An Atheist’s Christmas
December 22, 2011 2 Comments
I was asked to write something about Christmas, to be read on air, for our radio show, Quaddro Kantos. Here’s my essay on how this atheist views Christmas:
For many years I believed in a jolly fat white man who came from the sky and showered gifts upon me. Even when reality was strained, even though I lived in California and there were no chimneys through which he could pass with his giant bag of gifts, even when I had already caught my mother typing a “letter from Santa,” I held on doggedly to my belief because the world would become so much harder and harsher if I had to stop believing in Santa Clau
It was pretty much the same when I became an atheist. The weight of science, physics, logic, and the development of my own moral code and belief system based on my reading of various religious texts and search for meaning led to the most logical solution, and something that I could believe in, despite my years of Catholic school and what was what I once believed to be the fervent burning fire of faith in my heart. I believe, ultimately, in science, they physical laws of the universe, the improbability of life in the vastness of the cosmos, and the miracle that is man. And in the face of all this improbability, we have a responsibility to ourselves, our species, our planet, and the universe, to do amazing things.
My life hasn’t changed much since my “coming out” as an atheist. It also hasn’t changed the fact that Christmas, and the holiday season in general, are my favorite time of year. I love the finery, the decorations, the spirit of the season. My sister, who is younger but way cooler than I am, thinks I am a spaz or a big softie because sometimes on cab rides home I still point out Christmas light displays or houses decorated for the season.
I know people would think that my non-belief puts a damper on the season. But really that’s not it. In much the same way that we now expect Christians to respect Muslim holidays and vice versa, I think that we can also include atheists in this mix. Further, while I won’t believe in certain aspects, such as divinity, I will wholeheartedly admit that I totally dig the philosophy of Jesus. Atheism doesn’t mean we can’t respect, understand, appreciate, or like things.
I love Christmas music. I mean, come on, I still love Handel’s “Messiah,” George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” or Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” regardless of my belief system. Beauty is beauty, and it’s a glory and wonder that the human mind can appreciate and create such things. So yeah, I still love my Christmas music and often my old Catholic school boy training comes in and I can still mouth the lyrics in Latin when I hear the melodies, doing this sometimes when I’m walking in the mall. But once the music disappears, my knowledge of Latin does too.
What does my Christmas look like? Pretty much the same as yours. And with the globalization and commodification of the holiday and its symbols, the monikers and logos and items of the season, then we can be sure that it’s pretty much the same the world over, whether it’s in the first or third world, or elsewhere.
I’ll be up late for noche buena, having my fill of queso de bola and ham. I’ll be giving some gifts, while also hoping to receive some too. And I will be sharing in a season that celebrates families, love, and the coming of new life that renews and rejuvenates. The most important thing about the season, the birth of someone who forced the entire world to change for the better, is what we get together and sing about, feast about. That’s because we all should aspire to make the world better, no matter where we’re from or what we believe in.