Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reflections on an Atheist Christmas

As Christmas rapidly approaches I found myself straining to come up with an article that properly addresses the season from an atheist’s perspective; one that hasn’t been done to death.

It would be easy to drag out the usual atheist harangue about Christmas having been co-opted from pagan winter solstice rites; about the pagan roots of the Xmas tree and Yule log; about how the traveling to Bethlehem story to be counted in a census was nonsensical and antithetical to Roman logic…etc., etc. But, while all factually correct, rehasing all that would be as interesting as watching “Charlie Brown's Christmas” for the 45th time or worse, listening to "Alvin and the Chipmunks" while trapped in an elevator.

Instead, something I saw posted on Facebook by an atheist caught my attention. It said this: “Ugh, it’s Christmas, the most annoying time of year for an atheist.”

I pondered that for a few seconds and found myself in total disagreement. More than that I couldn’t even understand how anyone could be annoyed by Xmas …well, besides store salespeople, UPS drivers, postal workers, and JW’s who view the celebration of Xmas as an abomination. What is it about a gift giving holiday that could make an atheist “annoyed”?

My earliest memory of Xmas and the excitement it heralded was as a four year old. My parents were non-practicing Jews. Perhaps “Theist-Lite” would be a good descriptor. But they always celebrated a secular Xmas for the kids as well as giving us one gift a night for each of the eight nights of Hanukah.

My mother brought my brother and I to the department store Santa with our wish list. We didn’t have a Xmas tree (that was for the "goyim"), but we did hang stockings. I recall on that Xmas Eve my father called my brother and I to the window and pointed out a flashing red light in the sky telling us we’d better get to bed because that sure looked like Santa flying in over Long Island.

Early the next morning we dove into a pile of carefully wrapped gifts, new tricyles & bicycles, sleds, and stockings full of goodies. I don’t recall ever being disappointed. Years later I often wondered how my father, who was totally non-mechanical, was able to assemble toys without their falling apart on the first touch.

My wife and I continued that tradition with our sons. Naturally, being a Christian of sorts, my wife is really into the decorating thing, and gift overload. The boys were never disappointed. Setting up bikes and Darth Vader’s Death Star Command Post, slot car race tracks, etc., through the night I was always a bit stressed to meet a deadline, but it was a labor of love.

Naturally the best Christmas' then as now were the snow covered ones … White Christmas’. With ten inches already on the ground and more on the way we’ll be having a White Christmas with our sons and their better halves this year here in New Hampshire. On Christmas Eve afternoon we’ll go down to the town garage and partake of their annual Xmas party amid the lifts, tires, and tool boxes. Later that evening we’ll stop by the neighbors for drinks and finger food with the neighborhood.

And in the morning aside the wood stove, sipping coffee in our jammies, Mrs. Hump and I will relive our own childhoods vicariously through the kids as they open their gifts, tease each other, make a mess with the paper, all while the dogs run through it yapping and chewing on their own new toys.

Christmas by any other name is a day of family if you’re lucky enough to have one. It’s a time to share drinks and food with friends. To show your appreciation to your loved ones and people who do so much for us throughout the year. And to share what bounty you have with those less fortunate.

For this atheist and his family it’s never been about impossible man-gods, or mythical virgin births, or denying reality. Just the opposite -- it’s a celebration of family, friends, and snow covered childhood memories. Nothing is more real than that.

Have a safe and fun holiday everyone … whatever you name it.


NewEnglandBob said...

Well said, Hump.

And you know what? I think for many, if not most theists it is a day of family, friends, and snow covered childhood memories.

P.S: leave "Alvin and the Chipmunks" alone! Especially Simon.

Shaw Kenawe said...

VEry well said.

I am a nontheist (raised a Catholic) who celebrates Xmas and the winter solstice.

I even have a manger scene set that I bought many, many years ago in Italy, which I display each year. Why? Because it's a sweet little mythical story, even if it never happened in December.

For me, Xmas is about family, friends, food and warmth.

We are a fully integrated family with Jews, Buddhists, Uni-Unis, Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, and a good many atheists.

Happy Festivus to all.

Tracey said...

I love xmas. I love the fun of decking the halls with tacky tinsel, the tree, the Santa village, power shopping, giving gifts, good food, fun and family and friends. If only I could convince the grinch I married how much fun xmas is, things would be perfect. Oh, and what NEB said. Quit dissin' on the Chipmunks. Santa Claus won't bring you any toys.

Glenn Livingston said...

Thanks Hump ... Ditto! :-)

Intriguingly, my parents were also two non-practicing Jews from New York City who raised me to celebrate Xmas. And now, I'm an atheist with two dogs in New Hampshire, just like you... go figure.

