I was chatting with a friend the other day, she lives in Utah, has three kids and is very Atheist (she's the one who wrote that rant about Golden Compass I posted a few days back) and she mentioned something that gave me pause.
'I love that all my Atheist friends celebrate Christmas!'
Like I said, it gave me pause. She mentioned it because I was being ditsy and telling her about the cards I'd written (about thirty now), my decoration plans, the Christmas presents I was painting (yes, painting, I AM an artist after all), my tacky-Christmas earring collection (of which a pair I am currently wearing) and my Christmas tinkly-bell hair-tie (which I am also currently wearing).
It left me wondering. Why exactly DO Atheists like myself celebrate Christmas?
Yes, there's the usual 'I grew up with it and don't want my own kids to miss out' or 'It was a winter celebration long before the Christians ever took over' or even 'It's just so much fun!'
(Personally, I adhere to that last one.)
But I'd like to know WHY. It's just a day like any other, the only difference being that it has a three day holiday over it (unless it falls on a weekend) in the UK and the USA. None of the other various religious days in December have this, ostensibly because the West is predominantly Christian (in it's varying forms).
I mean - it wasn't until the 1840's that we even started sending Christmas cards! And it was 'A Christmas Carol' that turned the holiday into something about family and similar, rather than just the religious and commercial overtones. Apparently, Christmas even fell out of favour in the USA for a number of years after the US Revolution, because it was seen as a purely 'English' celebration (it was only declared a proper Holiday, by President Grant, in 1870!)
Again, the standard Santa Claus/Father Christmas/Saint Nicholas /Kris Kringle/Whatever name you give him, was only settled on in the 1920's, after years of different designs (and no, Coca-Cola did not invent the Red Santa - but it is true that the design became widespread after advertisers picked up on the image.)
The Christmas Tree itself is reported to have started out it's life in Germany and was imported over to the UK (and about the same time in the USA) in the 1700's. The first time the name 'Christmas Tree' is recorded is in 1835.
I remember being told, as a child, that the silver tinsel used to decorate the tree is to commemorate the fact that Jesus hid from some soldiers in a cave once and spiders spun webs over the entrance to help hide him - the webbing then glinted and glistened in the moonlight - giving rise to the tinsel. (Honestly? I think this is a load of bull.)
It's basically just a bunch of new and old traditions, smooshed together and planted on a day that no-one even knows for sure really had anything to do with any religion. (Apart from the Roman one - Sol Invictus, a festival held on December 25th)
The Winter Solstice happens on the 21st, Saturnalia was the 17th and Yule (or Jul as it is known in Scandinavia) happens for twelve days over late December (guess where the Twelve Days Of Christmas comes from?)
I mean - if we're Atheist, none of this should matter in the slightest to any of us. It really is just a random date in the year. Why do we, the non-religious, the sceptics, the free-thinkers, celebrate a day so wrapped up in various traditions, customs and controversies that hold no meaning for us?
I can't really get my head around it!
I suppose all I can do, until someone enlightens me on this subject, is sit back, tinkle my hair-bells, wrap presents, write cards and sing along to my Christmas Albums. Because, despite everything, I still find the season far too much fun to give up.