I’ve dodged the question for several years now. The number of times hasn’t grown since my announcement of “converting” to atheism. If anything, it’s lessened. And that’s not because people have become more accepting to my “lack of” views; it has everything to do with my lack of interest in talking to the general public. Still there’s one every year who cannot help but to ask. Sometimes it’s condescending. Sometimes it’s mere curiosity. Usually, it’s annoying. Over the commotion for the world around us, the question pours from his mouth and becomes a thorn to my temples. My head quakes with an urge to launch into a diatribe filled with frothing words. And it hangs in the air like a Pisces breath.
“If you’re an atheist, how can you celebrate Christmas?”
The question comes in various forms throughout the year. “If you’re an atheist, what do you believe in?” “If you’re an atheist, where do you get your moral value from?” “If you’re an atheist…?”
I wasn’t raised atheist. I didn’t have the same luxury that you did. I found my (non)religion on my own. The set of morals I grew up with are common sense. Doing bad things to others is wrong. If you can’t realize that, it’s not religion you’re missing—it’s empathy.
But why Christmas?
This might come as a blow to you put-the-Christ-back-in-Christmas folks, but your lord and savior wasn’t born on Christmas day. The Bible makes no notation on his birth date (or year, for that matter). And considering that the good book is riddle with historical and scientific inaccuracies, it wouldn’t have mattered. And call me a religious conspiracy theorist (as one such friend mocked), but Christmas started off as a pagan holiday. Christians made a habit of lying to non-believers, stealing their pagan celebrations and beliefs and altering them into something that resembled their own.
But why celebrate if the religious connotations are present?
Because I don’t see them. Santa Claus (despite also being St. Nick) isn’t a religious figure. Nor are elves, flying reindeer, the tree, consumerism/materialism, eating pork tamales (because it’s one of the forbidden foods), etc. I just see it as a time of year of being around family and loved ones. A second Thanksgiving.
A Father Christmas
“Jesse’s gone into dad mode,” Monica tells me as we head out for our monthly excursion to Barnes and Noble. She’s come to this conclusion because Jesse has asked for a flashlight. It’s reminiscent of their father’s Christmas wishes.
I think about it for a bit. I know there won’t be anything waiting for me underneath the Christmas tree. Still, I think, wouldn’t it be cool to find a nice tool set, the kind that comes with a set of Allen wrenches? It’s a giddy thought. Somewhere along the lines, I stopped expecting toys for Christmas. As adult, you have to buy your own toys. Christmas becomes more about getting things you wouldn’t get on your own, but know you need around the house. And right now, I need a set of Allen wrenches to dismantle an unused crib.
As few of you know, I work at a library. The library world is a family one. There are relatives you love and cannot be away from. There are relatives you hardly speak a word to. There are relatives you wish would just fall off a cliff. And there’s extended family members you haven’t met before.
Last month, we learned that two of our patrons were homeless. The family found themselves in a tough spot. We gathered food and boxed it and presented it to them for Thanksgiving. In lieu of our usual secret Santa gift exchange, we all agreed it would be nice if we gave this family a Christmas they couldn’t afford.
Altruism, for me, is always done in the shadows. In the past, whenever I donated money to a cause, I always wrote in my nephew’s name. Now, I write in Shaun’s. I don’t do nice things because it makes me feel good. I don’t do them to get into heaven. And I don’t do them for recognition. So when it came to this gift giving, I didn’t expect to get any. However, it became a photo-op and they wrangled me in. I stood off to the side, hoping I’d get cropped out in the final edit.
This is the time of year when people boast about donating money, food, and their time to charity. They puff out and beat their chests declaring the amount of good they do each year. They want to measure up their good deeds like men in a circle jerk comparing their erect cocks. The better and exponent the deeds, the bigger their wings, their halo, the cleaner their conscience.
People should stop expecting rewards for doing nice things. They need to stop pretending that the season of giving comes only once or twice a year. It should last all year round. They shouldn’t take credit for something their church does each year, when they didn’t lift a finger. That’s like sport fans saying they won a game when they’re not even on the damn team.
Linus’s Speech Revamp for a Secular Crowd
Every parent wants what is best for their kids. Our job is to raise and guide them the best we know how. Sometimes we tell little white lies—the stork, Santa Claus, gods and monsters—to give them magic in the world. The end game is always the same. We want them to excel where we couldn’t.
I only bought Shaun one present this year (three if you count accessories). He looked thrilled to see the new tablet that awaited for him inside the box. A tablet he could take home with him to his mom’s. I loaded all his games and placed a few dollars in his Google Wallet. And he spent his morning counting, finding, and putting puzzles together. When got tired, he sat on my lap and asked to color. We sprawled out on the floor and colored the pages I printed for him. We watched a movie together. We talked. We sang songs. We ran around. We played with his toys from last Christmas.
And I thought about the parents of the kids killed this year. I thought about the families of the police officers murdered in cold blood. I thought about the families of the people who murdered those kids and those police officers. Imagined what their Christmas must be like this year. That dark cloud hanging over their heads. Several people already labeled me anti-police. I stand against a system that allows officers to act as judge, jury, and executioner in cases where the suspect posed no threat.
Is it safe to assume that all these parents had the same wish for the kids that I do for Shaun? It wouldn’t matter if my kid came out of the closet some years down the line. Wouldn’t make me flinch if he told me he was born in the wrong body. Wouldn’t bother me if he served in our military. I’d be proud if he chose to become a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, or journalist.
What I want most for my kid is that he grows up happy. The he knows he’s loved even when things seem bleak. That he can come to me no matter what. That he is good and kind and understanding to the people around him. That it’s not about how much you have as compared to your neighbor, but that your neighbor has something.
And if you ask me, that has little to do with Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or whatever. And it has everything with being a decent human being.
Merry Christmas. And Happy Holidays.