I have recently been decorating for the Yule festival as mentioned in yesterdays post. Things are progressing well and the weekend should see it done. As it is December I feel justified in looking forward to the Holiday.
“But hang on,” I hear you cry festively. “Verily and lo, wast he not regaling our poor ears recently, bemoaning Christians for trying to force their beliefs upon us? Is this not a tad hypocritical?” Well verily I was and lo I standeth by my post most strongly. Your question gets to the nub of the dilemma for a practising atheist such as myself.
I consider myself honest and I stand by my principles, but this presents a problem and not a little twang of guilt every december. It’s OK it doesn’t last long. Technically I should treat the Holiday as any other day. A little quieter than most but a normal day. But I don’t and here’s why.
I was raised as a non practicing Christian. For a brief while, and in order to try to conform in later youth, I was confirmed into the Church of England but common sense soon kicked in. However, as a child, my parents celebrated Christmas in a secular way. Many did. The religious trimmings were all there but I can never remember going to church on Christmas day. We did the Nativity play and sang carols at school. There was always a Nativity scene near the tree. That was as far as it went.
In common with many who are Christians, many who claim to be and the vast majority who treat Christianity as an Elastoplast for the soul, I celebrate Christmas for the tradition and in order to carry it on for the next generation. It is also, as pointed out in ‘A Christmas Carol’, a time when people make attempts to talk to and think about their fellow man without the filters we normally apply. It stopped the bloodshed in WW1 and that alone was worth celebrating.
But let’s go back to those ‘Trimmings’ they are not all Christian. The Christmas tree, the Holly and the Ivy and the mistletoe are all potent pagan symbols to do with fertility and rebirth. The young Christian church had a habit of co-opting Pagan rituals for their own festivals. The Hare at Easter became the Easter bunny and was originally in honour of Eostre, a pagan Goddess. Mayday speaks for itself and Christmas was the Midwinter festival. It was no coincidence that the winter solstice is December 21st.
The last example goes back beyond even Paganism. The standing stones around England were all tied in with the Solstices.
Now I am no more a Pagan than a Christian but the Midwinter festival has been celebrated in one form or another since time immemorial and that is another good reason to observe it.
That is the long, involved version but I celebrate for a much simpler reason. Like all my fellow men and women I face a struggle day to day. We try to ensure that we have a happy and comfortable life. It is becoming harder each year. So Christmas is, in the end, a way of saying ‘Hey we made it for another year!’ That is well worth celebrating.
There is though, an underlying and much simpler answer even than this. I love Christmas, I have done so since I was a child. For me Santa is the Christmas God and I believe in him, he lives in our minds. I don’t intend to stop enjoying Christmas soon. So I celebrate, if that is hypocritical then so be it.