I am a devout Atheist, yet I love Christmas.
I scoff at the notion that Jesus is the son of God – I scoff at the notion that there IS a God – yet I love many of the most reverent Christmas Carols.
How can this be?
I celebrate what I call HypoChristmas – Christmas celebration by one who is not Christian. I am happy to label myself a hypocrite, as I am sure most Christians consider me to be. But I don’t in my heart think myself to be a hypocrite when it comes to Christmas.
You see, in my family Christmas was always a big deal. But despite the fact that my mother was a Catholic, and I was raised Catholic (to a point), Christmas in my house was never a hugely religious event. My mother usually went to Midnight Mass, but I never had to attend. Christmas simply was never a religious event for me.
And yet, Christmas was never a highly commercial holiday for us, either. Oh, there was definitely and abundance of gifts. Probably an overabundance of gifts. But I don’t recall Christmas as being about buying. I don’t recall an over emphasis on shopping, or getting the latest toy, or getting a great deal. It was a time to share the prosperity of the year just past, not a time for material gain. Though there were some years with substantial material gain.
My fondest memories of the holiday are not of receiving gifts, though I did love to receive gifts. No, my fondest memories are the sometimes kitschy decorations we had, some of 1960’s vintage, and some true antiques. They are memories of quiet times, with the TV off, with all the lights dimmed other than those on the tree. The warm glow of colorfully painted bulbs filling the living room. I remember going to my father’s Uncle Ralph’s house on Christmas Eve, to drink punch and have candy, fruitcake and other sweet treats.
And there are memories of decorating the tree. I loved to hang the unbreakable plastic ornaments that my parents bought in England. I loved to hang the fancy Shiny Brites that were hung from the hightest boughs, where the cat couldn’t get them. I loved to drape fistfuls of tinsel from every limb. And every time I remember decorating the tree as a child, I remember a football game that was on one year when we were decorating the tree – the Dolphins vs. the Colts. It must have been from 1972, the year the Dolphins went undefeated.
My memories of Christmas have more Hail Mary’s than Holy Mothers.
And so I think it’s OK for a committed Atheist to celebrate Christmas without a twinge of guilt, or a feeling of hypocrisy. Yes, it’s a Christian holiday. Then again, many of the rituals were co-opted from Pagan traditions. Cultures have been holding winter celebrations for eons. These celebrations will outlast Christianity, of this I am certain. It doesn’t have to be about Christ. It can be about the lights, and the shiny ornaments, and the quiet times, and connecting with family. I believe this without a hint of hypocrisy.