Christians commandeered winter holiday: By RJ Turner

By RJ Turner

It’s OK to say “Merry Christmas” if you are an atheist. Or you can think of it as saying, “Merry Krissmiss,” as I thought it was spelled as a young child, if it makes you feel better.

Many of us have fond memories of happy Christmases, and to avoid recognizing the good parts of it is like throwing out your mother’s apple pie because someone claimed the apples were possessed. I like apple pie and I don’t care who knows.

But people have a way of forgetting history. Denying history (and science) is a cornerstone for religion, which has a tendency to massage (or forget) history to fit its supernatural beliefs. Winter solstice celebrations (which began centuries before Jesus was born) have been commandeered by Christians. And because of that, now those of us who wish to celebrate the season have to give some sort of nod to Christianity.

Long before the solstice celebrations were connected to Christianity, early Northern Europeans celebrated “Yule” by burning a large log on Dec. 21 (the shortest day of the year), feasting until it burned out, which sometimes lasted for 12 days. There were other reasons to celebrate during the solstice: Fresh meat was available because it was difficult to provide for the livestock during colder months. Most beer and wine made earlier in the year was finally ready to consume. And it was just plain good karma to break the winter doldrums by bringing evergreen cuttings inside and inviting over a few friends.

A fellow co-worker who knew I was an atheist once asked me why I would celebrate Christmas. I told him that Jesus and God have nothing to do with Santa Claus, decorated trees, stockings and getting together with loved ones. And that the word “Christmas” to me, and many other people that I know, isn’t associated with religion or God, but those other things, a happy winter celebration much like that of the early European “pagans.”

Unfortunately, beloved Christmas shows like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” attempted to further hijack the celebration. In it, Linus gives a speech on “The True Meaning of Christmas,” which isn’t the true meaning at all, but an attempt to turn a pleasant nonreligious celebration into a reason to worship their hero. It always made me feel a little disenchanted to see one of my favorite comic characters take up bible thumping. “Christmas,” in the current sense of religiosity, didn’t really come to be until after the Victorian era.

In many ways, present-day Christians are like their New England Puritan ancestors. But they forget that, because of its known pagan origin, the Puritans banned Christmas. Its observance was illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681. They knew that Jesus was not the “reason for the season.” The celebration hasn’t evolved so much as Christianity evolved to make it theirs.

Christians have a habit of claiming rights to many good things that we were already doing, as if they could not have existed without their God. That includes not only our winter solstice celebrations, but also our Pledge of Allegiance, which was composed in 1892.

Christians added “under God” in 1954, claiming it for themselves, thereby making those who pledge allegiance to our flag also pledge allegiance to their God.

In addition, “E Pluribus Unum” was originally our nation’s motto, adopted in 1782, and was on our currency, but — surprise! — Christians also seized that and managed to change the motto to “In God We Trust” in 1956, thanks to the Cold War.

Christians even attempt to commandeer the United States itself by referring to it as “a Christian nation.” The Founding Fathers were already aware of the tendency for religions to take over, also pledge allegiance, which is why they specifically included “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” in the Constitution. Further, the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

And even further, “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” John Adams affirmed in a treaty ratified by Congress. It could not be spelled out more clearly. Yet, still, Christians frequently attempt to lay claim to this country, our money and our celebrations. It’s only a matter of time before they lay claim to Memorial Day, the day Jesus bought his holy water skis.

“Christmas” is a word our family uses for our solstice celebrating. Spell it however you like, it still has no other meaning than a happy get-together with family and friends and a chance to show our appreciation for each other. I was lucky enough to have a French mother who introduced the word “Noel” to our celebrating. Noel means precisely the same thing to me, and I prefer “Noel,” but it doesn’t play as well on American streets. Every year my mother would put the four green letters “N,” “O,” “E” and “L” on our fireplace mantel, and sometime in the night, someone would change them around to spell: “E.L. N.O.”
It means the same thing to me. Merry Christmas.

FFRF member RJ Turner lives in Ohio, enjoys woodworking and writing, and made the “Freethought Clock” located in the Freethought Hall, the offices of FFRF.

Freedom From Religion Foundation