Joy to the World
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
As Christmas approaches my wife Susan and I are doing the things we always do at this time of year. We put up our Christmas tree in the living room and decorate it with the same ornaments we’ve been using for decades. We string colored lights through the shrubs along the front of the house. We sit at the dining room table and write Christmas cards to friends in other states we rarely get a chance to see. We do all this and more, even though neither of us is a Christian or, for that matter, even a believer in God.
By my teenage years I had lost whatever faith I might have had, which wasn’t very much to begin with. I had a preference for reason and evidence over faith. But I continued celebrating Christmas without being quite sure why I was doing it. I wondered if I was being a hypocrite.
The confusion was cleared up for me on a December Sunday in a sermon delivered by an agnostic Unitarian minister. He was a man whose intellect rejected the concept of deity, but who was profoundly spiritual in his actions and his very way of being. In his sermon that Sunday he confessed that for years he had been offering up shaky philosophical justifications for celebrating Christmas as an agnostic. He said he was through with the flimsy explanations and was ready to level with everybody. “I celebrate Christmas,” he said, “because it’s fun.” That’s it, I thought. So simple. Christmas is fun!
The sparkling lights on our tree give the room a festive glow. That’s fun. It’s fun to open the mailbox and find a stack of Christmas cards. It’s fun when a friend drops by unexpectedly with a plate of cookies. It’s fun to walk around downtown on a crisp, clear night looking at the window displays and the lights in the trees. And a big Christmas dinner is not exactly a bad time either. There are all sorts of joyous activities going on this time of year: concerts, parades, solstice celebrations, festivals, holiday events, parties—it’s a season that calls for fun.
None of this is meant to take anything away from people of faith. If you’re a Christian believer, this is a time of deep spiritual joy for you, the celebration of the birth of a savior. There are also many other celebrations going on this month and next month as well, observances that are specifically religious or have strong spiritual elements. This is the season of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Omisoka, Bodhi Day, Guru Gobind Singh Jayanti’s birthday, Makar Sankranti, Mahayana New Year, and Baha’i World Religion Day, to name a few. For people of faith there’s plenty to rejoice in at this time of year, but in addition to the sacred aspects of their observances, much of what they do will be simply festive. In the meantime, we atheists and agnostics can skip the religious stuff and just enjoy the good times.
Here’s something that got me in a merry mood recently, a study from WalletHub.com that revealed that Bellinghamsters spend half as much as the national average on Christmas purchases. Nationwide the average person will shell out $1,077 on Christmas buying. We Hamsters will spend more than $500. The conspicuous consumers down in Bellevue will spend over $2,000 per person.
Does this mean that we’re a bunch of skinflints? I don’t think so. I think it means we’ve got our values straight and aren’t falling victim to the frenzied commercialism that infects many around now. The holidays are for fun, not bankruptcy.
As I write this I’m listening to Christmas songs, not the carols that play on endless loops in grocery stores, but some of my own favorites, such offbeat delights as Canned Heat’s “Christmas Boogie,” the Van-Dells “Doo Wop Christmas,” and a 1954 gem “Dig That Crazy Santa Claus,” by Oscar McLollie and the Honeyjumpers. Man, is this stuff fun!
If this emphasis on amusement seems shallow, think for a minute of all the misery of this past year: multiple school shootings, a rise in hate crimes, rapid advancement of global warming, floods, hurricanes, mudslides, wildfires, war and starvation in Yemen, genocide in Myanmar, and the havoc caused by the amoral sociopath in the White House. We need a break, and this is the perfect time for it.
So whether you’re celebrating a sacred event or, like me, just enjoying the side benefits, have fun this holiday. See you next year.