"I choose to decline all invitations to a ghost's birthday party and to shun Christmas things as much as possible. I have no religious faith, I have no Christmas tree, and I want neither…and I don't believe I've missed a thing."
"... the willingness to do, in some form or another, what others have always done because of foundationless teachings that that is what we're all supposed to do," is "what aggravates me about holidays and religion,"
John G. Rodwan, Jr., in Holidays and Other Disasters
Just from reading the promotional material from the Humanist Press, I knew that this is a book that would resonate with me.
Every year now, for decades, as October winds to a close and the Halloween specialty stores open briefly, like irises in the spring (my wife found a fetching half-angel-half-devil costume a few years ago), we begin the annual mad rush of choreographed behavior.
Everybody doing one thing at one time, just because it’s the right thing to do. I get more skeptical every year, but my attitude really turned a corner when I attended, in Chicago, a CFI Festivus Party. The symbol, the source of all wisdom, was a broomstick and a balloon.
One of the group answered questions like an oracle. (“How come no one understands me?” “We’ve got a long waiting list for that one. Take a number.”) Humanists can party, too, but they’re not going to ignore the absurdity of the exercise.
The government declares a holiday, and we obey. Just celebrated another war holiday. My heart breaks at people who think they’re “doing their duty” and “defending my freedom.” All because a politician said so. Not gonna go there right now right now. But it is a tragic subject.
The government says we have to give thanks. But traditions accumulate on their own. I saw a “first Thanksgiving” cartoon in which both pilgrims and natives complain about the traffic and parking. They joke about overeating. The last panel shows them sitting around a wood box. One of them says, “If only this box showed images of prancing athletes.” Another responds, “Aye, that would be heaven.”
So Christians and others begin the season by stuffing themselves, along with people they probably don’t like, do the same for weeks on end at office and personal parties (SO glad to be free from that!), celebrate the birthday of a dead ghost, cap it all off with drunken revelry to greet a consensual calendar changeover. Fun times!
Throw in a couple of other religious festivals, like Seders and Easter sunrise services, and you have a LOT of mutually-consensual behavior about what to do, when. That’s OK. Makes people comfortable to know they’re doing the right (albeit arbitrary) thing at the right time.
Are all the participants equally enthusiastic? Almost certainly not. Psychology tells us that we vastly overestimate the obedience of others, so we go along ourselves. Everybody secretly resists questioning the norms, and we get the Emperor’s new clothes, in endless variety.
Holidays as disasters
Maybe it’s obvious to you, but holidays-as-disasters was something I kept to myself. After a long time of feeling out of it at Christmas (listen to South Park’s Kyle’s plaintive melody, “It’s Tough to be a Jew at Christmas), I learned that a lot of Christians would like to be out of it too. From obnoxious relatives to alcoholic/dietary overindulgence, there’s a host of reasons to be repelled by Christmas.
Out of it, with people celebrating something that didn’t happen: That‘s how I feel at a Passover Seder, which is probably why I don’t get invited to my brother’s.
Once a year
My Dad, a pharmacist who sold greeting cards, had no respect for once-a-year holidays (thanksgiving/gratitude, Valentine’s Day/love, High Holidays/forgiveness), and I agreed with him.
We will soon once again hear the usual Yuletide cries from the pulpit to practice the Christmas spirit year round, but people won’t do it. There’s just too much antagonism built into our brains, our cultures, our politics. There are limits to our charity and altruism. But we can try, each day, to practice that from which holiday merchants prosper.
I know I’m going to like Holidays and other Disasters. I didn’t know anyone questioned holidays as deeply as I did (but I‘m always meeting like-minded people on A/N).
I would like to see more people turn away from each holiday’s “expected ritual” to its “intended spirit.” I’m not holding my breath on that one. Just around the corner is that quintessential expression of the unquestioning sheep mentality: Black Friday -- such a powerfuil metaphor that all the negative connotations of "black" have been abandoned in favor of this one good one: retail finances go into the black.
Go nuts buying crap for other people because in a legend, a special baby supposedly received gifts? Oy, vey. Great to be a Jew on Christmas. Too bad Jews couldn’t resist the assimilationist frenzy and not add gift-giving onto Hanukkah. Back in the day, the gift of choice was money, but now Jews too are busily browsing online merchants and elbowing Christians aside at Wal-Mart, Macy’s, and 10,000 other retail emporia.
From time to time, new holidays are added to the culture. The most recent example is Super Bowl Day, when people eat, drink, and pretend to be interested in the outcome of a contest between strangers (as Jerry Seinfeld pointed out, sports fandom is basically rooting for haberdashery: if the other guys were wearing your team’s uniforms, you’d root for them).
I know people with such a highly developed sense of what’s right that they have a Super Bowl party, even though their interest in football is minimal.
Holidays are a disaster.
What a grab-bag. War holidays, special-interest holidays, once-a-year holidays (one day a year to recognize mothers and fathers? preposterous!), hypercommercialized holidays (that would be all of them, I guess)…toss ‘em all out.
Every day has the potential to be a holiday, whether it’s expressing gratitude, atoning, granting forgiveness, loving, practicing charity, showing appreciation to Mom or Dad, or just loving (or at least not hating) your neighbor.
That’s the humanist approach. Lose the commercialism. Keep the spirit – year-round.