, except now we visit them at Holy Rood cemetery, putting wreaths and blankets on their graves and thanking them for the all the cookies and warmth they gave us in the past.

Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Our Christmas and Christmas eve follow all the same patterns, but now we have our own children to work magic for. There is nothing like the gleam in their eyes as they see the gifts under the tree and even though they no longer believe in Santa, they still delight at the note that "Santa" leaves for them, thanking them for the cookies and milk. Even better is the smile on their faces as they present us with the presents they picked out, wrapped using six yards of scotch tape and a lot of love. They are truly grateful for everything they get and our home is filled with a warmth and comfort that gets pushed aside most of the year by homework and housework and the hurried pace of our lives.

This is why I love Christmas. I love way the neighborhood is lit up in color and light at night. I love the excitement in the air, the way people give so freely of themselves in the spirit of the season, the way the kids bounce when they walk through the mall, thrilled at the thought of picking out presents for those they love.

Yes, Christmas has become commericialized and may appear to be nothing more than a celebration of cosumerism. If that's what you see, then that's all you want to see. Me, I see pretty lights and smiling kids and relatives all gathered in one place for a change instead of scurrying to appointments and ball games and work.

If I co-opted your holiday, I'm sorry. I think we could all use a time of year set aside to eat, drink and be merry. If you don't celebrate it or for some reason or are angry at the way this time of year has ventured into a capitalist's dream, that's your choice. Just don't piss on my Christmas tree and try to take that joy from me because you don't want to see it.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference pissing on my christmas tree:

» Why an atheist celebrates Christmas. from Stupid Evil Bastard
Michele over aA Small Victory has a wonderful entry on why she, as an atheist, celebrates Christmas. I often get asked the same question and Michele's answer is pretty much what I tell folks as well only she says it way more eloquently than I've manage... [Read More]

» Yer nuts roasting on an open firrrre. Jack Daniels nipping at yer throat... from A N A R C H T I C A
I was just at Michele's who's talking about Christmas. Specifically "Why this atheist celebrates Christmas". Good times, friends and families, [Read More]

» Why celebrate Christmas? from yarbroughs dot org
Les, the Stupid Evil Bastard, links to A Small Victory, who discusses why an Atheist celebrates Christmas. It's a great [Read More]


Amen!! Er, uh... I CONCUR! :o)

That reminds me of why I celebrate Christmas, though I'm an ancestor-worshipper.

it always bothered me that christmas was somehow turned into his birthday. at our house, with me and the kiddos, its all about presents and food and fun. we dont celebrate anyones birth. we dont tell the story of wisemen traveling through the desert. we sing funny songs and watch silly movies. my parents would have it otherwise. having me take the kids to church and dress up as angels and shepherds...lol

As a firm christian, I concur completely, Michele. The spirit of christmas is what's important, whether it's actually the day Christ was born matters not a bit.

Naturally, being a christian, we did a few things different with my family, telling the christmas story, going to mignight service at church (I never dressed up as a shepherd, though), but we also just enjoyed being together. Even after we've all moved away from home, it's still a christmas eve tradition that we will get together and go watch a movie on christmas eve (arguing endlessly over which one), and my mother's side of the family has our family reunion on Christmas, renting a building up north where my grandmother lives.

When we got old enough to know Santa doesn't really exist, our parent sat us down and explained to us that, while there isn't really a person named Santa, Santa represents the spirit of christmas, that it is better to give than to receive, and that through giving, we do receive more than we could have dreamed of. THAT, for me, was always the best way of explaining christmas that I could think of .

Beautifully put.

Not Jewish, not Christian, not anything. My Christmas is about the same kinds of things - family, tradition, fun, peace, beauty, kids. Parties, remembering friends you don't have time to contact the rest of the year. Lights & sparkly stuff. I read my kid a very diluted picture book about baby Jesus, just so he'll know, but that's not what my holiday is about.

For a while, we were calling it the MidWinter Societally Endorsed Present Exchange and Mass Celebration, largely just to be silly, but Christmas works, too.

Honestly, I don't see how people can get their panties in a bunch about how Christmas has been co-opted by secular society when practically every single "Christmas symbol," from evergreens to Poinsettas, was originally co-opted from some other religion by the Catholic Church.

Geez, michele, I didn't mean to imply that consumerism is all the holiday is about - it just certainly seems that the two twits with the billboard think that's all it's about, and my comment was merely a sarcastic in-your-face aimed at them. I think it would be a very rare case that anyone fully agreed with their position, although I'm sure they exist, just like the christians who think christmas itself is vile due to the pagan roots of it and rail against it every year.

I say: let people celebrate the way they want. We don't need people telling us the "right" or "wrong" way to go about what we do at christmas, just like we don't need them butting in at any other time of the year.

michele - my boy is an atheist, too, which bothers the living crap out of my parents. they too believe that he co-opted "their" holiday, and they cannot understand how he can celebrate christmas and yet not believe in christ and his birth.

i'd like to take your explanation, print it out, and mail it to them. i know it wouldn't make a damned bit of difference, but it sure would help explain things.

thank you for saying something that we've been trying to put into words for over six years.

oh, and sorry by toe is bothering you ;)

I'm Catholic, buit have several agnostic friends (are you really atheist, Michele, or agnostic?). When I walk out of midnight mass on Dec. 24, I can often feel something in the air...maybe it's religious, maybe it's not...but "spirit of Christmas" is a great way to put it. If people - religious and non-religious - can act decent to one another for a few days, then Christmas is something we should all support, regardless of beliefs.

Very well written. That's exactly why I like this time of year too (I'm also an atheist).

As usual, Michele puts into words things I've been trying to say for years. Gotta do an entry on my own site now with a trackback link. Wish I could be as clear spoken at times. :-)

Aint nothing wrong with an excuse for people to wind down, enjoy friends & family, and get ready to start a new year....

Kids. Christmas just came and went before kids.... to see their eyes light up opening presents makes it all worthwhile....

(Lordy, your "Italian Christmas" reminds me of my wife's families... the smelts on xmas eve, 20 zillion people gathered around a table that spanned two rooms. YEESH! Getting a cousin-n-law drunk and upstairs to the bedr.... I probably shouldn't have written that. Nevermind.)

We are all in the same "boat. We should all be tolerent of what others believe or don't believe. None of us truly understand or comprehend why we are here or what the entire Universe suggest. It is too overwhelming to try to figure it all out. The human race is in a valley of tears. We celebrate the seasons to bring us joy in an unsettled world. Just be good and kind to all we meet. We are only here for a short time, and then the lights go out. Precious memories is what it is about.
Happy Holidays to all.