The winter season brings an interesting cultural paradox for me. I’m a Christmas reveler who doesn’t believe in Christ. Yet I face the supposed “reason for the season” everywhere I turn. I understand that. For many, around the world, Christmas Day is the birth of a savior, or at least it became that over time. No problem. But I have a completely different reason for the season. And you can, too. You can love this time of year for your own reasons. Throughout history, millions and millions have.
Christmas is an adopted holiday, anyway. It doesn’t belong to any faith in particular. Jesus Christ himself wasn’t born on Christmas day until several centuries later. The Bible actually hints towards a non-wintry birth, according to some. The date of December 25th as the birth of Jesus Christ was announced in the 4th century by a Pope named Julius, to take advantage of the celebrations already in place throughout Europe. Pagans had observed customs we’d come to identify with Christmas for centuries before anyone believed in a New Testament Son or Biblical God.
See, the solstice has always been sacred. As the days grow shorter and colder, life tends toward the bleak, particularly in the north. It’s the most terrible time of the year. But the solstice represents a critical turn. From roughly December 21st-on the days get longer and, symbolically at least, warmer. Every culture since the beginning of mankind has celebrated this time.
Christians barely did. The celebration of the resurrection – the Easter celebration – was a far more important holiday, historically. But Pope Julius saw all the revelry occurring around Saturnalia and wanted in on the action. It was a clever coup. By adopting the rituals already in place – the ornamented tree, the mythical powers of mistletoe, the Saturnalian custom of gift-giving, and the cult of old St. Nick – it became easier over the ensuing centuries to sell December 25th as the birth of the Christian savior. It was a brilliant ploy and helped Christianity become the dominant religion of the western world.
Of course, the true reason for the season today is consumerism. Billions are spent on advertising; trillions on gifts. The average American spends nearly $1000 a year on Christmas presents. Every retailer, during the holiday season, is battling for your last end-of-the-year dollar. It’s preposterous. Honestly, I can’t blame the Christians among us for reminding us, when they do so politely, that Jesus Christ is the reason for the season for them. The belief in divine saving grace is certainly better than blind fidelity to capitalism run amok.
But these are not the reasons that I love Christmas. Not for the birth of a savior, not for the commercial insanity, and not even, to be perfectly honest, for the ritual of renewal. I’m not particularly spiritual even in the pagan sense. We don’t mess with holiday giving around the Cummings house, either, preferring instead to fulfill our wants and needs organically. We generally buy when logic or preference dictates, not when advertising or tradition does.
So why does this atheist love Christmas?
I love Christmas for all the lights on the street. I love Christmas for the cheerful music. The wonderful imagery. Christmas is great for the happy celebrations, whether pagan and debaucherous or holy and sublime. I love Christmas because it brings out the best in people despite the commercialism of the season. I love Christmas because I loved it as a child, and I am still a child inside.
If Christmas, to you, is the birth of Jesus Christ, I accept that. If Christmas, to you, is the night that St. Nick comes around, I accept that, too. Is it a holiday from work? A reason to give gifts? A wintry renewal or royal pain in the ass? I accept that, as well.
Whatever the reason you have for Christmas, just enjoy it.
But while you do, please accept all the reasons that others do – or don’t – enjoy it, as well.