“‘Tis the season to be jolly” the popular Christmas carol begins. Indeed, Christmas day is one of the most enjoyed holidays of the year, from the gift-opening on Christmas morning to the family feasts that fill our gullet till our belts need loosening. So what could possibly prompt a person to walk away from such a celebration?
For me, it has been a fairly gradual process. The magic of the season undoubtedly dissipates for all of us as we grow older, but my reasons are about much more than a process of maturation.
First, the religious background of Christmas. As an atheist, I have no religious affinity to Christmas. The certainty with which the birth of Jesus is presented doesn’t resemble the reliability of the New Testament. The celebration itself, done on December 25th, is misplaced: the account of Luke suggests that if Jesus did actually exist, he was probably born in the spring or summer. In it’s original celebration, Christmas was usually celebrated at the beginning of January. So celebrating the day as the birth of Christ seems, to me, a mischaracterization of history. Even if such an account were accurate, I wouldn’t celebrate Christmas for the same reason I don’t practice any other religious holidays: I don’t believe the tenets on which they are based. The best holiday would be one in which we could all celebrate no matter our religious affiliation (or lack thereof).
Certainly Christmas has its less Christian aspects. The Christmas tree is a pagan concept. The story of Santa Claus is undoubtedly secular in nature. The animated Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was an annual favourite of mine as a child, and still holds a certain clutch on my unfortunately oft-nostalgic mind. Still, tradition and a good story are not enough to keep me celebrating a holiday.
I don’t exchange gifts, either. The social pressure to keep this practice up is tough to escape. Still, I see a lot of good reasons for not exchanging gifts, and have thus far been able to resist such pressure. There is the more practical aspect: if I need to get something, no one is likely to get me precisely what I need. Further, I shouldn’t really be getting something just because it’s a day on which you give gifts. If I need something and reach out to you at any time of the year, there’s no reason why a gift can’t be given then. If I don’t need anything, you needn’t buy me a gift. Truth be told, neither of us really needs anything. I think here of the argument Peter Singer has often put forward: spending lavishly on the haves is basically an unethical or immoral action against the have-nots. If there is someone who needs something at Christmas (or any time of the year), it almost certainly is not you or I.
What can be enjoyed during this season? Well, I say there are two practices I find unobjectionable about the holidays, and we need not wait for Christmas to put them to work:
1. Take a moment with friends and family,
2. Give to those who are in need.