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.