While my close family is secular, my mother's side of the family is rather religious. They are Irish Catholics. They cross themselves and pray before meals ("Blessus aLord for these thy gif's we a' about to receive, from the [thy?] boun'y aChrist, aLord, Amen.") and go to mass every Sunday.
We visit them every Christmas. They, of course, do not know that I am an atheist. Sometimes things get a bit awkward.
A few years ago, my aunt gave me a necklace bearing a crucifix. I was expected, obviously, to wear it, and I did. I did not enjoy the experience. For one, it wasn't the most attractive of crosses--I would have much preferred to receive one of the Celtic variety, the ones with the circle around them and nifty knot-like designs. This one was standard issue, boring, and fake-gold. More importantly, however, wearing that thing made me feel like a liar, like I was betraying something. At length, I decided that the 'something' I was betraying was myself.
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Once, when I was in eight grade, we happened to be in Florida over winter break. My cousin was getting married there on New Year's Eve, but it was still several days prior when we found ourselves in an IHOP in Key Largo (I think it was Key Largo, but I may be misremembering). The thing that stuck with me about that particular IHOP was that it was decorated inside with Nativity-stickers.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, apparently, were all yellow-haired, blue-eyed and smiling.
Well, I may be an atheist, but I know a few things. Firstly, the Lord and Savior was born in the Middle fucking East, not bleedin' Switzerland. Secondly, while babies can smile, they don't smile like that.
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I actually love Christmas. This might strike some people as odd. Others might assume that it is because I like getting presents (well, I do, but still...). The real reasons are more complex. Let me explain.
I believe that Jesus probably did exist. I do not believe he was the son of God. Nor do I believe that he was born on the 25th of December. That date probably was set for the convenience of new converts from the Ancient Roman religion, as well as Druidism, Judaism, and All-the-Other-isms that already had holidays around the same time.
Have you noticed that many religions have holidays that cluster around the same dates? This is thanks to cross-quarter days. But that wasn't what I was talking about, was it...
There is just something about Christmas that is special. It's something that transcends Black Friday, Santa Claus, Jesus Christ, and everything else--something truly ancient, reaching into our present time.
It is a celebration of light and life in the darkest, most deadly of times.
That, not the symbolism or religious significance, is what I connect to. That is why I, an atheist, can go happily about, singing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs.