December is just around the corner and the the annual rhetoric around the holiday season is starting to heats up. Yes folks, it's the whole "War on Christmas" thing. Particularly popular with the FOX News crowd, insecure Christians of every stripe manage to get a little hot under the collar at the very idea that this season might be about anything but Christmas. If you hang out on any of the social networking sites like Facebook, you've already seen friends post things like this.
"It's not Happy Holidays. It's Merry Christmas! Hit Like and Share if you agree." Or perhaps you've seen this one: "I'm keeping Christ in Christmas and putting up a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree" (as though a Christmas tree has anything to do with keeping Christ in Christmas) and a million variations on the theme. In short, well meaning fans of the Christmas holiday season are worried that there's a war going on, a war that can only end when Christmas has been cancelled. For good.
As a raving atheist and obnoxious anti-theist , it's time for me to come clean on my own views regarding the holiday seasons. But first a little history.
Christmas is a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe in the guy or not, that's really the idea behind Christmas. That's what the manger, baby Jesus, and a whole whack of Christmas carols are all about. That said, putting Christmas on December 25th has less to do with Christ and more with trying to make Christianity palatable to Pagans in the early Christian years. Few people had a clue as to when, exactly, Jesus was born and it wasn't until sometime around the fourth century that the Church pegged December 25th as the big day. Since countless cultures on the planet have historically held some kind of celebration around the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, it made sense to use this time of year to slide Christmas into the calendar. The Romans already had a big thing going with Saturnalia and it already landed around the week of December 25th, so it was perfect timing.
The solstice is why so many religions have a holiday in and around the end of December. In less enlightened days, we saw the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and the temperature get colder. It was scary stuff. But when the solstice was upon us, we knew that the days would start to get longer, the nights shorter, and the season warmer (at least in the northern hemisphere). People who had been feeling depressed suddenly got happier. They threw big parties with elaborate feasts and they filled their world with light. Fire and light. People were doing the winter holiday thing long before anyone had hear of Jesus and the little drummer boy. It was the solstice. Time to party.
Now I love a good solstice celebration as much as the next guy. Come to think of it, I love a good solstice celebration better than a lot of guys I've met.
I have no trouble with the holiday being called "Christmas" and yes, at my non-believing house, we put up a "Christmas tree" and sing "Christmas carols". One of my favorite Christmas carols is "Oh Holy Night" and it doesn't get much more religious than that one; sung with conviction and a beautiful voice, the song can bring tears to my eyes. I love the giving and receiving of gifts and I love seeing my frends and family gathered together to enjoy an otherwise cold and unpleasant time of year. I say "Merry Christmas", kiss under missletoe, and send out Christmas cards, complete with our annual Christmas letter. I watch Christmas movies, both secular (e.g. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") and Christian (e.g. "A Chalie Brown Christmas"). I totally get into Christmas, but not because I'm a Christian. I gave that up a long time ago. I do it because it's Christmas and Christmas is fun for me. I've played Santa Claus and worn the red suit many a year.
I also say "Happy Holidays" and "Joyous Solstice" and "Happy Haukkah" as the situation presents itself. It's a happy time and I like to see people happy, especially when they are enjoying the happiness and company of others. When it's Christmas, it's Christmas and when it's Hanukkah, it's Hanukkah. Ditto for all the other calendar-entrenched holidays. It's the solstice and every culture since the dawn of time has had some kind of celebration around the shortest day of the year. Deal with it.
So that's my war on Christmas. Getting people to see that it's okay to say "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah", and "Happy Holidays", or whatever feels right to you when you're greeting others with warmth and friendship, and stop being so damned hung up on the whole thing. Take a holiday pill people and get into the spirit. It's the solstice and it's time to party. Have your fun and make sure you let others have theirs too.