12 December 2008

Merry Christmas

I've said it once before, and I'll say it again: we're doing it wrong.

You might think that taking a pluralistic approach to the holidays is a good idea. The Christmas Tree is a Christian symbol, so for parity's sake, wherever there's a Christmas Tree there also has to be a Chanukah Bush, an 'Eid Palm, a Kwanzaa Rock, a Buddha Bonsai, a Shiva Spruce... And then we start insisting on our own representations and put up an Atheist sign, a Festivus Pole, a Pastafarian Manicotti, and what have you, and then everybody's all up in arms about who gets to be in the public sphere and who's trampling on whose rights and nobody gets to have fun because we're all too busy fighting with each other to enjoy the egg nog.

This is ridiculous.

Problem 1: By siding with the people who insist on equal time for non-Christian religious symbols on public display, we are helping to reinforce the idea that it doesn't matter what religion you are -- as long as you are one. By fighting for the rights of minority religions to have public displays, we're not helping to create a more equal society, we're fighting for the equality of all religions, leaving us freethinkers as the obvious scapegoats when the rest of the faithful unite in self-righteous solidarity.

Problem 2: By fighting against public displays of Christmas Trees and the like, we're effectively reinforcing the Christianization of Christmas. Christmas already is a secular event, and we need to make sure we keep it that way. Take the Japanese, for example: Christmas is *huge* with them, but Christians only amount to about a tenth of one percent of their entire population. Granted, their historical relationship with Christianity has been, on the whole, more desirable than ours, but even in America Christmas isn't really about Baby Jeezus. As I've mentioned before, most Christmas and Advent sermons are all about not forgetting the 'real' meaning of Christmas -- and the fact that people need to be reminded of this by their pastors means that they have other things in mind when they think about Christmas.

We will never win if we try to ban Christmas from the public sphere. Never. It means too much to too many people - especially the secular, apathetic Christians to whom we should be reaching out the most. We need to stand with the moderates on this one. We need to say OK to Christmas Trees, but no to Nativity Scenes. Secular Christmas is something we can and should all get behind - a season of showing people we love them, gathering with friends, and being good to each other regardless of the reason. Let the religious fight about why we do so, and let the rest of us just have some goodwill and holiday cheer.

And don't act like petulant children about words. If English-speaking Christians can call their highest holy day by the name of a pagan goddess, then we freethinkers can bear to call the festival we grew up with by the name of Christmas. It's an accident of linguistic history that we call it Christmas instead of Weinachten, Noel, or Jul - nothing more. Let's focus on what Christmas has come to mean to all of us, instead of what it has traditionally meant to some.

Have a Very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

No comments: