Last week I was decorating the queer youth center I work at with some of my favorite youth and a volunteer. For the sake of this article, let's call her Kathy. Kathy is what I like to call a "momma-teer", she's a straight ally who volunteers so her gay son will have a fun place to hang out. As Kathy and I were setting up the Christmas tree and listening to festive music she carefully asked me a question.
"So, I know you and Chris are atheists and you celebrate Christmas, so what does the holiday mean for you if it's not about Jesus?"
brief history about how Christmas has been many holidays before and has borrowed many traditions along the way and discarded others. The very tree we were putting up was actually condemned by the early church for it's pagan roots before they realized they were fighting a losing battle. The same can be said for mistletoe and exchanging gifts and decorations and most of the things we love about the holidays.
So, in following that proud tradition I too have kept the traditions I enjoy and discarded the ones that do not work for me. I love the tree and decorations and, to a lesser extent, the gifts. I love getting together with my family and loved ones to have fun and share stories from the past year. I love giving them whatever token of appreciation I can, even if it's just a box of homemade cookies and a card. I love that, for a brief moment every year, everyone tries to be a little kinder to each other, even if they're strangers. And as I get older, it's the little things that seem silly to outsiders that I might love most of all; the way my mom, sister, and I sing "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" to each other; the time we spend preparing the Christmas dinner together, even if it's only for the three of us; the new ornament my mom gives us every year; having all of us together, something that doesn't happen often now that we're grown; and even watching the silly Christmas specials we've seen since we were kids.
There are plenty of things that irritate me about the holidays, like the "War on Christmas" fanatics who freak out whenever you use the word "holiday" or, god forbid, "X-Mas". It seems they've forgotten that the "X" in X-Mas is not crossing out Jesus, but was used as a substitution for Christ because it was a cross! X is still Christ! And I guess the Jews and Muslims and everyone else who celebrate something different during December should just shut up about it so that we don't hurt the Christian majority's feelings. I'll never forget how my Jewish friend put it, "I don't get offended when they wish me a Merry Christmas. They may or may not know I'm a Jew, but I know they just hope I have a nice holiday with my family, so why get bent out of shape? The name isn't important, it's the thing itself that matters." Whether you call it Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or anything else is not important. What is important is being a good person and spending the day to love your family of origin or choice.
Another tradition we're ditching is Santa. Chris and I have ultimately decided that when we have kids we're not going with the whole Santa thing. It's not that we'll try to hide the fact that Santa is a part of Christmas. They can still go see him at the mall and read stories about him and all the rest of it, but we're not going to pretend that he's real. As far as our kids will be concerned, Santa is just one of the many stories we like to tell. The Wild Things aren't real and neither is Harry Potter, but that doesn't make us enjoy them any less. It just doesn't seem right to intentionally lie to your children. I'm not okay with religious indoctrination of children, but I can understand why religious people do it. They see belief in their god is a good thing and want to pass that on to their children. But no adult believes in Santa, yet many try to make their kids believe in him anyway. I don't understand it. You may disagree with us, and no doubt many in my family will as well, but that's just the way we see the matter.
"Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."
That's what Christmas means to me. It's not about buying things or having the best looking tree in the window where all the neighbors can see or even about Jesus. It's about sharing your love with the world. It's about braving the coldest time of the year with the people you cherish most and being grateful for spending another year of our short lives together. This holiday has had many shapes and many names and many traditions over the centuries, but it always comes down to Peace on Earth, and Goodwill for all Mankind. Do what you can this holiday season to make those happen, and I'll wish you a Very Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Pagan Holiday from my family to yours. Merry Christmas!