For the first 29 years of my life I celebrated Christmas along with the vast majority of the West. Sure, like most of us I’d grumble about how commercialized Christmas had become, but even as I struggled to put up a tree, decorate the house and workplace, and buy the gifts I could afford, I felt I was still in the “spirit” of Christmas because it was all a part of commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I would also sometimes see those who didn’t celebrate Christmas for whatever reason and feel some measure of pity for them—for this was supposed to be a holiday for all humankind, right? That’s why I continued to celebrate Christmas through the years that I was an agnostic, and did so even when I came close to becoming an atheist.
That was close to 20 years ago and a lifetime away; indeed it now seems that life belonged to someone else. Now when I go driving down the streets to and from my house, I see the decorations that my middle-class neighbors have put up…and I think of the hundreds of dollars and tens of hours they’ve spent on those decorations. Don’t get me wrong—the decorations are beautiful, but I now see those decorations as a grand waste of time and money in the never-ending race to keep up with the Joneses…and I feel a deep sense of gratitude and relief that I no longer feel a need to go to the time and trouble and expense of the decorations, the parties, and particularly the gifts. That, and for a lot of years my co-workers were always grateful that I had absolutely no problem taking their shifts on Christmas Day.
I’ll save all the Christian evidence against the celebration of Christmas for another time. My only intention in this article is to point out the weight that is lifted from one’s shoulders when one is able to see past it all and forsake the quasi-religious chimera that is Christmas for the commercial and political tool that it has been for many centuries. Now I see in the eyes of the celebrants the same pity for me that I once had for those who didn’t celebrate Christmas…but do they see in my eyes the pity I have for them, for the religious, commercial, social, and political blinders they still wear? Probably not, for I remember how I felt when I was in their shoes long ago.
But now I am reminded of the two times I went to the Emerald Buddha Temple in Bangkok and watched the people perform their devotions, lighting incense, bowing before a statue, perhaps placing a small stamp-sized piece of gold foil on one of the statues as they petitioned what they believed was a higher power for a better life. I was interested not in the religious sense but sociologically, as a part of my lifelong curiosity about cultures other than my own. I respected and would never hinder their religious belief, but I could never join with them. That’s how I feel now whenever I see mothers standing in line to bring their little girls and boys to talk to Santa, or a group of carolers strolling down the avenue as I once did, or the oversized inflatable interior-lighted Christmas lawn decorations that are all the rage now.
I won’t say to you “Merry Christmas,” for I see that as being as religiously empty as “Happy Eid” or “Happy Hanukkah.” But I will say to you “Happy Holidays,” for there’s too much heartache in this world as it is.
Happy Holidays to all, and may the coming year be better than this one (the Republicans’ War on Civilization notwithstanding)!