Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Why, As An Atheist, I Celebrate Christmas

I began this post with the opposite idea. Instead, I began by writing:

Why I Don't Celebrate Christmas

I'm an atheist. For many, that would be a good enough reason, and this post could just stop here. However, increasingly more non-religious and non-Christian-yet-still-believing people celebrate this holiday. For example,Richard Dawkins, "the world's most famous atheist", celebrates Christmas as well.. 

and stopped there. And then I started thinking. 

Several weeks ago, I was complaining that I didn't understand why some atheists celebrate Christmas. Even if you take away the part that involves Christ, God, Christianity, you still fall back on paganism and some sort of religious celebration, and we all know that atheists don't believe in deities. So they shouldn't be celebrating a holiday that is rightfully that of theists', right? Well, others could do what they wanted, but I wasn't going to go back on my principles. 

Except that I really do like giving people gifts and receiving them. Except that I do enjoy spending those days with loved ones. Except that I do appreciate the days in which no school or work is necessary (in most cases) and lie around the house catching up on reading, writing, and internet surfing. Except that I would really like to do this ecause it's extremely adorable. And except, of course, that I do love stuffing my face with food and enjoying a mug (or several) of rum-infused eggnog. And the catch is, that I enjoy doing all of these activities around this time of year. 

Unfortunately for me, these activities that I accept and enjoy doing to the point where it would take a large chunk of happiness out of me if I couldn't participate in them, though not necessarily religious on the most part, are cultural traditions of this holiday that extend a long way back. It wouldn't be fair to say that I don't celebrate at this time of year and then continue to take advantage of society's good nature. 

So, I have to admit that I really do celebrate this holiday and plan on doing so in the future as well. Why? Well, why not? 

As Christina Stephens says and as this article shows, Christmas is  steeped in different cultural, religious, and secular traditions and meanings--Norse, Roman, early Christian, etc. Various people have taken from these rituals whatever they have liked to the extent that they have even dubbed it originally theirs. For example, the Christmas tree that is a hallmark of the season is not Christian, though so many believers have one in their homes--it's pagan. Big feasts, kissing under the mistletoe, and exchanging gifts are also pagan customs and while, as an atheist, I do engage in some of these activities, I don't feel much guilt for doing so. I participate in many of the above actions at other times of the year as well, and simply because I give someone a gift on the 25th of December doesn't automatically make me a hypocrite. The fact that I'm participating in these actions right now give them a certain significance--a feeling of community, for example, that would not necessarily be present otherwise. I feel no need to apologize for engaging in a public holiday in which love, food, and rest are causes of celebration. Christmas is a melting pot that has been stirred too many times for there to be a squabble over whose holiday it truly belongs to. 

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