Everyone has their (yes, “their”; I know full well I’m mixing a singular subject with a plural possessive pronoun, but you know it’s become generally acceptable when the 2011 NIV does this) own take on Christmas, and if you’re happy with how you do or don’t celebrate it, that’s fine; I’m just writing for those who’d like to know my take on it.
Quite honestly, with each passing year, I look forward to much of the season less and less. The corny musical TV commercials, the uninspiring and predictable Santa-themed movies and TV shows, the endlessly recycled music on the radio and in the malls, the Black Friday rat race, the social pressure to buy and exchange ephemeral trinkets, the over-stuffing of our calendar of events, the earnest “Reason for the Season” preaching, the awkwardness when it comes to figuring out how to respond to Christmas greetings--these experiences just don’t give me happy thoughts.
There’s a movement afoot among some unbelievers to celebrate the winter solstice without any religious trappings. This I presume is in recognition of the fact that the annual Christmas festivities just aren’t going to disappear and that the best way to beat ‘em is to join ‘em. I'm reminded of how the Catholic Church starting in the fourth century co-opted pagan winter solstice celebrations to celebrate Jesus’ birth in an attempt to pry away the people’s attention from pagan religion to the Christian religion. It seems to me that, whichever direction you go--from pagan to Christian practices or vice versa--it’s still rooted in religion or the supernatural, and I simply don’t identify with either one.
That said, there are aspects of the holiday season I enjoy, particularly the opportunity it affords us to get together with extended family members, to eat well, to watch a good movie (NOT a Santa-themed one), and yes (Grinch that I am), to delight my kids and a few friends with a well-selected gift or two. I’m not an anti-Christmas crusader like secular humanist leader Tom Flynn, nor do I ever plan to be; if people--even atheists--enjoy the season, what do I gain by seeking to douse their joy?
So how do I respond to those who wish me Merry Christmas? In past years, I haven’t hesitated to respond in kind, and I might continue to do that now and then. This year I might also try this rejoinder: “...and a Happy New Year to you!”
And what about those family gifts? Scrooge that I am, I’d really rather not spend money on unnecessary stuff--which is what most gifts are--while visions of the ten-year-old boy who died of malaria in the back of my pickup truck (or shortly after we arrived at the clinic) in Niger in 2000 for want of a $10 course of antimalarial medications dance in my head. This year, we’ve made a deliberate decision to cut down drastically on our superfluous gift-giving. Frankly, I’d rather just cut it out altogether, but you know, oh well; I don’t think my kids are ready that quite yet until I can indoctrinate them a little more :)
Happy (Early) New Year!