Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 12.24.08

In this era of political correctness, many find it safest to say “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas”. But most of the components of the holiday are rooted in pagan rituals, and Christmas has become so commercialized that most of the traditions have little to do with the birth of Jesus. Even Richard Dawkins has a Chrismas tree and asserts that the holiday has become so divorced from religion that he says “Merry Christmas” without hesitation.

There’s much discussion about what, if any, holiday non-theists should celebrate. And Christians are sometimes offended when non-theists celebrate Christmas, despite Christianity’s late appropriation of the winter solstice festivities. However, in light of the source of the December celebration, the proliferation of Santa Claus tales, and the focus on food, presents, and merriment (as opposed to the birth of Christ), it may actually be the most appropriate holiday for non-theists to observe.

Is Christmas still a religious holiday? Or does its origin and recent commercialization render the religious component “optional”?

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21 Comments

  1. Some of my theist friends feel weird wishing me Merry Christmas, and I pointed out that I celebrate the holiday pretty much exactly like they do with present, food, and family! It’s so secularized as to be nearly non-religious, minus the going to sunrise mass.

    I don’t think much on the Christian element of the holiday at all, until I came back to the very Catholic neighborhood of my childhood, and there are “Happy Birthday Jesus” signs all over…

  2. In the fundamentalist church where I was held captive for 18 years, we were told that Christmas was not a religious holiday. We rarely had a tree, but did exchange gifts.

    I celebrate Christmas as a cultural, secular holiday. Why throw the good out with the bad?

  3. I hate Christmas as a comercialist holiday. It’s not that I’m anti-commercialism, but I despise Christmas and everything it stands for, religion or no. It’s one big 2 month orgy of excess and waste. I try to just sit back and enjoy the time off, but every time I go to the grocery store I’m bombarded with CHRISTMAS!! everywhere I turn…or hear.

  4. Christmas was a religious holiday? I’ve been saying Merry Christmas all day today without thinking much about any religious implications. I’ve also told folks to have a good Christmas and a happy Christmas and signed one Christmas card (I could say all of them, since it’s the only one I’ve signed) with Happy Christmas and Merry New Year.

    So, any affiliation to religion is all in the mind of the beholder. Personally it is a fully secular holiday and has been since the U.S. Federal Government declared it one some time late in the 1800’s.

    John B. Sandlin

  5. Those who know I’m an atheist sometimes wonder at our decorated tree, stockings, and big family turkey-eating extravaganza, which amazes me since where in the Bible are the trees & stockings & stuffed turkeys? It’s become a secular holiday for the secularists, and remains a religious holiday for Christians — pretty straightforward, I’d say.

    Everybody needs a midwinter celebration. Which leads me to wonder: what pagan ritual have those in the southern hemisphere appropriated for their dark days of June?

  6. When I was religious I used to think that it was sad that people celebrated Christmas who weren’t Christian. Christmas was always about Jesus and church and religion for me. Since becoming the godless heathen that I am today, I had to decide how to celebrate, since my family still does. After gaining a little perspective about how most of the traditional elements of Christmas have nothing to do with Jesus’ birth (trees, lights, parties and drinking) I figured I could just make it about spending time with people I love. Besides, with everyone I know suffering from SAD its nice that we have an excuse to get together and avoid falling deeper into depression.

  7. The Christian element of Christmas begins and ends with the name, it’s a wonderfully secular holiday. It’s strange to me that Christians would want to inject the little baby Jesus in to a bastardization of pagan traditions and commercialism, especially when Jesus probably wasn’t born in winter. That’s fine with me, even if it seems strange. But the lack of perspective of people who see it was a wholly and holy Christian thing, that’s bothersome.

  8. As long as we have freedom of expression and can celebrate whatever the hell we want to whenever we want to, and in whatever manner we want to, then it doesn’t matter who thinks they “own” Christmas. I enjoy the traditions in my own way and I want everybody else to do that too, as long as all the various beliefs and traditions can co-exist. So, it really doesn’t matter that it is considered a religious holiday by some, as long as they don’t try to enforce its religious nature on anybody else. Let it be. And just *can* it, Bill O’Reilly!

    And as we know, Americans can make a holiday out of anything. I even love the Cinco de Mayo “tradition.” We don’t need much of an excuse to party. ;)

  9. Only two persons (out of twelve, ironically) in my family know that I view the bible and christianity in the same way that that I view other myths – good philosophy here and there, but not valid in terms of creation, etc.

    I told my brother “J” that I don’t believe in god not all that ago. Not that it matters, but I was born and lived outside Buffalo (NY), spent the high side of seven years in Phoenix, was handed a “free ticket to ride” to West Paln Beach. He knows I live my life as morally as anyone. He knows I have a tree, house lights, and sent everyone personally selected gifts as I always do.

    When I came home, I found he sent six emails about how christmas is all about horw jesus christ is what christmas is about, and that is what the traditional American Christmas is all about.

    I’m going ballistic here, and I apologize for venting.

    Writing this has released a bit of my steam, but I’ll wait until tomorrow, and rip. Gives me time to think.

    Sorry for the bad comment.

  10. To paraphrase Bono from Rattle and Hum about “Helter Skelter”, “The Christists stole the Solstice from the Pagans, we’re stealin’ it back!” I think outside of the overtly religious, Christmas is a totally secular holiday. Those who are part of a religious tradition may add prayers or songs that match their attitudes, but for most, it is a time of family, friends and feasting.

    I blame Linus Van Pelt for all this “Real meaning of Xmas’ leading to the “War on Xmas”. You can’t trust those religionists that hide behind a blankey and a smooth tongue. ;)

  11. I do agree with Kimbo though about the extended Thanksgiving-Xmas-NewYears spend and binge mentality, though. Three separate days of celebration would be much better for everyone. But we can choose not to participate in it and tune out the commericalism.

  12. It is totaly optional. The religous are able to celebrate it in a religous way and can congratulate themselves on keeping it religous. Also this can make many of them happy. So that is okay. For most people it hasn’t been religous since the time of Dickens. Now it is mainly a marketing tool. But you can still have some fun with your friends and family. What is wrong with some fun?

  13. Having been brought up Jewish without christmas, I still have something of a mental block about it. Christmas still seems like a christian thing for christians. Fortunately, however, I’ve ended up in a very heathen country where even the word for christmas is still the original pagan yule, and where the christian elements in the festival are so downplayed as to be almost invisible. So God Jul to all and sundry from Denmark.

  14. Xmas has nothing to do with jesus.

    As for the “recent” commericalisation of Xmas, well it’s pretty much been a commercial holiday since the Kolnishe Weinnachtenmacht started in the early middle ages (they even claimed to have the heads of the three kings in the cathedral to drum up trade for the market!)

    True the whole presents based xmas has only been around for about 150 years, prior to that it was primarily about feasting, drinking, partying and an excuse to feel up to opposite sex via thiny veiled as “party games” (it’s only when adults play “children’s” party games, sans children, you realise just how racy musical chairs can be)

  15. Let’s just face it; Christmas is not, and for that matter, never really was, a religious holiday. It started as a way to convert pagans to Christianity; it has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, death, or rebirth. (Incidentally, why isn’t there a redeath? Just a random question.) It was purely a rather smooth stealing of the existing solstice celebration. Which is kinda ironic, since Christmas isn’t on the 21, which is the solstice.

    Anyway.

    Christmas, by now, has just become a chance to spend (or make) a boatload of money. It really kind of disgusts me. The idea is supposed to be that warm, fuzzy feeling of giving a gift. Instead, it’s become the less warm, less fuzzy, but no less satisfying feeling of getting a gift.

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