I left the Christian faith several years ago and eventually became an atheist activist. But Christmas continues to be a joyful time of year for me and my family.
Unfortunately, the anger from some Grinch-like Christians over a make-believe “War on Christmas” allegedly waged by coffee shops, retail stores, schools and various local governments is sucking the joy out of the Christmas spirit. They’ve even managed to make the words “Merry Christmas” more of a battle cry than a sincere greeting of goodwill.
Long before the “war,” I used to help my dad set up the Christmas tree and decorate it with my mom while breathing in the fresh pine aroma that no household cleaner can ever replicate. Our house would always be decked out with twinkling lights, Nativity scenes, angels, elves, holly and a 5-foot-tall Santa Claus mannequin that greeted guests at our front door.
Bing Crosby would frequently sing from our living-room stereo, teaching us how to properly say “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian (“Mele Kalikimaka”). Other swoon-inducing voices my parents would spin on our solid-oak Magnavox stereo turntable included Andy Williams, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. I hear these same recordings today when I visit the local shopping mall and on my car radio while driving by Christmas lights illuminating the winter night.
The ubiquity of all of this Christmas stuff appears to contradict the idea of a “War on Christmas.” However, there are stories in the news that keep it alive and have some Christians feeling persecuted. The city of Wadena, Minn., received headline coverage from multiple news organizations in October when the City Council voted to remove a Nativity scene from a local park. One TV reporter said the City Council faced a “crisis” when a resident asked for the display to be removed from public property. Crisis? Really? And can we at least wait until Halloween has passed before we fight this “war”?
No religious group should be given special privileges from our government. Christians who insist that their religious beliefs be exclusively honored with a display on public property are revealing their unearned sense of entitlement and historic religious privilege. In order to achieve equality, the City Council had two choices: Remove the Nativity scene or erect religious displays for Hanukkah, Arba’een, Bodhi, Pancha Ganapati, Chalica, Yalda and “Festivus (for the rest of us).” I think they chose wisely.
Our increasingly diverse nation of many cultures features different ideas of god-belief (and non-god-belief), so it is more important than ever for our representative democracy to remain religiously neutral at all levels of government, because secularism is the best path to equality.
As far as the battle taking place in coffee shops and at other retail establishments, let’s consider that there are many patrons of these businesses who don’t worship Jesus, believe in angels or celebrate Christmas, so it’s reasonable for them to forgo the Christian imagery and greet customers with an inclusive holiday greeting. Not only is it decent, but it makes good business sense.
So if you find yourself retorting “Merry Christmas” when the cashier at the store says “Happy Holidays,” you may think about re-examining how secure you are in your religious faith. If you have determined that you have lost confidence in your god-belief as I did many years ago, I invite you to celebrate life and the holidays with the friendly people at Minnesota Atheists. Many of us love celebrating Christmas with all of the glorious fanfare outside of the church. This includes an annual winter solstice celebration with the Humanists of Minnesota, and gift giving along with charitable donations to social-service organizations that help improve this life and this world without an army of salvation-seeking bell-ringers.
There’s already enough trouble in the world, so let’s agree to end this silly war. Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, humanist or something else I believe that we all generally wish to reduce our problems and strive for peace, love and joy — three primary elements of the Christmas spirit.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
Eric Jayne is president of Minnesota Atheists.