Christmas has always been my favorite time of year (you’ll notice I didn’t call it Xmas, or “the holidays”). It’s the season of chilly nights, snowy days
and cozy mornings by the crackling fire, that I long for during the dry summer months. The Solstice —with its leafless trees, longer days and promise of spring—adds its magic to the spell. To this devout unbeliever—this compassionate atheist—the arrival of winter has always been known as Christmastime.
Make no mistake; I don’t believe in virgin births, any more than I believe in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny or the talking walnut. It’s all a bunch of anthropocentric hooey. But I think it’s sad that Americans aren’t supposed to say “Merry Christmas” any more.
I wouldn’t expect store clerks to assume their customers are all church-going Christians. I for one am not and never have been—my church is the wild forest, mountains, rivers and oceans. Yet I still think of the giving season simply as Christmas. When I’m out shopping for Christmas presents, I’d rather hear a hearty “Merry Christmas” than a sheepish “happy holidays.” Instead of spreading good cheer, the latter comes across as an embarrassed, “the capitalist corporation I work for will fire me if I’m caught wishing you a Merry Christmas.”
I enjoy all kinds of Christmas music—as long as it’s joyous—and all sorts of Christmas decorations, particularly those that celebrate trees and greenery. I’m not offended by manger scenes, especially the ones that include lots of animals bedded down on nice dry straw. But the religious slant can definitely be taken too far. I get irritated when someone includes a cross in their Christmas display.
To me a cross is a symbol of cruelty, suffering and death, not peace, love and generosity. It doesn’t belong anywhere near Christmas. I’ve never believed in needing savior to achieve redemption. And I’m already painfully aware of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man (not to mention, to the pigs and turkeys, as well as the ducks and geese I hear being shot at out there as I write this—all in the spirit of holiday feasting).
Not that I think anyone’s ever coming back from anywhere, but I can identify with this memorable line in the Woody Allen film, Hannah and her Sisters, when Max Von Sydow’s character, Frederick, laments about the garbage on TV: “You see the whole culture. Nazis, deodorant salesmen, wrestlers, beauty contests, a talk show. Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling? But the worst are the fundamentalist preachers. Third grade con men telling the poor suckers that watch them that they speak with Jesus, and to please send in money. Money, money, money! If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”
I’ve never thought of December 25th as the birthday of any god-incarnate or the day that reindeer can fly or when Santa visits every house in one night. But I’ll always call it Christmas—the name for a season that ought to last all year long. It’s not just a holiday—the spirit of selfless giving should be a year-round sentiment.
Oh, and if anyone up there really is listening, all I want for Christmas is world peace for all beings— and enough freaking snow to ski on.