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But how is this possible? you might ask.
Honestly, sometimes I feel the dead-cold stare of other atheists looking me down in dismay: Doesn’t this guy know he’s not supposed to do that anymore???
So I’d been planning to go ahead and write up an explanation of how indeed it is possible for me to celebrate a “religious” holiday. And to explain why I feel the liberty to do so. I had begun organizing my thoughts and preparing the outline. It was just starting to come together.
And then everything changed. Because it was then that I discovered Seth Andrews’s fantastic video about why he feels the same way I do. And I think maybe he does a better job at explaining this than I would. Or at least, he has a lot more to say about it than my meager plans.
Plus, it’s in video. Who doesn’t love video!?
Now, he has a lot of bonus material in here. The video’s core point is found in the first 3.5 minutes and then from the 12-minute mark onward. But honestly the whole video is quite edifying.
So that’s Seth.
Beyond this, I guess it basically comes down to the fact that in my evangelical context, we were raised to see two Christmases. There was the Real Christmas that true Christians celebrated, complete with candlelight worship services and the reading of the biblical manger stories. But then there was the more mainstream and TV-friendly Secular Christmas that worshiped at materialism and self-indulgence. One was overflowing with rich meaning and substance while the other was more of an empty shell of false happiness and societal fairytales. Or at least that’s how we saw the distinction between the two.
But the point is that I’ve always seen Two Christmases.
And I guess this might be why I have no problem moving beyond the Christian version to embrace the more secular one.
Yet even without any hint of Christianity, the holiday still remains “Christmas.”
And maybe I would define this Secular Christmas a little different than how it is from the Christian perspective. Like all holidays, it primarily serves as a wonderful opportunity to gather with friends and family, to celebrate the breath in our lungs and provisions for our tables, to be thankful for all that this life has to offer. To push the pause button on the chaos of life, to stop moving, sit down at a table, raise a glass, and smile at the good things set before us.
Whatever you want to call it and whatever it’s roots, I love it. I’m not opposed to calling this season the Winter Solstice. But the traditions I’ve come to love have developed under the guise of “Christmas” and I’m comfortable keeping it as such. At least until society in time rebrands it differently.
But what exactly do I love about this December holiday? Oh, please allow me a moment to share the wonder. And in so doing, may we glory together…
- The warm glow of lights. Apart from the opportunity to spend time with those I love, this just might be my absolute holiday highlight. I am in awe of how the home and city light up with the warmth of wonder, all due to those gleaming little bulbs of electricity…
- The Christmas Tree. Decorated with fantastic ornamental balls, silvery garland, and, yes, more lights. Topped by a star and sitting atop a pile of gifts. My favorite exercise has always been to sit at its foot in midnight silence and to mediate on the beauty and majesty of this life. Alone in my thoughts. Held captive to its simple yet breathtaking beauty.
- The Snow. For this week alone, I actually enjoy a snow-covered existence.
- The Food! Christmas cookies! Egg nog! And a huge round-the-table family feast!
- The Music. I’m definitely not one of these year-round lovers of Christmas music. But I can’t resist it for the month of December. Especially in live performance. Once again, it builds into this incredible sense of majesty, and wonder. And “Holy Night” is the prince of them all…
- The Caroling. We seem to be losing an appreciation for these bands of merry carolers moving house to house, spreading a little joy and cheer. I am no singer, but carol gladly, I most certainly will…
- The Film. It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, Home Alone, A Christmas Story. They are all amazing, and I love every singe one.
- Family, friends, and a warm fire. But really, it’s spending time with those you love. For various reasons, my career choices have always seemed to interfere with getting back home to Minnesota. I haven’t spent the December holiday with my parents and extended relations in over a decade. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to. The warm glow of the day is at its greatest when surrounded by those you love. Especially when conversation moves to serene depths and profound truths.
Just a smattering of reasons, I suppose. A smattering of reasons why I suppose I might always enjoy Christmas. Granted, these elements are purely cultural, it’s true. And maybe it’s because of my religious context that we ascribed such wonderment and awe to them. But nonetheless, none of these traditions are inherently religious themselves. And they are in my heart. They bring me joy. A nonstop tapestry of visual and emotional highlights.
So my point is this: I don’t think being an atheist means I have to give all this up. And I think it seems a bit superficial to insist we call it Winter Solstice while remaining content with the decor and tradition of what has become a typical American Christmas. So I will keep the name in place. As Seth Andrews pointed out, we don’t plan on renaming Thursday anytime soon. And I have a hunch that they kept the name Saturnalia for some time after they stopped literally believing in the god of Saturn.
So all this said…
It’s time to turn on some Christmas carols and pour my first glass of morning egg nog.
But first I would now like to take this opportunity to wish you all, with a great and overflowing tide of joy & majesty….
A Very Merry Christmas!