My extended family has the bad habit of praying before holiday meals begin. I say bad because I find it an effective way of cooling food and little else. Also, they never consider it necessary for other meals. They don't go to church. No deity is invoked the rest of the year. Like many others that find Pascal's Wager so enticing, the holiday prayer almost begins with, "it can't possibly hurt..."
In an effort to elucidate the point they were missing, as well as missing warm food, last Easter I suggested we do away with the whole easiest-path-to-salvation business. My dear grandmother, never one to incite an argument, replied that the holidays were about much more: family, friends, reflection, sharing. I hadn't struck out in an argumentative fashion, nor could I proceed as such, because, well, she was right.
What are we non-believers to make of this festive spirit and general merriment? Should we not be brooding ways to separate the "Christ" from the "mas?" I think not. The most interesting thing about Christmas is how little Christianity has to do with it. I mean this not in the secularism-is-taking-over-the-world kind of way, but the historicity of the whole affair. Fir trees, turkeys and Santa are some of the well known imports, but the very date of Dec. 25 comes from a Pagan celebration that had been taking place for some time prior to the messianic birth.
Matthew and Luke couldn't agree on the story, so we shouldn't be expected to either. In fact, we would be forsaking an important pastime if we neglected to make it up as we go. Let's throw out the baby with the proverbial nativity scene and keep the good parts.
Like wine, for instance. In the spirit of openness, if you choose to turn yours into blood, it's your call. It doesn't suit my palate, however. The feast motif was well-worn by those looking to have something to feel good about near the shortest day of the year. I would actually motion to have that idea made more frequent. We can do away with the bird on the table (or any other sentient creature for that matter). The command "Let the water teem with living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky," from Genesis 1:20 is quite clear, making it obvious Christians didn't invent that part.
You can't spell aesthetic without the word atheist-- you need to jumble up the letters a bit, but it's there. It is time we got rid of the more vomit-inducing aspects of the holiday. Not even Jack Johnson can make "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" a winner; I would take the Eagles' "Please Come Home for Christmas" any day. It's not religious bigotry to ask a shop to change the music if it's simply bad.
My grandmother doesn't know who Jack Johnson is. If she does, I don't know who she is. Family is important. My sister is returning home from a long trip just a few days before Christmas and the proximity to the holiday has no bearing on my excitement to see her. Friends, both near and far, will be on my mind. Combine them with wine and it would be blasphemy to only have it once a year.
Therefore, as those before us have done, let us make the holidays what we want them to be and just be good for goodness' sake. It is the very essence of humanism.