The Weirdness of Christmas

Christmas can be a weird time of year. It’s a Christian religious holiday so thoroughly embedded in Western culture that you can’t really escape it. State-sanctioned public holiday, the epitome of commercialism and consumer culture, men dressed up in red felt suits as the temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius. There are lights and trees and carols that talk of snow and reindeer. Time has to be divided up between family members because somehow these days are worth more than others.

As an atheist, it sometimes feels ethically weird to involve myself in Christmas at all. To me it highlights how Christian privilege operates in Australian (and most Western) societies, how people are pushed into spending and spending and feeling bad if they can’t afford to, how national identity is formulated through meat-laden BBQs and consumerism. Most of all, it seems strange to be participating in a religious festival as a non-religious person, because in a way, I’m just usurping and exploiting someone else’s beliefs. Or does a traditional religious festival become fair game for all when it alone (of all religious festivals celebrated by people in a country) is incorporated into how the state and society works? Maybe. Maybe not.

There are some things I enjoy as well. Time spent with family (even if it still feels like being shuffled around between its disparate elements). A few days away from the normal routine of things, if you’re lucky. Giving gifts to people you love (I guess receiving them is pretty cool too). Being sentimental.

Most of the feelings I have about Christmas can be summed up by Tim Minchin’s song ‘White Wine in the Sun,’ which I first heard a year ago now. It’s political, atheist, honest and sweet, and highlights a way of negotiating Christmas as an atheist that resonates with me a lot. Except that I really don’t like wine.

To my readers, I hope that you have the holiday period that you need – whether it be for religious observation, spending time with family or escaping family, taking a break from everyday routines or keeping yourself distracted, having the space to be happy or the space to be sad, or just to wonder at the weirdness of it all.

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2 thoughts on “The Weirdness of Christmas

  1. 40 degees? Yikes! I hope it’s not too humid…

    Christmas, strangely, only became a thing in Taiwan last year. My first year in Taiwan I hardly noticed it, and I’ve always had to work on Christmas (not that I mind, since I’ve never been a Christian – and if I claimed that I needed the day off on Christmas for religious reasons, my employer would comply, but it’s something I’d have to request). However, it seems every year more of the … commercial parts of Christmas appear. For example, department stores will play Christmas carols and put out people in red suits to invite people to come in. Schools also sometimes offer some Christmas activities – possibly as a way to educate students about a foreign culture? Or to engage students with a little ‘Hollywood’ magic? Or both?

    However, for Taiwanese people, Christmas is ultimately not a big deal. For stores, it’s a gimmick, and for everyone who is not part of the Christian minority (4% of the population) it is at most an interesting distraction. Even (Western) New Year’s Day is a bigger deal than Christmas – I don’t have to work on New Year’s Day, for example. Lunar New Year, on the other hand, is the most emotionally charged (in both good and bad ways) holiday in Taiwan…

  2. It’s the evening of the second holiday in Germany (work tomorrow again, meh). While I still haven’t officially left the Catholic church, I’d describe myself more as an unobserving pagan than an unobserving Christian, so for me it’s been more like “Happy belated Yule”… Unfortunately, I’m working a retail-ish job, so “have a nice day” tends to get replaced shortly before the holidays. I usually compromise by wishing people happy holidays instead of mentioning any specific reason to celebrate. After all, there’s Muslims, Jehova’s Witnesses, Jews, pagans and whoever else who do not celebrate Christmas, and who I don’t want to make uncomfortable by forcing Christmas on them any more than it already is. It’s bad enough that the damn place has Christmas giveways instead of our usual Kleenex.

    On the northern hemisphere, I can get behind why people would want to celebrate the solstice regardless of faith (I mean, it’s absolutely dark outside around 5 pm hereabouts, which is late, considering everyone who’s living even further north). Christmas is only in December to make use of this astronomical phenomenon, after all.

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