What is my reason for the season? I have been asked, in the past, how I celebrate Christmas as an atheist.
And aside from the fact that I should have told that person to shove their head where the sun don’t shine, I actually didn’t provide a very good or coherent argument on how Christmas is the perfect holiday for atheists, or what my actual reasons are.
Aside from the actual Nativity scene and common name, pretty much nothing about the act or celebration of Christmas has to do with Christianity. Unless your version of Christmas truly involves throwing a birthday party in a barn and scenting your house with frankincense, what you’re probably doing is getting visited by a sprightly, magical elfin man who bears mysterious presents as a reward for good behavior. Super Christian, considering the second commandment warns against false idols who should not be worshipped or cow-towed to (and I would imagine that a Christian god would see good behavior in exchange for gifts one day a year as a worshipful act).
What I celebrate is a spirit of Christmas, and for me, that has a lot to do with winter as a whole.
It’s no coincidence that December 25th, the date we celebrate Christmas, is one of the darkest days of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere where the holiday was invented). It’s freezing, snowy, and bleak. It’s long after the fall harvest, when fresh meat and vegetables are gone and the hope of planting new things to eat seems eons away.
The joy of Christmas– the goal of keeping things merry and bright– is to give you hope when there would otherwise be none. You celebrate on this random, cold, pitch-dark day the people you love and the people you keep around you. You celebrate with presents and tokens of affection– it’s about doing something small to cheer up the ones you love. Sure, that’s been blown way out of proportion by a modern consumerist culture that thinks you should strive to give someone a new Lexus with a giant bow on the roof. But the spirit of Christmas is: do something special for those you love, to brighten up the cold days ahead.
I don’t believe in a life after death, a heaven or a hell, or someone who has a plan for me. All I have is what is before me on this Earth: the people I love, what I work for, and what I make for myself. And the celebration of that, of love and togetherness, is all that Christmas really is.