Folks keep wishing me a Merry Christmas, and they mean well, I suppose, except for the ones who say it with an almost defiant belligerence. You know, the sort who think “Happy Holidays” is a direct attack on them, instead of the open-minded effort at inclusiveness that is intended. Personally, I prefer “Happy Holidays” because I don’t celebrate Christmas.
As an atheist, it doesn’t make much sense for me to celebrate Christ’s Mass. Despite all the evidence that December 25th could not possibly have been the historical date of Jesus’s birth, Christians have latched onto the holiday and guard it jealously. I’m fine with letting them keep Christmas in their own way, and I will leave it alone. I’ll even wish them a Merry Christmas, as long as they show me the courtesy of allowing for my non-Christmas holiday.
After all, Solstice is very real, very dark, and usually very cold. It’s pleasant to put up lights and see them twinkling bravely in the gloom. And knowing that the days will begin to get longer, even if winter has only just begun, is a reason to celebrate. Because alternative holidays are only nominally acknowledged, we don’t have the Solstice holiday off. Never mind. I can be flexible. The lights are just as lovely a few days later.
I’ve been told that “Christmas” is a secular holiday also, and why can’t I just celebrate it as such? Mostly because all the secular reasons for the season don’t resonate with me. Being opposed in principle to the excesses of consumer culture, I find the annual shopping orgy positively stomach-upsetting. This year, contestants in the competitive Black Friday event pepper-sprayed one another to gain advantage in the brutal struggle to bag that must-have gift for the small tyrant at home. If I’m going to give anything to anybody, it’s going to be that must-have warm meal for the homeless person shivering on the street corner.
Yes, I hear you assert, that’s what Christmas is all about: Charity and giving. And I think, Oh really? For a few weeks out of the year, people suddenly notice the poor, the desperate, the faces of suffering. For a few weeks they righteously open their wallets and their hearts. And on December 26th, the suffering ceases to exist for them again. They’ve done their duty, donated a toy, a turkey, a fistful of dollars. Time to go back to blaming the poor for their poverty, and congratulating themselves on their wealth.
Well, I suppose it’s better for them to open their shut-up hearts at least one time of the year rather than never at all.
And then there is coming home for the holidays. That’s a real reason to celebrate for those whose kin are far away. To see one’s children who have left the nest, to return to parents and feel the warmth of home again; this I can appreciate. Of course, Thanksgiving serves much the same purpose for many people, with a lot less stress.
As for me, my family is all with me. We get to laugh and argue, talk and share, break bread and fuss over chores every day of the year. So Christmas doesn’t bring anything special that we don’t already have.
As for my extended family, well, let’s not go there. Trust me.
I don’t mind if others celebrate Christmas, if it brings them comfort, peace and joy. Although to hear them complain sometimes I wonder. But December 25th just doesn’t have any particular positive significance for me. I expect to be visiting friends on New Year’s and having a marvelous time. I’ll be celebrating the Solstice. There are little, personal, holidays that fall during this time, like my anniversary and my younger son’s birthday. So, wishing me Happy Holidays makes perfect sense.
Go ahead. It’s okay.