So, why would atheists care about Christmas?
Parties! Free stuff!
Eh, that’s not an answer.
I’ll begin with a point that’s sure to aggravate people (but hey, I don’t care): Christmas is not a Christian holiday. Aside from the fact that it’s been thoroughly secularized in the US at least, let’s go to Linus for a look at what Christmas really means (courtesy of New2Torah)
Western civilization had Christmas before Christianity and hundreds of years hence, when Christianity will be as relevant to Western civilization as Zeus and Osiris are today, we’ll still have Christmas. Christians will have to get used to the fact that they don’t own the holiday season; they’re just the most prominent current tenants. Much of what we recognize today as “traditional Christmas celebration” only started in the 19th century, as Dr. Michael Kogan of Montclair State University explained at this holiday meeting of our Philosophy and Religion Club:
You’ll have to turn the volume up quite a bit for that. My apologies, it was one of the first videos I took with a cell phone and I’m still not quite sure how I managed to mess that up.
None of this really answers the question I started with, though.
To begin to answer that we must first acknowledge, as I’ve discussed before, that atheists are not robots or nihilists. Tradition may be, in the words of an old childrens’ book I used to own, the art of making the same mistake twice on purpose but nevertheless it does have an emotional impact on our lives. And as Dr. Kogan alludes these traditions are rooted in our environment, at least here in the northern hemisphere. More obviously than at any other time of the year we stand at the end of one trip around the sun and the start of another.
There is no need for supernatural elements to see that this is the time to pause and reflect on what has passed and what is to come. Now is the time to look back at the year gone by, both to fondly reminisce at the good times and to remember the dark moments, to realize that no matter how horrible they may have been and how certain it may have seemed that the end had come we have survived and thrived. To remember and mourn those we have lost, and to reach out with kindness to our family and friends still with us. As with so much else in life the holiday season will give back to you what you bring to it, so now is the time to be of good cheer.
By whatever name you celebrate, happy holidays.
I wish you a hopeful christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there’ll be snow at christmas
They said there’ll be peace on earth
Be it heaven or hell
The christmas we get we deserve
— “I Believe in Father Christmas”, Greg Lake and Peter Sinfeld