December 2010: Atheists like the holidays too, you know

I don’t celebrate Christmas; I’m not Christian. I don’t celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanza or the Solstice or Yule or Saint Nicholas day or Saturnalia or even Festivus for the same reason. I’m an atheist, and do not celebrate holidays for religious reasons.

To some people, this makes me lacking. I’m not offended by holidays. I don’t want to get rid of holidays, no matter why they’re celebrated. I’m not waging a “war on Christmas.” I’m not even sure how I could. I don’t get angry if someone says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to me. I don’t own the holidays and I don’t care what is celebrated or how or why or by whom.

This doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate holidays, especially at this time of year. I can celebrate the spirit of giving, and the feeling of brotherhood that comes with the season. Cards from friends make me smile whether there is a Christmas Star or a snowman on the front. I can see and appreciate the beauty in a nativity scene just as I do in a menorah or a Christmas parade. I like lights in trees and carols on the radio and the thought of people dancing in the moonlight in the woods on the night of the Winter solstice. It makes me happy to watch my dog enjoy his extra can of dog food.

Holidays for me mean more than just a day off from work; there’s the spirit of the season that I can lose myself in; the feasting; the personal reflection; the giving and receiving of gifts. I like presents just as much as anyone else, and I’ve always enjoyed finding the perfect gift for a person in my life, something special; something meaningful. Like the time in my youth when I finally settled the argument I had with my brother over who the family dog loved best by presenting him on behalf of said dog with a holiday box full of brownies I’d squeezed into the shape of dog poo.

There’s also the pleasure of seeing the gifts that others receive, like the year my father told my mother that for Christmas he wanted to spend a weekend with a strange woman … so she put a dress on a coal shovel with his name on it.

The annual issue of avoiding the commercialism of the holidays and returning to the “reason for the season” does not escape me, either. Granted, while my own personal reason for the season may be far different than what many would intend, escaping rampant commercialism is easy when you simply have no money to spend; a situation I found myself in a number of years ago. Out of work and flat broke, far from home, my holiday gifts that year were letters to each member of my family and some close friends detailing exactly what I really thought of them and just what they meant to me. They were the kind of letter that I would be embarrassed by if anyone else were to read them. I wasn’t there when the recipients received them; I was eating my holiday dinner in a truck stop at the time, but it’s just as well. I didn’t need to be there; I’d said what I needed to say. Someday, no matter how much money I have, I know I can say it again.

There’s a sense of freedom in not being tied down to a holiday. I am not required to please anyone but myself. I can ignore the holidays if I choose; but I choose not to. So if anyone has ever wondered how an atheist can feel the holiday spirit- celebrate your way, and I’ll celebrate mine- by feeling them all.

Happy Holidays!

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