Thanksgiving is past, and, on December first, I always hang our "Advent Calendar" on the wall in the family room near the fireplace. The calendar is fringed burlap with a large, green felt tree in the middle. There are 24 red buttons sewn on the tree.
This was a handmade gift from a dear friend many years ago before I even had children, and my children are now ages 22 and 28.
Each day from December 1st through December 24th, a colorful felt ornaments is taken from a pocket on the calendar, and that ornament is hung on one of the red buttons on the felt tree. There are a snowflake, a drum, a bugle, a holly leaf, a wreath, a snowman, a candy cane, Santa, a reindeer, and so on.
Pocket number 24 always contains "baby Jesus" in half a walnut shell.
I'm fine with most of the colorful and whimsical symbols of the make-believe and romance associated with the season, but will admit that I feel somehow uncomfortable about "baby Jesus".
Upon analysis, I think my discomfort is because it seems fine for adults to enjoy "Let's pretend" with children and even with each other in connection with holidays, but Christians separate the myth of Jesus from all the rest, and deny that the "Jesus story" is as much a fable as that of he elves, the North Pole, Frosty, and Rudolph.
So...I wondered how other atheists handle the Christmas season, in big ways and in little ways.
I'm particularly curious about those of you who have young children. Do you engage in any seasonal make believe with them? Do you introduce them to any of the cultural symbols of the season? If so, do you avoid the manger and wise men and star of Bethlehem?
We put up a tree and some other decorations. At some point, I will probably break out Handel's Messiah, Britten's Ceremony of Carols and Rejoice in the Lamb and a few other classics. My wife has already been out shopping (I do most of mine online), and we'll open presents with her family early because she and I are going to Sun City, Arizona to spend a week with my mom. Oh, and instead of a turkey, my wife, mom and I will likely each have a stuffed Cornish hen to ourselves. We've done that a few years running and it has worked out quite well.
Generally, we have a pretty good time, and I don't see that this year should be any different.
When my parents were alive, I visited them, gave them gifts, and looked at Xmas as a family moment. I don't have children of my own, so that's not an issue.
My "second family", functional or dysfunctional, is in the workplace. We have pretty rigid rules about not instigating controversies, so I let things slide there too.
At home, my partner is not US raised, or even Western raised, so views Xmas as a sort of exotic American holiday, and is pretty happy about the whole thing. So I get to view it through his eyes, and it makes me more tolerant in general. Not helpful for other folks on how to deal with their families, but each to their own.
Have a happy holiday regardless of how you spend it!
My kids are 19 and 21 now, but we never even mentioned "Jesus", etc. They heard about it whenever they heard about it, but we just did fun and Santa Claus! My Mom did the same with my sister and I. We just all get together now and have a good meal, visit, give presents, and have fun. Holidays are just for fun for us.
Looks like all the respondents, so far, are quite comfortable celebrating Christmas as a secular holiday tailored to their own tastes, without apology.
That's pretty much my position, though I am often thrown together with very devout family members at holiday times. If any of those who know that I'm an atheist should question me, I'll tell them to check their email because I'll send them an "essay" I wrote a few years back explaining why an atheist would choose to celebrate Xmas.
I was interested in Loren saying he listens to the Messiah, Ceremony of Carols, and so on. I have an atheist friend who enjoys singing Amazing Grace. While I'm not sure, I think she just substitutes in her mind her own concepts of "grace" and being "saved", which have nothing to do with religion.
E.O. Wilson, ant expert, evolutionary biologist and atheist was raised a Southern Baptist. In one of his books, his autobiography, I think, he tells of hearing a gospel choir sing after a service at Harvard. He was astonished to find himself weeping. He comments: "My people, I thought. My people."
Just curious-- are there any who boycott or ignore Xmas completely?
Handel's Messiah was in my house since I was a kid (with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mormon Tabernacle Choir, no less!), and we sang parts of it in high school for the yearly Christmas Concert. I learned the Britten Ceremony at roughly the same time and enjoyed it for the beauty of the music that Britten set those old English words to. Fact is, I still think that the Messiah's "Comfort Ye" is a treat for any tenor soloist, and I will occasionally sing along with it when I have it cued up on my stereo system.
I find that mostly, I don't care what the words say. It's what the MUSIC says that moves me most times.
I don't celebrate Christmas.
We have no young children at home, but I do understand the last part of your post. Imagining young kids at Christmastime trying to tell me things about Jesus, I simply would say to them "you really think so, then look it up on the Internet." Kids today are smarter than you think at a very young age, and they even use the Internet at school early on.
As for the season itself, I lived in Texas as a widower for a time, having a girlfriend who told me every year that I needed a tree, gifts under it, and the whole mess. I reminded her that I lived alone and there were no small children around. Then I asked her if I should buy presents for myself, wrap them up and put them under the tree, pretending that I didn't know what they were? (She never did get it.) As for trees and decorations I told her that if I missed them, I could simply look out my door and view what the neighbors had. (She didn't get that either.) Anything to get me to do what everybody else was doing. That's the way theists are even if none of this really has anything to do with Jesus.
So, today my Kenyan wife and I may or may not have a tree, may or may not have a big dinner, etc. I leave it all up to her. After all, how much frigging turkey can you eat? Every year at this time is different than the last one for us. Kenya has no snow to speak of, and we do not watch "christmas programs" on TV. I don't give a damn about an "angel getting it's wings" or any other popular movie of the war years. As a Luo, my wife knows nothing of Santa and that big myth, but she is learning about our big exaggerated holidays here.
For those who would call me "Scrooge" (and some have) I invite them to read Dickens and see what that was all about and why the man became as he did. Most Americans don't get it. We hear about Scrooge every year and most believe he was an old man who was simply afraid to turn loose of that money at Christmastime. The merchants love that idea and they push it.
Mostly at my house this time of year, my wife calls the shots.
"Silver bells. Something smells
I think it's coming from the city
Ding a ling. You ding a ling
Soon it will be Christmas day."
Briefly: I (no "we") put out a few "Christmassy" candles and bells for seasonal decoration. It's hard to ignore traditions. Nothing "religious". And, like Loren, I play a lot of Bach and Handel oratorios, just because I like the music. I never did listen to the words (including Amazing Grace).
As for myself, living alone, I put up nothing for Xmas at my residence. Buy a few gifts for people I care about, and that's about it. However, I work in an office with 2 other lawyers and secretaries. They're all "into" the season. Last year, they decided to play a joke on me (the firm's outspoken atheist), and put up a manger scene in my office. It somewhat backfired on them. I re-decorated it and put it in the reception area. Within 5 minutes of the door opening, they had removed it. Can't understand why!
Oh wow! Too creative to let it go to waste. Hope you found a non-public spot in the office to display it. At least you got pictures!
Pat, you sly devil, you! ROFL!