Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Being an atheist during the holidays

I am taking a brief break from writing about the existence of Jesus for a timely post.

As my first post-deconversion holiday season approaches, I felt it was appropriate to get my thoughts organized regarding Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Of course I have been non-religious for decades, but this is the first holiday season where everyone who is close to me now knows I don't believe in gods and oppose all religion. 

So, what do I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas as a now-secular person? Thanksgiving is a peculiar holiday because it marks when America was brutally stolen from Native Americans, so first it's vile. But, I can see the value in taking a day during the year to reflect on that which you are grateful; it's just sad that it coincides with the stealing of land and the killing and raping of Indians. 

The other reason it's a peculiar holiday is believers are quick to claim Thanksgiving as a religious holiday. There's nothing religious about it. When they choose to thank some invisible man in the sky, that's a man-made tradition, but it certainly doesn't mean the day is for Christians or Jews, etc. If people want to say grace, that's their prerogative, but I have to admit it's going to be a little awkward the next time I'm in the presence of it, especially if those saying it are aware of my beliefs. 

Should family and friends be given equal say, like political figures on television stations during an election year? What if I were a Jew and someone thanked baby Jesus like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights? A Jew doesn't believe in Jesus, so can we thank Yahweh, too? What if I were a Satanist? Would you mind if I thanked Lucifer for the stuffed turkey? Why not? It offends you? Welcome to my world when you thank your god. In the past I have been forced/pressured to read a phrase or two as part of a group grace and I have been asked to announce what I'm thankful for in a sort of roundtable discussion before we ate (My response was, "I'm thankful we don't do this at my house.").

We generally don't celebrate Thanksgiving with my religious family anymore and we just keep it a small affair with our kids, so this won't come up unless we venture out somewhere else again. But Christmas is an entirely different animal. 

Will I celebrate Christmas given that Christ is baked right into the title? Here's the deal: Christmas doesn't have to be religious. In fact, its origins are rooted in pagan rituals and the celebration of the winter solstice (Most holidays are celebrations of new seasons, such as Easter-Spring, Halloween-Autumn, etc.) 

Saturnalia, famously described by Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, was an ancient Roman festival that honored Saturn, the god of agriculture, on Dec. 17 (eventually expanded through Dec. 23). The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice in the Roman Forum, followed by a feast and gifts. Hundreds of years later, when Rome came under Christian rule, Christmas morphed into the winter solstice holiday. So, while Saturnalia could be considered religious, it certainly wasn't Christian, and just because Christians murdered their way into Roman leadership doesn't make the winter solstice religious.

So, can this holiday be secular? Certainly. I can celebrate the fact that the shortest days are behind us and the warmer weather is on the way. Carol of the Bells and Jingle Bells are two of my favorite songs and they are in no way religious.

Also, I can be happy my friends and family feel this day is important for them. What I don't care for is the disgusting commercialism and pressure to make this day special by exchanging mostly meaningless gifts. I also reject the overall notion that anyone who doesn't believe in the Christian Christmas or the exchanging of gifts is a grinch. I despised this tradition for years, and now it only makes sense why.

But has it affected me, being an atheist during this time? Perhaps. I already see things very differently. Last year, my wife (also an atheist) was a major contributor to a Christmas food drive party, but this year, while we will still be donating a ton of food to a secular charity, we won't be attending the food drive. Why? The charities that will be the benefactors from this party are religious, and while religious groups can be helpful, a lot of them aren't good for goodness' sake. Many choose to withhold their contributions until the needy hear a sermon, etc. When people are hungry, feed them, don't convert them. So, yes, my views have changed.

Will I see my religious family on Christmas? Yes, and if religion is a part of that day, I will just remain silent and remember that I love my family above all else. But in my mind I'll know that Christ, if he did exist, certainly wasn't born on that day and Christmas is really just a celebration of putting the cold weather behind us and feeling the warmth that's on the way.

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