As Christmas Day approaches, I find myself in a philosophical/cultural wrangle. What is Christmas exactly and what am I celebrating? I am an atheist/freethinker/humanist (there I've said it! Kind of feels good to get it out in the open) so how can I celebrate Christmas? Over the last few years I have found myself coming to the conclusion that I am celebrating the festive season, the spirit of joy and good will and coming together with friends and family. I am not celebrating the birth of Jesus, as I do not recognise him as the son of God and also do not believe that there is a God (Christian or otherwise).
I was looking on line a couple of weeks back for some charitable activities I could get involved with in December. Unfortunately they all seem to be run by Christian charities which actively promote Christianity to the recipients of gifts or aid through missionary work. As this does not sit well with me, I started looking for secular alternatives. I was saddened to find that there don't seem to be hardly any. In the US they recently launched a campaign called "Good without God". I really like this sentiment. Surely, as humans, we all have the capacity for good and if we need a god to tell us to be good, is that really being charitable and caring about our fellow humans?
One thing that has started to bother me about this time of year is Father Christmas or Santa Claus. I found a women's refuge website which was asking for gifts for children who would find themselves at the refuge over Christmas as their mothers would be forced to flee their home to escape domestic violence. The refuge asked for gifts as they said it would be difficult to explain to the children why Santa had not visited them this year. This thought of small children, already upset and scared by having to leave their home, then thinking that they had been too naughty to get presents from Santa this year or that Santa had forgotten about them, filled me with sorrow. I actually started crying at the thought. Maybe another person would want to send them a gift from "Santa", but I started to feel really angry. After all, why would the children think and feel like this? It's because society has fed them a pack of lies about an old man on a sleigh magically delivering presents to all the good children of the world. I really started to think about the Santa myth and its repercussions. I found these arguments online for not promoting it, which really resonate with me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some Scrooge who wants to spoil Christmas for little children, but I just don't see what positive aspects there are to the Santa myth. Wouldn't it be better to teach our children the value of gracious receiving and thanking the real person that gave them that gift rather than a make-believe character? Wouldn't it be better for our children not to feel that consumerism equals happiness?
When I was little, Father Christmas was something that worried me. I lived in a house with a gas fire and wondered how on earth he would get into the house with no chimney. I didn't like the idea of him breaking in while we were sleeping. I asked lots of questions about him. As the questions were impossible to answer truthfully and sensibly, my parents always downplayed Father Christmas from then on. I still enjoyed Christmas each year.
So, I don't think we need Santa or Jesus to enjoy the ancient celebration that takes place in December each year. Concentrate on being kind to each other and doing things to help others because you want to, because they are your fellow humans. I'm still going to search for a way to give back and help those less fortunate than myself that fits in with my ethics and world view. Give gifts to family and friends if you want, preferably something handmade and unique that will mean something to you and also to the recipient, but don't make it all about the presents. There are a million ways to say I love you and they don't come wrapped up with a bow or delivered by a man in a red suit.
Wishing you a peaceful and contented Yule :)