Tag Archives: holidays

Atheists and Christmas

As I think I’ve shown thus far, there have been many “reason[s] for the season.” It bears repeating that Christmas is NOT the day Christ was born. In fact, it’s been debunked to death.  There’s only one point in the year when shepherds “watch over their flocks by night,” and it ain’ t the dead of winter. It’s lambing season, around April. We also know Joseph and Mary were on their way to Bethlehem to be taxed by the Romans, which didn’t happen til late spring. The date December 25th wasn’t even arrived at until the 4th century CE, and was mainly chosen because the church needed something equally important to rival the pagan festival of the Winter Solstice. What could possibly be more important than the birth of the savior? Perfect. The actual facts fudged for the more important “truth” of Ecumenical politics.  December 25th it is.

As a result, I have absolutely no problem celebrating Christmas as a generic, mid winter holiday. There are many reasons to celebrate. My children are happy, healthy and doing well in school. They’ve worked hard all year; they deserve the gifts they’re getting. They have time off, and we get to spend time making cookies, watching old movies and playing games together as a family. Family has come in from California to visit, making this holiday special. We are happy to have each other. Do we really need to impose another reason? Especially one that isn’t true anyway.

And despite what Bill O’Reilly froths, I really have nothing against Christmas at all. I’ve always been a huge fan. Tell me Merry Christmas; I don’ t mind. I enjoy the lights and the displays on my and the neighbors’ front lawns. I love decorating the tree (incidentally, for those Christians still reading, you should look up what Jesus said about keeping company with ‘pagans’ who keep trees in their houses during the winter festival) and the house. I throw myself into Christmas. It’s the one time of the year I forget all my cares and worries and just enjoy.

So, no. I don’t have a problem with Christmas. If anything, I think it’s a shame that not everyone celebrates it. I think we should remember the original reason for it: We all made it through the year alive, we all have our health, we have our family gathered close, and the days are going to start getting longer any time now. It’s come full circle and time to start again. Merry Christmas.

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A Short History of Holiday Traditions, Part 2

Okay. So we got as far as Easter yesterday. I know I skipped over quite a few things that are tied into Easter, like Lent and Good Friday and Ash Wednesday.  Rest assured, I didn’t forget about them. To put it rather bluntly: they’re just not that important. They, much like the Easter Bunny, are sort of societal vermiform appendixes. They once had meaning, but it’s changed and now we keep them around more or less out of habit.

Moving on.

Samhain aka Hallowe’en aka All Hallows Eve. Yes, I know. It’s roundly rejected by horrified Christians as a night of demonic influence, but it’s still a religious holiday. What would a religion be without a demon to point to and use to scare the masses?

Samhain (pronounced Sowen, not Sam Hane) and Halloween are now woven together as one holiday, the traditions of both making the whole. In Ireland, where Samhain originated, it was the festival celebrating the end of the harvest, and originally translated to “end of Summer [season].”  According to Wiki:

Traditionally, Samhain was time to take stock of the herds and grain supplies, and decide which animals would need to be slaughtered in order for the people and livestock to survive the winter. This custom is still observed by many who farm and raise livestock.[3][4][13]

Bonfires played a large part in the festivities celebrated down through the last several centuries, and up through the present day in some rural areas of the Celtic nations and the diaspora. Villagers were said to have cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. In the pre-Christian Gaelic world, cattle were the primary unit of currency and the center of agricultural and pastoral life. Samhain was the traditional time for slaughter, for preparing stores of meat and grain to last through the coming winter. The word ‘bonfire’, or ‘bonefire’ is a direct translation of the Gaelic tine cnámh. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together. Often two bonfires would be built side by side, and the people would walk between the fires as a ritual of purification. Sometimes the cattle and other livestock would be driven between the fires, as well.

I’m having difficulty figuring out exactly how a harvest festival came to be viewed as “evil” and “the work of the devil” from the Irish custom. Let us move on to the “Dia de los Muertos,” Day of the Dead, as it’s celebrated in Mexico. This, I can at least understand if not agree with.

The Day of the Dead is a rather sweet holiday that got misunderstood by knee-jerk reactionaries. It’s all about honoring ancestors. That’s done in every culture at some point and is still valid in many countries. The church saw this and reacted in a predictably horrified and histrionic manner. It was wicked. It was worshiping ghosts. EVIL!! AAAAAARGH! What, oh WHAT to do? I know! All Saints Day! It had worked with those obstreperous Irish. Well. It worked and it didn’t. Dia de los Muertos is still celebrated, it just has a more Catholic flavor.

Thanksgiving. I need to clear this up. There are two schools of thought on Thanksgiving. One is that because it is about giving thanks to god for making it through the really nasty New England winter it is therefore religious. On the other hand, it’s not celebrated anywhere else by any other Christians, and is viewed by the other school as a purely patriotic holiday like 4th of July. Yes, I’m probably biased in my atheism. But since it is celebrated by EVERYONE in my country regardless of religion or creed, I view it as a secular holiday that is more along the lines of St. George’s Day (Britain) than anything else. Except without the dragon.

And we are brought full circle to Christmas. Which, when you get right down to it, is the latest in a long line of holidays celebrating the end of the dark and the return of the light. So. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukhah, Joyous Yule, Happy Solstice…whichever may be appropriate. Enjoy the season, whatever your personal reason. The sun really will come up tomorrow.

