Vail Daily column: How an atheist loves Christmas
January 8, 2014
It's simple, really, for just about anyone, anywhere to enjoy the time of year we call Christmas.
The word itself is more symbolic of the holiday season than any other word Americans have come up with for the past few centuries. Yes, I know us red, white and blue types did not "invent" the word, but we've certainly helped redefine its meaning (Black Friday, anyone?).
Yet I can't help but laugh each December when one group or another claims ownership of the season, as if to deny anyone outside of their group from partaking in the festivities.
For quite a few millennia, this exact same time of year was referred to as the "Winter Solstice," with multiple cultures interpreting it multiple ways, none the exact same, but all involving gatherings, rituals, festivals and the like. It's always been a holiday of sorts, but the bottom line was to highlight our sun at its southernmost point in the sky, signifying our shortest day and longest night of the year. Ancient civilizations used it as a marker for the depth of their winter food supplies and how much longer they had to wait before spring planting.
It usually falls around Dec. 21.
Predictably though, the next few weeks have been hijacked by a number of religious groups over time, none with malicious purpose of course, but all to take some level of advantage over the masses, especially since they were celebrating anyway.
For example, the fourth century Roman church had the brilliant idea of having a mass for their particular deity, Christ, to eclipse the Dec. 25 festivities of a rival pagan religion, Mithraism.
But it wasn't until 1870 that the Americans declared Christmas a national (though secular) holiday, and we've made it a rousing commercial success ever since. We also happily built upon the traditions of decorating trees, sending cards, presenting gifts and getting hammered at the office Christmas party.
The Jews have Hanukkah, Christians have Christmas, Muslims have Ramadan, African-Americans have Kwanzaa, Scientologists have the Hubbard Overlord Day (or some nonsense like that) and various Pagan groups still call it "Winter Solstice" — each attempting to celebrate something indigenous to their belief systems, yet all showing the goodness that mankind truly has to offer itself, and that's what I love.
So as a non-theist, I simply say whatever the reasons for celebrating in your own heart, it doesn't matter to me as long as you can lower your cynical defenses for a few weeks and pretend to like people perhaps more than you really do. Christmas provides us all a chance to breath, an opportunity to prove to ourselves and each other that the world in general is not really as bad as the headlines might seem to dictate. It is the temporary cessation of reality that causes most everyone to smile (even at total strangers), tips to be larger, food to taste better, drinks to have more flavor, hugs to last longer, snow to be deeper and makes most of us more excited than a tea partier at a Sarah Palin speech.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Christmas means to me, regardless of whether you call it Allahmas, Kwanzamas, Hanukahmas or simply the holiday season.
The meaning is the same.
Richard Carnes, of Edwards, writes weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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