Christmas in an Atheist House
How to write this hub without sounding defensive? I'm not sure if it's possible, but I'll give it a go.
Christmas in my family has always been a time of great excitement. I will admit that it's mostly about the presents. But try as I might, I just cannot see this as a bad thing. There is always a lot of talk about the commercialisation of Christmas, and I agree with it most of the time. It is sad that some people buy gifts without really putting any thought into them, and really only buy them because it's expected, it's traditional. They throw money at Christmas and wait for it to go away. That's not a good enough reason for giving gifts.
It's not the reason in our house. Christmas is a time for children as far as we're concerned. It's a time for us all to be children. It's always been known in our family - for generations as far as I can tell - that children only receive presents of toys on their birthdays or at Christmas. This is fine. Would it be fair to deny them this joyous time of year, just because they/we don't believe in the Christian beliefs behind it? I don't think so. Often children don't know all about the origins of the whole festive shebang, and most of the time the adults don't know either. We vaguely know that it has something to do with a winter solstice perhaps, and more recently quite a lot to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. But we don't do those bits. We just do the family and friends bits. We're entitled to, because we live in a free society. Christmas is for anyone who wants it.
We don't go crazy with the presents, because none of us has a lot of money. But we do like to put thought and time into what we buy (or make) for those close to us. I usually don't go shopping until I've made a list. I write down the name of every person I'm going to give a gift to, and I often have some kind of idea of what I want to buy straight away. Some people's gifts require more thought than others, but I always get there in the end. Buying presents is absolutely my favourite part of the whole season. I always wish that I did have more money, because I would dearly like to spoil everyone and buy them everything that I know they would love. Well, I can't do that, and it would be silly to even if I could. They would come to expect it every year, and they would end up being spoilt - even the adults; actually the adults would probably be the worst: you should see my mum when she thinks there's a chance of an extra present. Big kid.
So, I have my list, and I go shopping. And it is divine. I love nothing better than picturing the faces of my family and friends when they open the present I've lovingly wrapped for them. I'm being perfectly honest when I say that I love giving gifts more than I enjoy receiving them. Being given presents is wonderful, of course, but handing them over is much better. For me anyway. And it's a chance to go into some of my favourite shops, and to know that I will be buying something in there. I get to spend a lot of time in my bookshop, browsing contentedly for hours on end, only to come away with one book for my dad. It doesn't matter that I couldn't afford very much though, I spent a nice time deciding. For my brother, and for my eldest son, I might while away a little time in the art supplies shop. So many pretty things to look at. I don't know what much of the equipment is for, but I can pretend that I do, and it's a little adventure. And all the time I'm thinking about the person I'm buying for, and enjoying memories of them, and smiling to myself about things they've said to me in the past. If you ever see me out Christmas shopping you will be inclined to steer clear of me, because I will be grinning inanely and looking vaguely into the middle distance, possibly even humming a little. I can be approached, but you will not glean any sense from me. I will only be able to say things like 'awwww, have you seen the lights in BHS? Mmmm, beautiful, gold and red. Which lights have you seen?'
I don't like to do much shopping online, unless I have something specific in mind and I really can't find it in an actual shop. No, I love to go into town, especially when the shops are open late, and the lights are all twinkly and the Christmas CDs are blaring out 'Pa Ra Pa Pum Pum', much to the annoyance of the retail assistants. I take a supply of tissues with me when I go out Christmas shopping, because I can guarantee tears of joy and excitement. I am a complete softie when it comes to Christmas music. I have several CDs which I play in the car from the beginning of December - my favourite is the King's College (Cambridge) choir. Blubbering mess within seconds with that one.
Christmas lights do something to me as well. I need them. I have to have them. I don't know what it is about them, but they make me so happy. I would like to have more, but I would worry about the electricity bill and the risk of fire. I'm not sure how old our wiring is. We don't have lights on the outside of our house, because our house is a bit of a state and we wouldn't really want to draw attention to it. But it does look pretty on the inside. Decorating the house is my other favourite bit of the season. My three little boys help me to do the tree. We used to have a little tradition of the boys planting a little seed in a plant pot, watering it and then going to bed. I would then decorate the tree when they were sleeping and they would come down to find it fully grown in the morning. It was wonderfully magical to see their faces light up. But some well meaning aunty told them that it was me that decorated it, so we let that tradition go. They enjoy helping me now, and I must say that it's a delight. They're very patient and have quite the eye for placing the bauble in the correct position.
Christmas is a relaxing and completely stress-free time in our house. We don't have big plans, we don't spend weeks preparing for the most impressive meal that our town will ever see, and we don't even make concrete plans about when we will see various members of both our families. We just take it all as it comes, see what happens, and enjoy the whole week. People come to us, we go to them, we all gather at my grandma's house, whatever. Lovely, laughing, legless. We eat, some of us drink, some of us sing, we all laugh. Sometimes we argue, and that's alright. Mostly I play. I help my boys to build Lego bits and pieces, and assemble Playmobil houses and cars and treehouses. I play new games, I read new books, and I ignore the other grown-ups sometimes. I'm not really a grown-up myself at Christmas (or the rest of the year actually - but it's more acceptable at Christmas for some reason).
This year I am going to try baking a Christmas cake. Actually I am thinking about baking some small ones and giving them as gifts - I know a few people who love a home-made Christmas cake. I hate it myself - not a dried fruit fan. But I love the sound the mixture makes as it's scraped around the bowl. There's no sound quite like that of a Christmas cake batter being stirred.
More fairly lights
I have joy, even without God being present.
Jesus used to have a place in my Christmas celebrations, and to a certain extent he still does. Let me put it this way: Christmas wouldn't be the same without him. For a start it would be called something different. I grew up believing in God, because I went to a church school and I was told that I believed in him. God and Jesus were never anything but nice to me, and they enriched my life with such beautiful stories and wonderful morals. That is the way I still see them now - as characters in stories that made me happy as a child. I still enjoy the stories today, and I read them to my sons, and we talk about them, just as we do any other story. We are as interested in the part Jesus played in history, as we are about Guy Fawkes and the story behind the tradition of Bonfire Night (I'm not comparing their roles in history - Guy Fawkes was just the first person to pop into my head). We're fascinated by historical figures, and Jesus is one of those.
My two older children go to the same church school that I went to. They take part in the Nativity play each year, and it is wonderful. More tissues needed there. I'm happy that the 'Christmas Story' still has a place in my celebrations. I would be sad if I felt that I had to let go of it, just because of my beliefs. I believe there is no God, just as I know that there is no Peter Pan, no Aslan, no Gandalf - but I can still love them all.