Have a very Happy Holiday and enjoy your wife and family!

Always look forward to your posts,

Dr. G :-)

Glenn Livingston said...

PS - Here's an unrelated question for you. I've got many agnostic friends who abstain from atheist and agnostic conversations with their religious friends.

They give many reasons, but ostensibly they all seem to boil down to respecting the immense difficulty most of the world has in facing the "existential black hole" which is our reality (kind of like the absurdity of Sartre, Camus, etc).

I have some formerly fundamentalist friends who describe this black hole with a sense of nausea which they feel it's inappropriate to force on anyone else by pointing out the flaws in their reasoning, or the flimsiness of their delusions.

I find myself somewhat, though far from completely compelled by these arguments as I think most people have the right to grow up when they're ready unless their immaturity is interfering with others, or the functioning of society as a whole.

I'm curious what you might think at your utter leisure,

G :-)

Anonymous said...

As long as Christ isn't shoved back into XMAS and the fundies continue to lose the culture wars, I'll tollerate it.

Ba Humbug,

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks all for your comments.
I'm not surpirsed that most of us have positive memories of the holiday season and enjoy it as a secular holiday. As Fastthumbs said... as long as Jeebus isn't intruding into our celebration of family and friends it's all good.

It never had anything to do with Jeebus in the first place...infact Mithra was the original god to be honored by the winter solstice. Jeebus worshippers should go find their own holiday.

Dr. G... to your question:
"existential black hole" boils down to the theist fear of "non-being." I've always found that very curious. I don't mean the natural fear of dying is curious, I mean the fear of not being around after one is dead. It doesn't compute with me.

As many people have pointed out we don't have any problem with our not having been part of the universe before our respective why one should fear not having an existence while the rest of the universe carries on after the finality of our death is something I can't even relate to.

I guess as atheists we are not as self centered as theists, or lack the need for immortality that they seem to crave and was promised to them by 2nd century cultists; or we have just reached a comfort level with death being just another part of life... something that theists reject as smacking of just too much reality.

I have no quams about expressing exactly what I just said to theists... and dismantling their imaginary fable. But then again, since I don't knock on doors evangelizing for reality, the subject rarely comes up in normal day to day discourse. I don't force my reason & reality on anyone in during normal social intercourse.

Thus, the subject if it arises will be typically introduced by the theists themselves, and then usually in response to finding out I'm an atheist; or as part of their basic proselytizing script.

When that happens, when they do that, then all bets are off, no holds are barred. Of course, this presupposes that I think my retorts to their wishful netherworld will have some effect...even if it is only to let them know not everyone is so emotionally crippled as to be dependent on post death immortality fables.

Dromedary Hump said...

PS: Alvin and the chipmunks are Satan's curse upon mankind in response to the Xmas season.
A pox upon them!! especially Simon.

NewEnglandBob said...

Methinks a sore spot was hit upon...LOL

Didn't you know that Simon of the chipmunks grew up and started a company, Simon Malls:

an S&P 500 company and the largest public U.S. real estate company.

/sarcastic nonsense

Angel said...

As a gnostic who would quite frankly rather take Jesus out of the Christmas holiday, I have a pretty secular appreciation for it. I've tried to teach my children to enjoy it as a time to appreciate family and friends and take the religious mumbo jumbo out of it no matter what they see their friends or the rest of their family do.

I think that if children are taught how to honor their family and friends and truly appreciate what they have then they can do just fine with those beliefs to guide them. No squalling, pissing, baby in a manger to worry about or give animal sacrifices to.

Rachelle said...

Cheers, Hump! :)

Happy Holidays!

Chipmunks rule! LOL!

Dromedary Hump said...

say good bye to Alvin. His cohorts are next.

NewEnglandBob said...

That picture looks fake. Those handsome military guys would be in snow if they were in your yard. That isn't your militia!

Dromedary Hump said...

That picture was taken during hunting season here in November. :)

Let's see Alvin resurrect himself now.

Tracey said...

Hey, Hump. That's a squirrel.

Dromedary Hump said...


Really? Hmmm... thats funny, 'cause he was singing "Jingle Bells" in this annoyngly high voice just before the guys blew his spleen out.

Glenn Livingston said...

Hump ... well said, agreed and understood :-) (I really do enjoy the discourse on your site and look forward to every post!)

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks, Glenn.
And don't forget to let me know when you and the other, and better looking, Dr. Livingston are going to be back in my area.

Anonymous said...

Just so you know there is a great song out there that basically sums up this argument and this post (really):

Dromedary Hump said...


That was excellent!! Thats my favorite Xmas carol now!