The Christmas season has descended upon us like a sex-starved prison inmate in a suddenly and strangely deserted shower and, like it always does, it has me thinking about whether its appropriate to celebrate a Christian holiday if one is not a Christian. Three things have me thinking about this again this year. One is the fact that I’m an atheist and the fact that this has always given me pause in recognizing the tinsel, holly, babe in swaddling clothes holiday. The second is that a coworker recently wondered aloud to me whether it was appropriate to accept a Christmas gift from someone if you do not celebrate Christmas. More on that in a moment. The third is the recent death of Christopher Hitchens.
Hitchens, for those who do not know, was a modern-day philosopher of sorts, a left-wing thinker who made several memorable appearances on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and always had something interesting and insightful to say. Like Maher and myself, Hitcens was also an outspoken atheist and the author of God is not Great, one of the better books on the subject of atheism and general disbelief in God and religion ever written. Hitchens died on December 15th at the age of 62 due to complications from esophageal cancer. Sounds like a nasty way to go. May the Lord welcome him home… oh, yeah.
Hitchens’ death, coming so close to the holiday, made me wonder if he celebrated this Christian day with so many traditions stemming from Paganism. Did someone so adamant in his disbelief still hang his stockings by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there? Hitchens’ countryman John Lennon was also a devout atheist, yet he penned one of the few Christmas songs that doesn’t make me want to upchuck Grandma’s fruitcake, the classic plea for peace Happy Christmas (War is Over). Surely if someone as godless as Lennon was still into Santa, then Christopher probably was as well and its excusable for me to be, isn’t it?
Besides, religious holiday or not, I like Christmas. I’m not big on the annoying music associated with it (I just about puked seeing the kids on Glee sing Christmas songs while dressed like Star Wars characters this year – yes that really happened) or the way we start seeing decorations and such in the stores before the Halloween ones are even marked down, but I like the whole peace on Earth, good will toward men ideology… and the idea of someone giving me an ipod or whatever just because they like me. And I even like giving overpriced shit to the people I care about for the same reason. Christmas, you can’t deny, is fun.
Back to the coworker who wanted to know if it was acceptable to accept a gift when she didn’t celebrate the holiday herself. I told her that refusing a gift because you don’t celebrate the holiday is just sort of being an asshole. Someone went to the trouble ot pick something out just for you, pay for it, wrap it up in pretty paper and ribbons, all in the hopes that you will like and appreciate it and you’re going to say “thanks, but no thanks.” Asshole. Conversely, if you don’t celebrate the holiday for whatever reason and someone asks you what you would like for Christmas, its perfectly acceptable to tell them “Don’t get me anything, I don’t celebrate Christmas.” I’m an atheist, but if I sneeze and someone says “God bless you,” I’m not going to be a dick and say “no, I don’t believe in god.” I’m going to assume they mean well and go on about my day.
So, I do continue to celebrate Christmas. I’d like an iPhone 4S.