December 16, 2001
I grew up on Christmas. Christmas was its name. But Christ had nothing to do with it unless my mom got upset about the turkey or the family and yelled out “Jesus H. Christ!” Christmas was always about giving and receiving–-gifts and time. We always had a big, fresh tree that smelled up the house with pine. My mom had a manger scene that went under the tree, so we knew that there was a story behind Christmas, but it wasn’t a part of the celebration beyond the ceramic figures. Dad would saw off a two-inch thick layer of the tree trunk and mom would make that into a cradle for the little baby Jesus doll. I loved him. He was only about 1 1/2-inches long with moving arms, legs, and head. And he was naked. We wrapped him in a tiny piece of material and laid him on the cotton-covered tree stump. Mary knelt beside him draped in a ceramic blue and white gown. Joseph stood next to her with a hole through his fisted hand for a staff. We ran long pine needles through it when the staff was lost. We had a camel and a donkey and some wise men bearing gifts. It was a nice touch under the tree. But the tree was the main thing. And the presents were the most important part. Next to that, the family get together was of interest. The food was fantastic. My second cousin used to make this congealed salad, you know, with Jello and marshmallows and fruit. We used to pile up the food on our large plates and eat until we all had to lie down on couches and the floor around the house.
So, Christmas was about Santa and trees and presents, stockings and family and warmth. I knew the Christ part was about Jesus and that some people thought he was god, or the son of god. I knew the basic story about the inn and the manger and the swaddling clothes. The wise men, the star, and all that. And I knew about Pilate and the cross as well, though we’ll save that for Easter.
I sang Christmas carols. I loved them all. My favorites were Joy to the World and Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. I also loved We Three Kings. Sure, I loved Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Jingle Bells too. But, my point is that I enjoyed the religious music without considering the meaning behind it. I knew what I was singing; it just didn’t mean anything to me beyond its traditional importance. We sing the carols because that’s what we do at Christmas. I knew that Christmas still meant more to other families, other kids. I didn’t think they were odd. I just didn’t have the same feelings about the tradition behind the holiday that they did.
One Christmas, when I was about twelve, I got out the Bible and searched for the story of Christmas. I read it and thought it was rather poetic. But it never struck me as true. It was tradition to me. We celebrated the holiday because we were taught to but the meaning had been replaced by non-belief. My parents didn’t believe. So I didn’t believe. I didn’t actively disbelieve. I believed that Jesus lived and that he died. I believed he was a prophet of god, but I wasn’t sure what god was. I believed Jesus was special; but I believed we were all special in our own way. I believed that the way in which Jesus was special was in his awareness of god. But, with all that, he was still not truly a part of Christmas for me.
When I married, my husband and I continued in the secular practice of the holiday for the reasons my parents did: tradition and enjoyment. And that is why I still do. Some years ago, when I was hit in the head with the realization that I didn’t actually believe in the same kind of god that everyone else did and after a few short days, that I didn’t believe in a god at all, it changed nothing about Christmas for me. Christmas is still a celebration of Western tradition, giving and receiving, and family togetherness for me. It always will be.
However, upon my coming to atheism, I found an interest in religion, especially Christianity probably because it is everywhere around me. So, I began reading. I learned quite a bit about Christmas. I learned, most importantly, that the celebration of the solstice came first. The decorated trees, often lit with candles, the yule logs, the mistle-toe, etc. all came before the Christians adopted the birthday of Mithras, December 25th, as the day of their savior’s birth as well. [If you can’t beat the orgies out of them, cover them up with your own religion.] Christians simply absorbed the pagan solstice celebration into their religion, and then claimed the holiday for themselves alone. So, when you see those signs on church billboards that read “Jesus is the reason for the season,” you are reading a blatant lie.
What Christians have done throughout history angers me. They spread their cult through lies, murders, burning the writings of the opposition as well as the opposition, through rewriting some works to make Christianity appear to be more than it was, to make it appear as if it were true and accepted as historical. What Christianity has done to our history is unforgivable.
Christmas is very much a pagan festival. So, when Christians tell me that I am being a hypocrite for celebrating it, I tell them it is they who are hypocrites. They have taken all the trappings of the solstice and laid them atop their savior’s [supposed] birth. They are celebrating the birth of the sun, not the birth of the son. They are actively practicing sun worship. They can pretend all they like that Christmas is theirs but they don’t even know when their god was born. You’d think he would deserve more than some pagan holiday with his name stuck on it. You’d think they’d have honored him with something more appropriate. But then, they weren’t doing it to honor their savior. They did it to win converts by simply adopting their pagan holidays, absorbing their rituals, taking over their ancient religions until they’d winnowed out the other gods and were able to force Europe into their fold. They did it for power.
I defiantly celebrate Christmas without Christ. Frankly, I think millions of people celebrate a Christ-less Christmas. They just don’t think about it so much. Millions call themselves Christian, go through the motions of Christmas (maybe even go to church)–singing the songs, decorating the tree, leaving cookies out for Santa–without so much as a thought to its origins. Just like I was as a child, they are nominal Christians who, if they thought hard enough about it (an unlikely event) they might realize their own atheism.
Happy solstice to you.