I’ll wish you a Merry Christmas

Odds are you’ve seen this image floating around the ‘net. If you haven’t, it’s high time you give it a read. It seemed most appropriate to save it until today to post.

Christmas history

I wrestle with the idea of participating in certain explicitly religious customs, because it’s important to me not to legitimize and encourage baseless beliefs. But this graphic — which I’m not quite sure of the origin of, since I couldn’t actually find on the (very cool) Truth Saves website — does a great job illustrating why participating in the customs isn’t necessarily an endorsement of Christianity or any other specific set of religious beliefs. Christmas is an amalgam of many wintertime celebrations, renamed and reimagined as political and cultural expediency required. If I want to exchange presents with my family on December 25th, I’m not aligning myself with Christianity over atheism any more than our neighbors with the Christmas tree in their window are choosing Saturn over Jesus.

Greta Christina’s post about godless language from last week solidified this stance for me a bit more. There are undoubtedly good points to be made about whether we say “bless you” when someone sneezes, “R.I.P.” when someone dies, etc. But at some level, it’s also okay to let go of the anxiety over whether our every word fully expresses our beliefs or lack thereof, and just talk in ways that other people will understand. I don’t worship Odin, Thor, or Freya, but I’m not going to rename Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday either.

I’m just going to have a happy day with my family today, and I hope you all do, too.

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3 Comments

  1. Aristarchus

     /  December 25, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I think it’s a little trickier than that, though I agree with you in general. If I put up Christmas lights on my house, people who drive by will believe that to mean that I am Christian and believe in at least the basic tenets of the faith. That normalizes the ideas to them, and removes the “WTF?!?!” reaction that people normally have when someone walks up to them and tells them something like “People would all live in paradise if not for the fact that a talking snake tricked someone into eating fruit that a magical, omniscient being said was off-limits because it was bad even though he was the one that made it bad for no apparent reason.”

    This is part of my problem with the super-liberal versions of religion that don’t make any clear claims, but still talk about “spirituality” and so forth. They define the word “God” into meaninglessness, but by endorsing it they’re making things easier for all the crazies by making them sound less crazy.

    Christmas trees originally might have been about Saturn, but they’ve lost that meaning, so putting one up doesn’t further believe in Saturn in any way. They do further belief in Christianity, though. Same sort of idea with “Thursday”. Of course, all these things that have lost their religious meaning must have gone through a phase where they still had some of it, so maybe celebrating a secular Christmas helps remove the religious meaning, and that’s the dominant effect. Of course, that sounds sort of sinister and “war-on-Christmas-y” to me, so I’m not sure that’s the best way to go about it. I’m still not sure what I think about it all personally, but I think there’s a distinction to be made between things that no on thinks imply belief and actions which publicly seem to people like endorsement of something.

  2. Aristarchus – I can see your point, but at the same time I don’t believe I should refrain from doing things I enjoy just because other people might make an incorrect assumption about me based on it. The same reason I wear the clothes I like regardless of whether it will give people “ideas” about me. If they want to assume that I’m sexually promiscuous because I wear a short skirt or spaghetti straps, that’s their prejudice, and if they assume I’m a Christian propagating religion by putting up lights and a [Slytherin themed] tree, it’s their prejudice. It’s not my job to make sure every person who drives by my apartment knows what I believe (but I would think the rainbow flag flying on my balcony would give them an idea).

  3. Off-topic, but have you seen/checked out Rachel Held Evans’ blog? I think you’d really enjoy it. She did an interview with an atheist this past year (along with a bunch of other “different” folk). Anyway, just wanted to comment here to make sure you saw this! Hope you have a great day!

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