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Ask An Atheist: Do you celebrate Christmas?

Editor's Note: Spokane Faith & Values has a new feature called “Ask An Atheist” where readers are invited to submit question to our atheist writers. Here's the fifth question that came in, and a response from one of our atheist writers.

Q. Do you celebrate Christmas?

A.  I do indeed celebrate Christmas, though obviously as a secular holiday. So as the mood takes me, Christmas tree and decorations go up, and I play Christmas albums and movies all the rest. Best album: the one the Mormon Tabernacle Choir did with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. Best Scrooge version: Alistar Sim's classic, hands down (and available in a stunning transfer on BluRay now days). All in all, with all its funky pagan accretions (gift giving elves and magic decorated trees and such) it has become too much fun as an event not to partake of what we will. In this respect I'm a bit like the Japanese, who do their Santa Claus thing every December devoid of its Christian roots, or people having Halloween parties (even though its roots are also Christian).

In a broader sense, Christians have a right to be very ambivalent about coopting such as mine, where the holiday is “celebrated” but without any of its theological underpinnings being accepted. Of course this has been the problem from the get-go, and you find devout party poopers bristling at the secular and pagan add-ons, while the holiday juggernaut rolls on notwithstanding. So in the long term, non-theist embracing of Christmas as secular fun could be deemed more of a subversive activity (worse than billboard wars) than were atheists to avoid the holiday entirely in a rush to have Solstice Parties instead.

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Mark Hilditch

I think I can identify with this view, in that, while I am a Christian Pacifist American (in that order!), I do take Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day off of work even though I do not acknowledge that militarism should warrant specific holidays. So, in a sense I “take” these days off but I do not believe in the value-system on which they are based. I wonder if Jim sees this as a valid analogy?

Jim Downard

Mark: it is very apt analogy, though with a few caveats. As a non-pacifist but still non-militarist atheist, I would note that Memorial Day and Veterans Day both ackowledge the sacrifice of those fallen in our conflicts, and not intrinsically a stamp on beligerancy or its historically contingent necessity (pro or con), whereas Christmas is at its core a celebration of the birth of a presumed deity, hence the secularized celebration of Christmas would be by its nature a more “subversive” action.

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