I never liked my Grade Three teacher, Mrs. Lang. She was a conservative woman with a seemingly chinless face who showed us Bible story reenactment videos in class. Even then, in my still very much maturing Atheist brain, I was put off by the whole thing. It felt strange to be watching dogma from a system of beliefs that had nothing to do with my family’s own. We didn’t have a formal belief system of any kind, but it was still weird being presented to such young minds as factual. [Full disclosure: my dislike for Mrs. Lang may have also come from an incident where she yelled at me over a presentation about dolphins.]
As Christmas approaches, I know that many people feel the same way about the holiday as I did watching those Jesus videos back in Grade Three. They aren’t Christian, they don’t care, or they might even be of another religious faith with its own ceremonies centered on this time of year. In any case, December is unique for a number of reasons. First off, it’s winter and the weather generally sucks. Educationally, it’s the middle of the year with semesters ending and studies changing over. It’s the end of the calendar year and we’re about to start anew with a bunch of promises to ourselves that we probably won’t keep. Lastly, regardless of whose birthday it is, we get three statutory holidays almost in a row — something that doesn’t happen any other month of the year.
The specialness isn’t by accident. In fact, this time of year has been held in high regard as far back as people have been gathering and eating large meals together — or if you’re a stickler for your ages, the Neolithic Age. The reason is simple: Christmas falls on the winter solstice, which has been an important cultural event across the globe, not just in Christian parts of the world. The rocks at Stonehenge were even placed in a way to commemorate the sunset on the day of the solstice (or were they just predicting Jesus’ birthday all along?). Although historians can’t go back and ask those folks why they did what they did, given that those rocks are pretty heavy, it’s easy to assume they felt strongly about what they were doing.
Maybe Jesus was born on December 25, or maybe he wasn’t, but when the Christians came to power and decided that this was the time they were going to celebrate that event, they made sure everyone else knew what they were supposed to be celebrating as well. So when Cardinal so-and-so saw Pagan Sally having a feast with her family on the winter solstice, he wished her a Merry Christmas and Sally just went with it. Because that’s how the world works; those with the power make the rules.
Luckily, we’ve come a long way since the third and fourth centuries when they first started celebrating December 25 as Jesus’ birthday. We live in a country where multiculturalism reigns supreme and our mosaic state of mind allows people of all faiths (or no faith) to celebrate whatever they damn well please to — which is really the point in the first place.
So here’s the thing about Christmas: if you believe in Christ, it’s Christmas; if not, that’s cool too. Just do your own thing and call it whatever you want. December is really about taking a pause to look back at the previous 12 months and forward to the next 12, all while stuffing your face and spending time with the people who mean the most to you in this world.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays!