There exists an argument that atheists (or more particularly anti-theists, but it’s not phrased that way) shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a Christian holiday, and if we want to celebrate a holiday, we should make our own and keep it away from the Christian cooties. More seriously, the argument is made that contribute to Christianity’s cultural hegemony by celebrating Christmas.
The group that argues this isn’t large. Tom Flynn of CFI heads it up, and most of the rest of the people carrying the torch appear to be the sort of men who think that anything that doesn’t hold their attention is automatically lesser and perhaps in need of banning for the good of society. The whole thing would be almost entirely escapable if it weren’t for Beth Presswood‘s quest to single-handedly keep the joy in Christmas for atheists.
As someone who has never had a non-secular Christmas, I find the hand-wringing over atheists celebrating Christmas puzzling. To me, Christmas is a storytelling holiday. It brings us together out of the dark and cold to share indulgent food, spicy drinks, sparkling lights, music, and mutual generosity. And stories.
Is there Jesus in all of that? Sure. Even if you don’t believe, the music isn’t going to let you forget. But the first Christmas story that captured my imagination–seized would probably be a better word–involved Clara and Godfather Drosselmeyer and the Rat King and a remarkably nimble wooden doll. That’s the core of my Christmas, then and now.
Santa got a spot in there sometime shortly thereafter, I’m sure, once I got over the trauma of being forced to sit in a stranger’s lap, but he was quickly pushed aside by more interesting stories. Santa? Sure, but can we talk about Bumble instead, and Dolly and Hermey? They had things to say to me.
Christmas accretes stories the way Thanksgiving accretes recipes for disguising vegetables. Charlie Brown and his lonely tree. Scrooge and his ghosts. The little girl with the matchsticks. Jo’s Christmas “without presents”. Reindeer on the house-top. A Grinch with an undersized heart. A snowman willing to sacrifice himself for a little girl. A desperate man on a bridge. A ski resort in need of saving for the old man. A couple with nothing but the ability to sacrifice for each other. A consuming desire for an unsafe “toy”. A hostage situation, of all things.
I’m not close to running out, but I’ll stop anyway. I think I made my point.
What is a magical baby born in a manger in the middle of all that? More importantly, what do we have to fear even from talking about him, much less celebrating all the rest of it? It’s a good story. It’s strong enough to have held on through the centuries, but it’s a story. It’s nothing we have to run from.
More than that, it is never more obvious that it’s a story than when we place it squarely in the midst of other stories, other magical stories, other stories compelling enough to get us through the darkness. We see it for what it is. We see it for what it does.
It’s a story, one of many. It’s a testament, if you will, to our creativity. Even if we don’t need it anymore, the ability to make lasting stories like this is part of what makes us us. And now is the time to celebrate that, together, before going back to undervaluing it for another year.