Sunday, December 25, 2011

What Christmas means to me

Get ready to role your eyeballs, as I have a confession to make. 

I love Christmas. 

I love the lights and the decorations, the endless replaying of Christmas carols in shopping centers, the nativity scenes, the Christmas trees, the malls overcrowded with shoppers, and the sound of ringing church bells echoing through the neighbourhood on Christmas morning. Some non-believers might raise an eyebrow at the fact that as an atheist, I treasure everything about Christmas, even some of the religious symbolism. Some Christians might sigh at the fact that I feel an affinity towards the rampant commercialisation that takes place over this period. But I don't care. I love it all.

I think it has to do with growing up: all the images, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells of childhood Christmas experiences cemented themselves into the foundations of my neural networks, intertwining with personal, positive experiences of the holiday.

What kind of positive experiences? The quiet, relaxed neighbourhood atmosphere of families sitting around braais in their gardens on Christmas day, children splashing around in swimming pools, the smell of freshly mowed grass, and the hot, bright African sunshine. I love all these aspects of Christmas as well. But most of all, I love the time when our extended family gets together on the day around a table to partake in a special, intimate meal. The laughter and chatter that occurs between family members, as we evaluate a year gone by and talk about the year that lies ahead, is the the most important aspect that has always defined Christmas for me.

I kind of approach Christmas in the same way many Americans might approach Halloween, another cultural holiday that is important to social cohesion, steeped in long held traditions shared by the community, such as trick-or-treating and dressing up in costumes. Halloween has significance for many American families, even though most Americans don't actually believe that real goblins and spirits roam the streets on the 31 October every year. Likewise with Christmas: I don't have to believe in the supernatural roots of the holiday in order to derive any significance from it. Christmas, including the religious aspects of it, is part of the culture in which I grew up, and as a result it is part of my identity as an individual.

So instead of waging a "war on Christmas" (whatever that means) this atheist will spend the day with his feet up, sitting on a deck chair next to the swimming pool, sipping on a cider and chatting to family, while listening to the church bells ringing in the distance.

For me, Christmas is about community. But most importantly, it is about family.


thesecretatheist said...

I feel that Tim Minchin summed up how I feel about Christmas in is song "White Wine in the Sun".

Jonah said...

Totally agree! Need to choose our battles.

Fan Tomb said...

I’m sure you know the story of how a Pope picked January 1st as New Years Day and inadvertently created April Fools Day.
Here’s a YouTube LOL Pope music video

BC500 said...

Kevin, You don’t love Christmas, but a fun vacation holiday to be with family and friends. I don’t blame you for that, but it has nothing to do with the meaning for Christmas. Many people hijack Christian celebrations and turn them into their own secular events, no law against that. But, at least you should be true to yourself and call it a Winter Holiday (or summer for you all in South Africa) because that is all it is to you. Your comparison to the American event called Halloween is way off.

As an American in the middle of the USA I can attest to the fact that while most of the visitors we have are small children and young teenagers. There are extremely few families that all dress up and make it a family event. I know many Christians are against Halloween due to the Satanist aspects of it and do not participate. We never dress up but do participate in handing out candy with a Christian message attached. While we have been critized for attaching uplifting Christian messages to the candy we hand out, we force no one to our door or to take the candy or to read the message. Christmas sales start before Thanksgiving and end December 24th. There are many “Christmas” activities through out December. While Halloween sales start about two or three weeks before the 31st, the event lasts for about 3 for 4 hours on the 31st.

Karen said...

Kevin, I struggled with those same feelings this past Christmas. We can't easily undo all the memories and traditions we were raised with. I chose not to do anything differently for the holidays, even though for me, a lot has changed.

The Fog Horn said...

That's me talking and here is my blog...