A Secular Season's Greetings
While reading through some of the incredulous hate mail from yesterday, I came across one that asks: You keep talking about Christmas. Aren't you an atheist? You're missing the entire point of the reason for the season if you take this holiday as yours. Well, I addressed this very issue in 2002 and far be it from me to waste the opportunity to drag out an old blog post in lieu of original content. So, here you go. ---- 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.
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. ----- For some reason, this reminds me of the politically correct Christmas songs post from two years ago. I might drag that old horse out later. Man, I caught Christmas Fever early this year.