To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate

December 16, 2009

Jeff and Holly's Christmas Tree--photo by Reba Boyd Wooden.

To Celebrate or not to celebrate, that is the question.  Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to partake of the season's celebrations or to sit idly by while others rejoice in the season. 

Some, such as Tom Flynn , think that we should take a stand and refuse to participate because Christmas is promoted unfairly over the holidays of other religious traditions and is virtually imposed on other people.   I can definitely see his point.  In fact, I and a few other members of the Indianapolis Hiking Club have objected to the annual party in December being called a Christmas party.   A few years ago when I was on the board of directors of the club, which has over 600 members, the board voted (with only one opposing vote) to rename it a Holiday party.  Then a couple of years ago, the new board voted to restore the name of Christmas party.   My point is that if they want to be a club that welcomes people of all backgrounds (as they claim to do) then the party should not bear the name of one religion.   However, the Christians are in the majority so their opinion prevails. I and some other members have protested by not attending the party.  The Christians don't seem to care that we don't come anymore.

However, on a personal and family level, I do participate in Christmas celebrations.  Just as nonobservant Jews keep up their traditions, I, as a cultural Christian (or whatever the term would be for a person who was brought up in a Christian family but no longer believes) continue to celebrate the holiday.  It is a time of year to get together with family, to reconnect through holiday cards with old friends, to give gifts, to put up pretty decorations and lights, and to see those decorations and lights of neighbors. 

I will say, however, that the spending frenzy that accompanies Christmas is really crazy and something in which I don't participate.  I buy gifts only for my children and grandchildren for the most part with a standing order of a Christmas ornament for my sister, two brothers, and their families, and a gift card or two for a few other people.   I usually buy a small gift for my children and grandchildren and give each family some money which they can spend as they like.   One year my daughter and family went for a sledding weekend in the mountains but usually she spends it on the activities in which the kids participate--such as dancing, music, and swimming lessons. 

Except for a few Griswolds in the neighborhood who have their lawns littered with plastic lighted figures, the lights are a nice, pretty, friendly reprieve from the dark days of winter in Indiana.  In 1990, I started a collection of gold Christmas ornaments and for the past several years have sent the special yearly ornament to my children, siblings, and the young lady from Ukraine who stayed with me for a few months while she was a student in the United States.   This has become a tradition and the ornaments are on the trees of my family.  Ulyana calls me her American mom.  Some of these ornaments are religious but most are secular.  As I put my ornaments on the tree with the clear lights, I have memories associated with some of them such as the Santa Train that my grandchildren used to argue over which one got to put it on the tree. 

So I will have to go with Robert Ingersoll who wrote in 1891, " I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy.  .  .  . Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget--a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds--a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine. "

No matter what our cultural or religious heritage, we all need at least one day a year to do this.   It doesn't have to be December 25. 

Happy Holidays--no matter what you call them or when you celebrate.


#1 diogenes99 on Thursday December 17, 2009 at 8:25am

Skeptics and church-state separationists want to rid Christmas from the political sphere, and I agree this is a worthy goal.  However, I’d like to see equal effort in establishing a public celebration of reason.  Many have rallied for Darwin’s birthday, others want to celebrate the solstice, but I think Socrates birthday would be a better choice.  Just as Jesus died for our sins (so says the myth), Socrates died promoting rationality.  Unlike Darwin, he promoted careful thinking applied to all aspects of life (especially in ethics, science and politics), and publicly argued against religious certainty. 

So what we need is a day to celebrate the human mind and rationality.  Let’s choose May 20 for Socrates!

#2 Pau (Guest) on Thursday December 17, 2009 at 9:20am

The celebration of the winter solstice is older than
any religion. Perhaps it even gave birth to some religious beliefs.
If the calendary adjustments that have taken place throughout our history have displaced the exact coincidence of celebration dates, this is certainly   irrelevant.
In some European countries, the summer solstice was almost equal in importance and conveniently replaced by Saint Johns festivities. Huge bonfires were (and are)lit across the landscape.
AS far as I am concerned, I am happy to celebrate Zoroasters birth.
When I explained this situation to my daughter then about six years, I asked her what should celebrate on that year. She settled for the birth of Pompidou.

#3 diogenes99 on Thursday December 17, 2009 at 11:25am

My only comment on Zoroaster and solstice celebrations is that they don’t express the aspirations of those wishing to highlight reason over myth.

#4 J. (Guest) on Thursday December 17, 2009 at 1:26pm

Lets not deprive atheists of the benefits of hypocrisy extended to believers. Everyone knows that Christmas is a social form. I almost never participate in hard core religious events. If anyone asks me to a Christmas party or dinner it’s probably more for my friendship than my piety. Amen.

#5 Pau (Guest) on Friday December 18, 2009 at 8:54am

Diogenes, perhaps you can indicate some festivity that “highlights reason over myth”. I do believe in that reason is a better way to knowledge than myth.
But there is no good reason to associate celebration with either. A celebration is mainly a manifestation of emotion. It’s a behaviour that is based more on emotion than reason, and lets us indulge in our emotional part. Some traditional festivities are attached to events that have nothing to do with human behaviour yet they have a profound influence in our lives because they mark periodical changes of seasons and with them, provide guides for our activities. The winter solstice indicates “the death of the old sun and the rebirth of a new one”. This is not a myth, its an allegory, and many prehistoric constructions point to us how in ancient times, humankind recognized its importance. That the priestly classes, abided by the warrior rulers, grabbed this dates and imposed mystic significance to them, is an unfortunate part of our civilization.
My post was intended to remark on the importance of the celebrations, which we load with emotional content and disregard the religious-political excuses for them.
But I don’t despair, I have heard of a new myth (or urban legend) that assures that in the coming thirty or forty thousand years, the Homo Sapiens will finally be born.
Best wihes for whatever you wish to celebrate


#6 Leticia (Guest) on Sunday December 20, 2009 at 11:52pm

Great blog Reba! We celebrate, and the largest reason is because I don’t think it is fair for my kids to miss out on all the good food, family, and gifts that their friends get to enjoy because of my religious choice. Much like you, we try to not get sucked into the spending trap.

Each of our children get “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.”

This makes gift giving simple, equal, and effective.

The kids know that they can each have 1 “want” from mom & dad, and the rest of their wish list gets distributed to other family members. They may get their wishes filled, and they may not.

As far as the need, we usually take advantage of this time to replenish PJs, socks, and an occasionaly winter coat.

The something to read is my fave part, because I get to talk with the kids about what they are into reading at that time, and I enjoy the selections they so often choose.

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