Let’s face it, Christmas is almost an entirely secular holiday these days, and as a secular humanist, I think it’s a great thing. But growing up Catholic has left me a bit confused as to how to celebrate the holidays without all the very religious traditions of my childhood. It’s very hard to shake what has been ingrained in you since birth, and I find it easier to discard with the theological aspects or Christianity than I do the material execution of beliefs I no longer hold. How do I leave Christ and keep Christmas?
Rethink “the meaning of ”
There is a lot of hullabaloo about how Christmas has been commercialised, and people no longer know the ‘true meaning of Christmas”, but I never really bought that the whole thing was a big birthday party anyway. It’s important to reflect on what the holidays mean, and to me it’s the collection of friends and family, and the idea of giving. If Thanksgiving is when you are grateful for everything you have received, then Christmas is when you do some giving; that should be the focus. This is where that commercialization comes into ruin things, but I’m not the first to say the ‘giving’ doesn’t have to equate to ipods and Xboxes. Give a party, give some home baked cookies, or volunteer your time somewhere. The act of giving is very powerful, it means that you thought of someone, weighted what you knew about their character, likes and dislikes, considered their needs, went to the trouble of acquiring something for them, you probably wrapped it and maybe even scrawled out a thoughtful card, all with out them knowing about it! That’s pretty exciting, and it’s a part of the human connection.
Rethink the 25th
There isn’t even a good Christian reason why December the 25th is celebrated with such distinction. It was chosen to coincide with some pagan festivals in worship of the Sun. Jesus or no Jesus, most of us get some time off so why the heck not take it? If you need more of a reason then this, the Sun is actually a great idea; consider the Winter Solstice. Also known as midwinter, this is the shortest day and longest night of the year (in the Northern hemisphere, reverse in the Southern) and falls around the 20th-23rd of December. Scientifically it’s a pretty cool day; due to the Earth’s 23.5º tilt, the North Pole is engulfed in 24 hour darkness, while the South Pole will experience a Midnight Sun. This day marks the return of the Sun, the Earth will begin tilting towards the Sun and the days will start getting longer and longer, trough the Equinox in March (a great Easter replacement), until the Summer Solstice in June when we head back to winter. Astronomical events that govern the seasons, and therefore the harvests, migrations, and all life on Earth, are certainly import of times of the year for celebrating the Season of Giving.
More re-thinking Christmas to come!