Tommorrow is Christmas Eve, and like most people in the United states, I am preparing for the festivities. Apparently, the fact that I am not a Christian and yet am celebrating a holiday on December 25th bothers some folks, which I find odd.
Over the last year, I have seen a rather stupid local controversy go down over a religious display in a public space. My own feeling is that, provided that everyone has the right to put up their own display (religious or not), I have no problem with religious groups being allowed to do so. Basically, it's everyone or no-one, nobody gets special rights to occupy the public spaces, regardless of the time of year.
This view has landed me in many arguments with many people around town. The basic thrust of what I often hear seems to be that an atheist such as myself should have no right to voice their views during the December holiday season, and that a non-Christian has no right to celebrate Christmas.
Well, first off, I am a member of the community just as much as any Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Pagan, Elvis worshipper, or priest of the Great Green Arkleseizure. If members of those groups have the right to make their thoughts and beliefs known, whether through holiday displays or through other means of expression, then I also have that right. And I think that it is right and good that members of all of these groups have such rights - I was very happy to see that, despite the forementioned stupid controversy, the annual Hannakuah display is present downtown. I would also be very happy to see a Christian display, a Pagan Yule display, and an atheist seasonal greetings display. All of this would be to the good. The end of the calendar year has aspects that all members of our society can celebrate regardless of religious view, such as the knowledge that the days will begin getting longer again or that we are halfway through the cold months, and in Thanksgiving and New Years we have holidays that are easily observed by those of every religious stripe (and the fact that there are multiple holidays - note the plural "s" - is the reason why "happy holidays" is a perfectly appropriate greeting despite what some half-wit activists may claim).
Okay, so what about non-Christians celebrating christmas. I have noticed that this raises many people's hackles. But here's the deal: Christmas is thrust on all of us. Aside from the most essential functions, our government shuts down, our work schedules are impacted, traffic patterns are disrupted by increased commerce, and our media are essentially turned into Christmas-cheer delivery machines. If you are a Christian this may seem all right and good, but if you are not, then you have two options: you can feel alienated and hurt by the fact that your entire society is hell-bent on celebrating a day from which you are excluded, or you can do what most of us do and find ways to join into the celebration and enjoy yourself.
Is it any wonder that most of us choose the second option?
The simple fact of the matter is that because Christmas is thrust upon all of us we aren't "hijacking" Christmas, we're actually finding ways to integrate ourselves into the broader society. We're taking part in the joy of our communities. Importantly, we are finding ways to seek some sort of common ground with people who we disagree with on many other things. I think that this is all to the good.
So, if you are upset at the notion that Christmas is treated as a secular holiday by non-Christians, then work to have it stopped being federally recognized, protest merchants who advertise Christmas sales, and don't start singing Christmas carols at strangers whose religious beliefs are unknown to you. In short, work to stop it from being a significant day for non-Christians rather than complaining when we take part in something that is going to be forced on us anyway.
But, I would suggest that you do something more productive. Nobody can take your religious beliefs away from you simply by enjoying the holiday season (or, if they can, then your beliefs are pretty damn weak to begin with). Accept that the fact that Christmas has been thrust on the society at large means that there are now two simultaneous holidays: the religious Christmas holiday celebrated by Christians at this time every year, and the secular Christmas holiday celebrated by many people Christian and non-Christian alike. It does no harm to anyone to recognize this basic fact.
At any rate, let's knock off the nonsense. Conflict and screaming about a non-existent "war on Christmas" does no good and only makes people look like idiots. But realizing that this time of year has become important as a time for everyone to gather with family and friends gives us all some common ground and pulls us all together as a community.
So, happy holidays, season's greetings, super solstice, and, of course, merry Christmas.