I love the holidays. I love the wintry scenes, downtime with family and friends, the joy of watching someone open a gift, the coziness of lights on the tree, the baked goods. My word I love the baked goods. My childhood memories are filled with images of my sister and I cuddled in bed together waiting for Santa, of cozy afternoons on the couch watching a newly opened VHS tape with the family, of delicious meals prepared with love. The holidays mean a lot to me, and hopefully will to my child. Sure, I celebrate Christmas, but I’m not a Christian.
I know I’m not alone in this. In the U.S. life grinds to a halt for Christmas. Streets clog up in the last shopping days, entire radio stations and TV networks devote themselves to the holiday themed fare. School is out, the airport is full of long lines, the mail stops, for a couple of days we are encouraged to press pause on our lives (as long as we spent enough money shopping in the preceding days) and be at home with our loved ones. So whether you’re a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, an agnostic, an atheist or perhaps a Scientologist, you are going to find it pretty hard to avoid cultural-Christmas.
I’ve heard several times this year, in different places, ‘if you’re not Christian, why do you get to celebrate Christmas?’ Besides the obvious fact that it’s nearly impossible to leave your house and avoid Christmas starting the day after Halloween, I have to strongly object with this narrow-minded sentiment.
If you’re Christian you know that while Christmas may be a celebration of Jesus’ birth, it’s likely he wasn’t born in December at all. You know that the tree, the lights and Santa are all a compilation of customs from various belief systems (including pagan) that eventually came together and were adopted as symbols of our celebration. And you don’t have to be a scholar of Christianity to realize that the mad rush to Wal-Mart and the mall and the mailbox at the holidays have nothing to do with Jesus. If you want to be a purist, I’d say start donating all your worldly possessions, not bringing home more and covering them in colored paper.
None of this means that Christmas isn’t a meaningful holiday for Christians, of course it is. It simply means that in our amalgamated world the Christmas now celebrated in the mainstream is a result of our diversity and our short memories. It means that while Christmas may have a special meaning for Christians, the holiday season that revolves around December 25th belongs to anyone who wants to embrace the idea. It means that taking some time out in the middle of winter, in those short dark days, to string up some lights, make a warm drink and sit down to dinner with your loved ones is a custom in our culture that belongs to everyone now.
This year, Christmas, the holidays, Winter Solstice, whatever, have a special meaning for us. Our family is just that much bigger, about 10 pounds to be exact, and our baby is being absorbed into our traditions, and new traditions are being created around her. I don’t know what she will believe when she is an adult, whether her faith will be placed in a god or in others or in chaos. But I know that she will know the love of family we’ve always known, she’ll cherish the late December days spent lazily in front of a fire (or a fake fire on the flat screen, either way), she’ll think happiness tastes like peanut butter blossoms and shortbread. And that’s reason enough to celebrate.