Christmas is a religious festivity – us atheists should not recognise it – do you agree?
This was a question posed by NewcastleBoy via twitter a few days ago. I decided I’d answer it here on my blog instead of twitter because it needs more than 140 characters to provide a full explanation.
Firstly, where did the modern day Christian Christmas season and festivities come from? Why was the 25th December chosen as Christmas Day?
There is no evidence that the 25th December was Jesus’ birthday despite this being cited as the reason for that day being chosen (there is no evidence that Jesus ever existed at all, but that’s another story). Some say the 25th was just a date chosen to commemorate his birthday, much like the Queen of England’s birthday is celebrated at various dates around the world. It has been said that the 25th was chosen as that is the winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere) or that it coincided with historical Roman festivities. I tend to think that those reasons are most likely; with the church trying to convert the pagans into christians there are definite advantages to just accosting the pagans’ days and rituals and converting them to christian equivalents.
Of course the Jews aren’t very big on Christmas, not recognising Jesus as a god and all that, and one has posted an article (despite the anti-christian rant) on the historical origins of Christmas. There are many more of these on the internet, Christians really should learn about the pagan origins of many of their celebrations and rituals, they might be quite surprised.
So the the origins of Christmas are most likely Roman and pagan festivals accosted by the Christians, but where does that leave modern atheists when it comes to recognising those traditions?
Like many people in Anglo countries (America, UK, Australia, large sections of Europe, etc) many of us are what could be called “Cultural Christians”. In so much that the Christian faith is the biggest (by numbers) of all the many faiths. Many of us, myself included, were raised as Christians and were brought up in an environment where Christmas was a big part of the Christian way of life. So to some extent celebrating Christmas is more of a cultural thing than a Christian thing.
Cultural Judaism is well recognised and many Jews call themselves atheists but still adhere to some of the Jewish rituals. I suspect many Christians are the same, in Guy Harrison’s book 50 Reasons (see my review) he talks about cultural Christians and sees no problem with it.
So to answer the original question. I believe atheists should not recognise Christmas as that in some way condones religion and belief in God.
However, I think these days many people just view Christmas as a time to have a few days off and get together with friends and family and celebrate life and friendship (and drink and eat too much). Christmas can be, and is to many people, celebrated without any reference to religion; barring the word Christmas meaning Christ’s Mass. These days even some non-christian nations celebrate Christmas.
Despite it’s religious overtones, I enjoy the idea behind Christmas as a day to give people presents and to share a table with family and friends, and I’ll still put up a Christmas tree (This years is going to be even more outrageous than last years, stay tuned for some pictures in a few weeks time).
I guess in some ways I’m being hypocritical, celebrating Christmas despite not believing in God or Jesus and being non-religious, but heck it’s fun. Perhaps one day Christmas will become a purely pagan ritual again? We could change the name and still have the day off, drink and eat too much, and have a great time with family and friends. After all that’s all Christmas is to me and many others.
As I have no family here, what little I have are interstate, Christmas day is mainly with friends these days. Despite being on my own I will still be doing the Champagne and Croissant breakfast on the morning of the 25 December. You are all very welcome to attend, just let me know if you are coming so I have enough bubbles and food on hand. 🙂
But there’s more…
Interestingly, as a child many children are taught by their parents (authority figures) that Santa Claus is real and that he brings them presents (reward for being good) or not if they’ve been bad (punishment for not-believing). Much like from birth those same children are taught god is real and that he also rewards the good (promise of heaven) and punishes the bad (fear of hell).
Not surprisingly, eventually children learn that Santa is not real, that he is a made up story, that it is highly improbable that he could deliver presents to everyone on the planet. They realise that there is no credible evidence for Santa, so stop believing in him. Surprise surprise nothing bad happens when they stop believing in Santa, they still get presents from their parents, though now they know it’s them, not a mythical being, that provides the presents.
Strangely many of these same children remain believers in a god, despite there being no more credible evidence for a god than there is for a Santa Clause. Very strange indeed. From personal experience, and from what many others have told me, much like when you stop believing in Santa nothing bad happens, nothing bad happens when you stop believing in god(s).
In fact many people are much happier and content when they no longer have to fear or worry about god. It’s actually easier to live life when you no longer have to try to live up to some mythical god(s) expectations. If you are a believer perhaps you should think about that this Christmas.
So my answer:
Atheists shouldn’t recognise Christmas as a religious festivity, and I don’t.
But what do you think, should non-believers recognise and/or celebrate Christmas?