“Merry Christmas” and the Spirit of Giving

Recently a Facebook friend wrote that he wasn’t going to stop saying “Merry Christmas,” no matter who it might offend. Comments to his posting were equally supportive, some going so far as to say it’s a bunch of “bullshit.”

It continues to amaze me that at this (supposedly) time of peace on earth and good will towards all, people continue to exhibit such animosity, hostility, and rancor towards those who don’t believe as they do.

I personally do not honor December 25th in any religious way. For one thing, although popularized as the date Jesus was born, evidence from all fronts indicates this is in error. But beyond that, I simply am no longer a “believer.”

It’s a long-standing tradition to give gifts at this time of year. In fact, kids have learned to expect toys and other goodies – to the point that people are urged to donate to “Toys for Tots” and other organizations just so the floor under the tree isn’t bare. And adults aren’t much better. They will spend money they don’t have simply to fulfill the obligation of the season.

giving

If people truly want to demonstrate the “Christmas” spirit, why limit it to words? Why not help others to have that Merry Christmas they speak of by giving to those less fortunate – expressed through donations of food, money to help pay the bills, blankets and clothes to keep warm. (And dropping loose change into the Salvation Army bucket doesn’t count.)

Pay attention to requests from your local paper about families in need. Buy a little extra when you go to the grocery store and drop it off at the Food Bank. Go through your stash of old blankets and take them to a local charity. In other words, take heed to that old saying: “Actions speak louder than words.”

The Christianization of Christmas

Over the weekend, I read an article in my local newspaper entitled “Tough to Be An Atheist at Christmas.” It was about some individuals who seemed to struggle with how to celebrate the Christmas holidays. The comment one of them made was that “All the planned activities at this time of year revolve around the church.”

Of course this is because the Christians claim this holiday to be their own. However, celebration of this time of the year dates back much father than Christianity. In fact, many of the popular celebratory customs have pre-Christian or secular themes and origins. For example, erecting the Christmas tree is actually a pagan tradition that commemorates the Winter Solstice.

Christians tend to claim December 25th as the date of Jesus’ birthday even though many scholars have pointed out the more likely date was in April. The December date was actually the time of a Graeco-Roman (pagan) festival.

Interestingly, some early Puritan Christians (including those who fled to America) recognized the pagan influence that permeated Christmas and sought to remove it. They considered it “a popish festival with no biblical justification” and a time of wasteful and immoral behavior (from Wikipedia). Of course, they didn’t succeed.

Probably the biggest controversy that encompasses this time of year is centered in the seasonal greeting. Since Christians claim Christmas as their exclusive holiday, many are offended by those who prefer to use “Happy Holidays” to express wishes for the season.

Personally, I find it disturbing that atheists, agnostics, or any person of non-Christian faith should be criticized (or even ostracized) because they do not accept this December holiday as exclusively Christian. The choice to honor Christmas as a religious holiday, or to see it as simply a seasonal day of celebration, is an individual decision and should always be respected as such.