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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
The Case for Christ-Free Christmas 
Saturday, December 22nd, 2007 | 04:11 pm [commentary, holidays, writing]
Christmas is only a few days off, and I think it’s as good a time as any to speak up for a segment of humanity that is too often ignored and forgotten by the media around the holidays. I speak up for this faction of society not only because I believe it to be vastly in the majority, but also because I happen to be a member. I’m talking about those of us who celebrate a secular Christmas.
My favorite time of year for as long as I can remember has been Christmas. As a child, I strung popcorn onto thread, hung ornaments from pine branches (we always bought a real tree back then), and stood alongside my mother as she baked cookies decorated with brightly colored red and green sugar. When I was young enough to still believe in him, I wrote letters to Santa Claus and left a plate cookies and a glass of milk out on the kitchen table for him. One year I even constructed a crude object d’art from yarn and glued-together popsicle sticks and left it out for Santa to take with him, labeling it in my letter simply “a toy.” I figured he could deliver it to some underprivileged child behind the Iron Curtain who wouldn’t know the difference. When I woke up that Christmas morning, my homemade toy was gone, and Santa thanked me for it in a note left on the kitchen table.
At the time it was a thrilling surprise, though now when I think about it, I am suspicious of the similarity of Santa’s handwriting to that of my mother.
My mother’s father was a minister. My father’s upbringing wasn’t nearly so religious, but he wasn’t brought up an atheist, either. Mercifully, they both decided before I was born not to push religion on me. Except for a few months when I was in first grade, when Dad temporarily let his elderly grandmother guilt-trip him into it, we never attended church. Our Christmases were centered around Santa, snowmen, food, and family.  And presents, naturally, which my younger brother and I soon realized were best of all.
As an adult, I’ve outgrown Santa and snowmen, and the rapacious lust for receiving gifts, but I still treasure the time spent sitting around the tree with my mother and father, my brother, my grandmother, and, these last few years, my girlfriend. We sing no hymns, we say no prayers. Jesus, most assuredly, is not among our reasons for the season.
And good for us, because that particular bit of bumper sticker sloganeering has always gotten on my nerves. For one thing, there’s the obnoxious insistence that any Christmas celebration not centering on the Christian concept of the holiday is illegitimate. For another thing, it makes no rational sense — no matter how you look at it, Jesus is not the reason for the season.
If you take “season” to mean the season of winter, the period of the year, in the Northern Hemisphere, between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, characterized by colder temperatures and fewer hours of daylight, then the season is the result of the 23 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to its orbital plane. Jesus is neither the source, nor the cause, nor in any sense the reason for this season.
If you interpret “season” to mean the season of celebration surrounding the solstice in late December, then it is the result of virtually every culture throughout Europe and Asia marking the time of the solstice as a significant annual event. Many of these cultural celebrations predate Christianity by hundreds or thousands of years, and most have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. Even the connection of Jesus to Christmas is questionable; Christians take the day to mark his birth, but a careful reading of the Biblical account suggests his actual date of birth was during spring or summer. The Christmas celebration was established in late December to replace the pre-existing pagan celebrations, including Saturnalia, which were already popular in the Roman Empire before its conversion to Christianity.
So if I want to celebrate a non-religious holiday in late December, why bother with Christmas at all? There’s Yule, which is a major donor of traditions and trappings to modern Christmas — why don’t I trade in the tree for a log, and call the family to feast in honor of Thor? Because I don’t want to celebrate Yule. It means nothing to me. I want to celebrate Christmas. What the evangelical “Jesus is the reason” crowd hates to admit is that, while they weren’t looking, especially during the last hundred years or so, Christmas became a secular holiday.
Some Christians, I know, object to Christ-free secular celebrations being referred to as Christmas. “Put the Christ back in Christmas,” goes another popular slogan. But the word, like the holiday itself, has evolved beyond its origins. Modern Christmas is no more limited by the original conventions of Christ’s Mass than modern Halloween is by the Catholic celebration of All Hallows Eve.
I also don’t believe there is a war on Christmas. I’m not an officious alarmist who sees department stores and local governments wishing people “Happy Holidays” as part of an insidious scheme to delete Christmas from the public consciousness, like a certain television and radio host whom I shall not name, except to state that his initials are “Bill O’Reilly.” I know that many public schools no longer allow their show choirs to sing Christmas carols, and are even afraid to label their Christmas pageants as such, but I chalk that up to misplaced, overboard, however well-meaning, political correctness rather than some nefarious desire on the part of teachers and administrators to disenfranchise Christians.
I have no problem with schools holding Christmas assemblies, with the local, state or national governments hanging Christmas decorations on public property, or with the mayor or the governor or the president wishing us all a “Merry Christmas,” so long as we’re talking about the secular Christmas that virtually everyone in the United States, regardless of cultural or religious background, celebrates, even if only a little, and not the self-righteously pious Jesus-fest around which many church calendars revolve. 
Not that I’m the type to brag about this sort of thing, but the Supreme Court agrees with me. In 2001, the highest court in the land upheld a lower court’s ruling in the case of Ganulin v. United States that Christmas served a legitimate secular purpose. It is not an exclusively religious holiday, and it hasn’t been for a long time.
Secular Christmas isn’t perfect. I’m as put-off by the commercialism and materialism surrounding it as anyone. I don’t want it to be an occasion for overindulgence or conspicuous consumption. I hate the emphasis on shopping that dominates the season, kicking into high gear the day after Thanksgiving and enduring for a solid month. Christmas is a sacred day to me. It’s a day for family and friends, for sitting around the table and eating great food, for gathering in the living room to watch Miracle on 34th Street — hell, if Dad wants to, I’ll even hold my gorge down long enough to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Making it a secular day shouldn’t make it a cheap day, a commercial or tawdry day.
For me, it’s always been the most wonderful time of the year, and it’s never had anything to do with the birth of Jesus. If you and your family treasure your religious Christmas, if you look forward to attending church services early in the morning, if you proudly display your illuminated plastic crèche in your front yard, more power to you. You have a right to your Christmas, just as I have to mine.
Anyway, whatever your Christmas looks like, whether its central figure is a child in a manger or a fat, bearded fellow on a sleigh; whether your tree is topped by an angel or a star; whether your yard is adorned with a nativity scene or a giant inflatable snowman; whether you believe in Christ, or Santa Claus, or neither one; whether you adore it or couldn’t care less, have a good one. Merry Christmas.
Sunday, December 23rd, 2007 | 03:19 pm (UTC) - Great Read
Thank you.
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