Wherever you are, whoever you are, I’d like to kick off this holiday season by wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas.
I was a child reared in the full ecstasies of this fine holiday, just like you probably were. We had the tree, with the ornaments, many of which I made out of egg cartons, glitter, and glue. We had stockings. I spent as many hours as possible watching television specials regarding the mythology of one Santa Claus and the other usual suspects, such as Rudolph, such as Frosty the Snowman, and all the rest of them. I think this mythology captured and haunted me most of all.
Through all of it, through all of the slipper socks and hot chocolate, and the fine, fine bicycle I received one year (denim-themed, I believe, with a banana seat, that bike is probably still being tooled around on by some young cousin I’ve never met in Scammon, Kansas), there are themes that come through to a young, impressionable mind. Universal themes. Peace. Love. Goodwill.
There were other mythologies that were not at work in my house. I was reared without religion. My parents did not have me study the Bible growing up. The first time I experienced the Bible, I think I was 6, and I was tagging along for Sunday school with friends after a sleep-over. And this batty old lady was going on about this old guy who built this big boat when it started raining or something. I was all like, huh?
I have to my ripe old age of 44 maintained a belief in secular humanism, or, as some might call it, “atheism,” and I have had reason recently to feel reinforced in that belief. This is not from a lack of seeking. I have read and studied the Bible. I have prayed. I have attended religious observances of many flavors, from Seders to Catholic services to Christian Science, and just for shits and giggles, I have cast a few circles under the full moon. At this point, this is where I have landed. The genesis story I put faith in sounds like this: Billions of years ago, something happened. And then space, time, and matter existed.
It doesn’t really sound that much different from the one in that book, actually.
Anyway, I can tell you that a secular kid can have some trouble with the whole Christmas thing during his development, at least, that was my experience. I was conflicted, though there was no reason to be. Because there has been and is a growing cultural meme that Christmas is some sort of exclusive club, and that only those who believe in the Christ need bother. I mean, look what we’ve already got this year from Maureen “Pat” Robertson, commenting on a brush up they had in Santa Monica over a public Nativity scene. Santa Monica had to end up scrapping the whole thing because last year the Atheists won like 80 percent of the available booths in the lottery they had, and that only after protesting for years that a public forum needs room for those voices.
The Grinch is trying to steal our holiday. It’s been so beautiful, the nation comes together, we sing Christmas carols, we give gifts to each other, we have lighted trees and it’s just a beautiful thing. Atheists don’t like our happiness. They don’t want you to be happy. They want you to be miserable. They’re miserable so they want you to be miserable. So they want to steal your holiday away from you.
I have news for Pat. In the United States, most nonbelievers also at least acknowledge Christmas. I, for one, celebrate it with full throat.
In 2010, Lifeway Research polled that: “…nine in 10 Americans (91 percent) personally celebrate Christmas and those aren’t all self-identified Christians. A majority of agnostics or those claiming no preference (89 percent), individuals claiming other religions (62 percent), and even atheists (55 percent) celebrate Christmas along with 97 percent of Christians.”
I’m not sure that Lifeway liked its own results. But it indicates to me anyway that Christmas is too grand and too universal to be considered only in the light of the Nativity. It is, I think, our nation’s winter holiday as a whole. I have come to the conclusion that there should be no reason to wrinkle one’s nose when wished a Merry Christmas instead of a more generic Happy Holidays. There should be no reason. But there is. There is, because each year Bill O’Reilly does his segments on the “war on Christmas,” and because there is always this perennial tug-of-war and statements of the notion that if you’re a non-believer, you don’t deserve to decorate that tree.
I think it’s a shame. Because Christmas, considered as a national, all-inclusive holiday with powerful stories and themes of generosity and noble intentions, is a far more powerful and joyous holiday than one that keeps pointing fingers and lecturing about the “reason for the season.”
So. Merry Christmas. I myself can’t wait.