After all the moving, etc., Marc and I decided that we really couldn’t do Christmas this year with family, and so had as close to a non-holiday as you get. We decided not to really do presents this year, because moving cost so much money, and the atheism and rather lackluster enthusiasm for traditions did the rest. We didn’t have a tree (I hate trying to rearrange around them and have never done a tree), just a cowboy Santa Claus my sister sent us. I did cook a big meal, on the grounds that there’s no time like the present to experiment, but the only even remotely traditional thing was the mashed potatoes, and even then they were sweet potatoes. I did end up participating in the grand holiday tradition of laying on my ass until I really couldn’t put off assembling that new thing that I got, but alas, it wasn’t a gift but shelving for my record collection that I had to buy because a small New York apartment means you don’t have room for records to be scattershot all over the living room.
But my relative non-participation shouldn’t be chalked up to hostility, when laziness is the better explanation. Which is why I agreed with this post by carr2d2 at Skepchick that the very few atheists who straight up want to boycott Christmas are misguided. Yes, it’s offensive that this national holiday is technically a religious one, and the handover of our entire society to it emboldens angry Christians to believe that non-Christians don’t count as much. But unfortunately, a boycott is the wrong way to go about it. But let’s look at the arguments for it boycotting Christmas, as described by carr:
Flynn’s argument, which appears to be shared by some of our readers, is a highly idealistic one, based on the idea that by going along with the holiday as it is, or even by celebrating an alternative holiday (Festivus, Newtonmas, Kwanzaa, etc.) a person helps to perpetuate a society in which Christianity is seen as the norm, and fundamentalism is tolerated. He views his refusal to participate as an act of consciousness raising. He hopes that letting people know that he doesn’t celebrate will reduce the arrogance he perceives in society’s insistence that everyone take part.
Carr fears that people will merely think of you as a crank or a weirdo, though:
In my opinion, you don’t win people to your cause by making yourself an alien. My philosophy is that people are more likely to respect your beliefs and listen to what you have to say if you show them that they can relate to you; that you are a regular person just like they are. Because of this, I think it is good to share in cultural holiday celebrations, especially ones like Christmas whose mainstream face is largely secular.
I will go a step further. I would say that when non-Christians either a) celebrate Christmas their own way or b) celebrate their own holidays that fall around Christmas as boisterously as possible, we are doing more than a boycott ever could to make Christmas a secular occasion, and therefore not a weapon of Christian dominance over the rest. The proof’s in the pudding; the people who claim there’s a “war on Christmas” mean that there’s a slipping of their right to feel superior to everyone else and their ownership of American society just because they are Christian. That’s why they get livid when they see the term “happy holidays”, which implies that other people have a right to have a holiday, and they won’t stand for it. And even those of us who enjoy Christmas itself, but not in the prescribed way, are considered a threat. Not much right now, because I don’t think the freaked out wingnuts are even much aware that people put up solstice trees or putting up ironic tree substitutes. (For years, I had a statue of a leopard that I would hang tinsel on and put presents under. It was smashed up in a move. A friend of mine does a Satanic Christmas tree, decorated exclusively with devils and skeletons, with red lights.) But as the practice of celebrating Christmas in your own, often secular way grows, then it’s sure to have an effect.
And plus, we should all stick it to Garrison Keillor, for writing this nasty essay, where he screeched about the nerve of Unitarians and Jews who think they have a right to write Christmas songs. To make his column even crankier, he lashes out at Ralph Waldo Emerson for rewriting “Silent Night” for his congregation, an incident that happened, in irreverent layman terms, a long fucking time ago. Has this been bugging Keillor his whole life, only to come out now in his cranky old age? Is he that desperate to find examples of people offending his delicate sensibilities that he has to reach that far into the past? Either way, it’s just a warm-up for what really offends him: Jews who wrote Christmas songs that have come to define the holiday.
This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.
Well, he’s fighting a battle that’s already been lost. Attacking Irving Berlin for writing “White Christmas” makes even less sense than attacking Ralph Waldo Emerson for rewriting “Silent Night”. “White Christmas” is a done deal. It defines the holiday more than a nativity scene now. We are all about Santa, snow, images of comfortable warmth in the home, presents, and yes, Rudolph. And that’s why it’s sort of silly for atheists to boycott the holiday, since something so secular and silly couldn’t have been better made for us. I’ll bet the first word that comes to most people’s mind when they think about what Christmas means to them is something like “love” or “family”, and not “Jesus”. And if they were to picture what Christmas looks like, it would probably involve, well, what I looked like at about 10PM last night: standing in my slippers over a piece of brand new furniture, screwdriver in one hand and glass of wine in the other, while we watched Christmas-themed episodes of “30 Rock”. Substitute “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “Elf”, and you probably have a scene that was going on in a majority of American households last night. Even on those few occasions in my life where church figured into Christmas celebrations, it was seen as a way to kill time before the big event, which was eating too much, opening presents, and then the inevitable setting them up and screwing around with your new stuff. Flinch at my bold materialism if you want, but don’t deny that you likely share it. Christmas mass, when I had to go, always felt to me like it was mainly there so that you could transition between the shopping mode to the eating-and-opening mode, with a little Jesus thrown in for the same reason that even adults who don’t believe in Santa Claus like Santa imagery. Because it’s tradition.
Secular Christmas won. Atheists should relish the victory and mull some wine. I understand that people that are from non-Christian religions might see it differently, but that’s because they have their own religious holidays to attend to, and Christmas has a different resonance in that context. But for non-believers? Screw it. We own this motherfucker just as much as the Christians. Peace on earth, y’all, and Disco Ball bless us, every one.