A Short History of Holiday Traditions, Part 1

So after coming back from my extended hiatus, I dropped over at the Atheist blogs list to see what was going on. Interestingly, Superjesus had posted a rather cool discussion about the origins of Christmas. Turns out the Europeans had that whole sun-worshiping thing going on.  And guess what? As it turns out, tonight is the winter solstice. The longest night of the year. You know. That time when the new god kills the old god and the days start getting longer and life comes back to the earth.

Yup. Pretty silly, backward, superstitious-y religion, that pagan stuff. It got me wondering. Just how many “Christian” holidays are actually derived, condensed and rearranged pagan myths set into the church’s uptight, joyless, sexless doctrine? Let’s count, shall we? The major ones, because otherwise we’d be here all damn year, and I got Christmas presents to wrap. I am to present wrapping what Lucretia Borgia was to modest virgin Catholicism.

St. Valentine’s Day. This was originally a very fun and exciting Roman holiday called the Lupercalia. According to Wiki, The Lupercalia was an extremely important fertility holiday, in which young boys ran through the streets, striking women with thongs of goat skin dipped in blood, which was thought to aid in ease of pregnancy and labor. The things people will come up with, eh? On the other hand, afterward was the feast and the sex lottery afterward. WOOHOO, SEX LOTTERY! In which young people were paired up for a year or so, and if children were the result, marriage generally followed. I don’t mind telling you, a feast and a sex lottery sure beats the hell out of some chintzy stuffed bear holding a heart that says “I Heart you THIIIIIS MUCH” and an hour and a half wait time at the steak joint downtown.

Easter. As everyone knows, Easter came about because Jesus and all his apostles were celebrating Passover (you know. The Jewish holiday.), and Judas sold him out and told the Roman soldiers where he was and he ended up having to do the walk of shame through Jerusalem with a big assed wooden cross strapped to his back. Except for that one part, where it was carried for him. Well, in order to make it more appetizing to those fun loving Romans who, frankly, weren’t quite the guilt-ridden Catholics you now see before you, the church found it necessary to tweak a few things and told the pagans that of COOOUUURSE they could keep some of their more time honored traditions and idols, because Jesus was TOTALLY down with that, even though he wasn’t and it was a desperate ploy for converts. Let’s take the name Easter. See, way back before the church told all us Italians how incredibly bad we should all feel about Jesus’ death (because it was all our fault, after all, even if it was “pre-ordained”), there was this moon goddess. Her name was Eostara. Her totems were the hare and the egg, for fertility. Yeah, them Romans, they liked sex a LOT. This has not changed noticeably. Ever wonder how we got something like the Easter Bunny?  I mean…a rabbit? Handing out eggs?! Amazing what we hang onto, isn’t it? Cultural memory is a funny thing.

Wow. This late and I’ve only covered two holidays. This is getting a bit long, too. Okay, kids. I promise I’ll be back tomorrow and we’ll go over the rest of the story. Right now I’m going to pay attention to my family some.

And So This is Christmas…

…And what have you done?

Good question. I feel exhausted enough to have crossed every damn task off Hercules’ list. Those Agatean horses got NOTHING on moving house from San Francisco to Dallas in a soft market with kids in tow.

I decided that since I wasn’t especially in the holiday spirit, I’d take the advice of all those gushy, I-heart-Christmas people and try to jump start myself into it. I went shopping. This has never been high on my list during Christmas. The advent of the internet was, IMO, the best thing that ever happened to Christmas shopping. I get the soft happy emotion without having to deal with one idiot on the road.

Yesterday was asshole day at the mall, my friends. Yes, yes, the parking lot was full of them; I can’t believe they all just hung out circling for the best space before finally giving up, grabbing the best spot they could and going in. And THOSE are the people I spent time around. So many varieties of asshole, so few adjectives and modifiers.

The malls here have a different flavor of asshole than those in California. They’re all every bit as self absorbed regardless of state, but there’s a subtle difference. Texans are louder for starters. Drunker, too. Coming from a place where cops just can’t WAIT to try out their breathalyzers, it’s stunning to look around and realize the reason for all the swaying is not the Christmas music. Then there’s the gods. Damned. Perfume. Holy mother of fuck, people, there is simply no REASON for all that damned scent. I went from ground state to raging headache in 0.5 seconds just walking through the doors. Everyone is trying to outsmell everyone else. It’s worse than the perfume counter at Macy’s. And what is WITH you idiots who decide the very best place to unload your Christmas shopping and chat with your friend is right here in the middle of the damn walkway where everyone has to go AROUND you? HUH? Do you REALLY believe you’re that goddamn important? Get out of the damn way or I’ll kick your presents over the ledge and you’ll have to move just to get them from the first floor.

Yeah. So shopping didn’t work. Moved on to baking Christmas cookies. This may have been a mistake. Four teenagers able to do math and add up mom in the kitchen + sugar, eggs & butter=treats gone the second they come out of the oven without even being decorated. I managed to salvage a few so that the darling man could have one or two at least before our voracious offspring could continue their piranha imitations.

We picked our oldest boy up last night from a party and, taking a side route, decided we’d look at the various houses running up their electric bills with ornate displays. This was once guaranteed to elicit “oooo” ‘s from the kids, who looked forward to such diversions this time of year. The response last night? “Are we lost? Aren’t we going home?” *sigh*…. Maybe it’s time we looked into military schools…

Ah, well. We went home and rewarded our attempts at the Christmas spirit by going to bed and staying there, which is what we should have done in the first place.

Merry Christmas.