December 22, 2017

No, This Atheist Does Not Hate Christmas

christmas gifts
I've lost count of the number of times I've been accused of hating Christmas. For some people, I guess anyone who chooses not to celebrate a holiday must necessarily hate the holiday. I find this to be quite a stretch.

When I hear the word hate, it immediately conjures up two things. First, there is the obvious notion of hate as the strong dislike of something or someone. This is the conventional meaning of the word, and it is an effective one. Second, there is the idea that hate involves a significant investment of one's mental energy. When one hates something or someone, it is not a casual affair. One typically takes it quite seriously, and that's why we often experience hate as all-consuming.

So do I hate Christmas? Nope. I do not strongly dislike Christmas (even though there are some aspects of it I certainly dislike). I do not devote a significant portion of my time or energy into harboring negative feelings toward it (some previous blog posts aside). And so, I cannot reasonably claim to hate Christmas or any of the other December holidays I choose not to celebrate.

How do I feel about Christmas? It is sometimes tempting to characterize my attitude toward it as one of disinterest or indifference, but that would be inaccurate. I find many aspects of Christmas not just interesting but downright fascinating. I find it quite curious, for example, that so many of my friends and neighbors believe that Jesus was a historical figure, that December 25 was his birthday, and that it makes sense to celebrate it with commercialism. If there was a historical Jesus who said the things the biblical character is described as saying, I cannot imagine he'd approve of the way most Christians celebrate Christmas.

I'm also fascinated by the image of my Christian neighbors gathering in churches this time of year to sing Christmas-themed hymns, light candles, and wish one another well even when few seem to behave as if they mean it for more than one week out of the year. I'm glad I no longer have to join them, but that doesn't mean I don't still find the routine worth commenting on from time-to-time.

Then there are all the secular aspects of the holiday season centering around Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, enchanted snowmen, and the lies many parents tell their children. I find it particularly interesting how many atheists who are understandably proud of their skepticism are willing to set it aside this time of year when it comes to maintaining their children's belief in magic. My guess is that fewer and fewer children are buying the lies these days, and so I can't help finding it a bit odd that their otherwise skeptical parents would keep pushing this stuff.

And don't get me started on how interesting I find the "war on Christmas" hyped by conservative Christians every year! I've never been sure what percentage genuinely believe that their silly religion is under attack, but it is hard to argue with the success of the strategy in raising money for conservative causes.

Just because I don't participate in Christmas or any of the other December holidays doesn't mean they hold no interest. One can learn something about people, their beliefs, and the health of their culture by examining what they choose to celebrate and why. When I look at how most people in the U.S. celebrate Christmas, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that much of the religious meaning has been replaced with consumerism. Sure, Christmas is a religious holiday for many; however, it seems clear that it has also been secularized into something fairly different. I expect we'll see that trend continue.