December 9, 2010

Where Does An Atheist Belong In Christmas?

That was the topic of NYC Atheist's meetup group I attended the other night. It was a lively discussion and everyone had their own take. It was interesting to hear how others dealt with the holiday season. Christmas is a difficult holiday to hide from. It is the most commercialized religious holiday in our country. Most businesses close down, there are tons of Christmas specials on TV and everyone sends you a picture of their family in matching red sweaters.

Some member said they didn't even get involved in the holiday. I didn't even know that was possible because we are so bombarded with "holiday spirit." However, they found they could and would celebrate the solstice. Those who were against it thought the commercialization of it all was tacky. They suggested have an "unChristmas" with non-tacky decorations, which I think is a great idea. I don't like the plastic, fake decorations. I do love the smell of pine needles and think Christmas colors can be an elegant combination. Before tonight's discussion I never thought about celebrating the solstice. I don't think it's quite the jubilant celebration Christmas is... but then again Christmas has no longer become a happy occasion but a time for sales and awkward family secrets being revealed.

The others in the group were on the other side of the spectrum, where I found myself. We have assimilated and find that Christmas isn't even celebrated religiously, it's more of a social thing. Some said they like to sing carols, decorate the tree and give gifts. I like the idea of giving gifts to the ones we love. I like to show my appreciation to my loved ones on their birthdays and around the winter holidays. I give a gift to all religious people: Jewish, Muslim, Atheist... I have a diverse group of friends so I never considered them "Christmas" gifts. Yes, it was inspired by Christmas but I'm a fan of giving a gift once or twice a year especially if that means I get some :)

Growing up, my family did attend Christmas eve mass. However, that slowly disappeared after high school and we never prayed before we ate. Christmas was hardly a religious holiday in my family even though my mother is Catholic and my sister is Lutheran. The holiday season in my adulthood became a time for my mother to force us all to be together and for someone to get angry. Gotta love family get togethers!

Overall, Christmas has been commercialized. It's hard to ignore it. I can't NOT celebrate it because most of my family does and I think part of the human suffering is family holidays. I think Atheists, or non-Christians should celebrate the holiday season in their own way. If you don't want a tree, don't get a tree. If you don't want to give gifts, don't give gifts. I don't see why you wouldn't want to. No matter what religious affiliation I have, I still want to show the people important in my life that I care about them. Plus, unwrapping gifts never grows old for me!

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