Tuesday conversation: Christmas!

I don’t celebrate Christmas – I celebrate Friendsmas!  :)  It’s a holiday conceived by my friend, Cambridge.  It’s pretty much like Christmas, but without all the religious hullabaloo and which puts the focus on the real reason for the season: friends.

My family has also always opened presents on Christmas Eve.  I was the envy of all my friends.

I grew up in a secular household, but we did celebrate Christmas and I did believe in Santa Claus.  We just focused on all the cool stuff: peace on earth, goodwill toward man, etc.  None of the Jesus hogwash.  Personally, I think the Jesus hogwash, with its tendency to promote disdain for out groups, muddles up the peace on earth and goodwill toward man part.  Just think about how many people dredge misery out of the holidays when they are wished well in a way they deem insufficient (“Happy Holidays!”).

Anyway, what are your family traditions?  Do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you engage or ignore the “war on Christmas” folk?

Also, commenters should suggest a new holiday tradition.  If there is a particularly good suggestion, I will adopt it this year.  :D

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Gordon

    I love Christmas, I’ve been looking forward to seeing my family for months.

  • Heather

    Although my grandma claims to be a devout Christian (she’ll try to guilt me for being an atheist then turn around and wonder what her Chinese horoscope says or what psychics say) we celebrate Christmas rather secularly. Our family tradition is also to do Christmas (and my birthday) on Christmas eve, and then Christmas day my grandma’s generation will come visit. Used to do church at midnight on Christmas eve, but once I declined too many times after coming to my own decision about religion she’s mostly stopped asking about that.
    Fun fact: having your birthday on Christmas absolutely sucks and I do not wish it on anyone.

  • http://www.cognitivedissident.org cognitive dissident

    A Catholic co-worker (who knows that I’m an atheist) once asked me, “How does your family celebrate Christmas?” I answered along these lines:

    One doesn’t need belief in the supernatural to enjoy the best parts of Christmas: Santa and his elves, Rudolph and the other reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch; pine trees and ornaments, candy canes and gingerbread houses; milk and cookies, eggnog and fruitcake; snowballs and carols, A Christmas Story and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas;” peace and goodwill–not to mention family and friends exchanging gifts and breaking bread together.

    What, exactly, are atheists missing?

  • http://timidatheist.tumbler.com Timid Athiest

    My family was rather secular when it came to Christmas. My father was always against bringing god into the house and Mom didn’t really care either. We opened our presents from each other on Christmas Eve and Christmas day we would open our gifts from Santa. Even when us kids knew better Mom would always save one gift and candy to be from Santa the next morning. We usually would go visit my mom’s parents Christmas day then to eat together. Then for new years we’d celebrate my “christmas” with my father’s side of the family and have chili and oyster soup. Now that I’m on my own and with a kiddo of my own, I just tend to do whatever makes my daughter happy. This year we’ll be opening presents the weekend before because the rest of the week she’ll be with her father.

    I recommend a new tradition of gathering leaves, pine cones or whatever nature debris you have outside your house and making winter and fall collages on paper, then trading them with your friends. Maybe even start a bidding war. to get the best parts for your collage. “I’ll give you two pine cones for that purple leaf!”

  • Mandagator

    Our tradition was always to open stockings Christmas morning (even now, Santa still comes to our house), then have a large brunch with everyone before opening the presents from each other. One things that always stands out from my childhood was the book box- a virtual treasure chest that trumped everything else under the tree. The only sad thing was that we had to open it last, because otherwise we would immerse ourselves in new books and refuse to open any other presents.

  • http://IAmDanMarshall.com Dan

    I celebrate Christmas, and give / receive presents. None of the religious overtones, although I do still have a special place in my heart for Christmas music, even songs with an overt religious message (like O Holy Night). I blame the years I spent in choir, both at church and at school. Some of the music is quite beautiful, aside from the silly religious fantasies of course.

  • UsingReason

    We do the big meal on Christmas Eve and open one present; when I was growing up we opened presents Christmas Eve but I never cared for it, made Christmas morning boring. The traditional meal involves a smoked Turkey and Potato sausage. We also need to hide the Christmas pickle in the tree after everyone else has gone to bed, no that is not an euphemism. Christmas morning is stockings first, after the pickle is found, with fresh cinnamon buns (no raisins) and then presents. There is no schedule for the rest of the day and the glorious leftovers from the night before are laid out and consumed at our leisure. Food coma naps are common. Our newest tradition is to out geek each other with our presents, it’s cheaper that being extravagant, so my wife gets this http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/e9b8/?srp=2. Probably going to give to her for her birthday tomorrow though, 12/12/12 party at 12:12:12.

    • UsingReason

      Of course on the 26th World Junior Hockey tournament starts so that is yet another tradition. The only way God comes into play is if my mother tries to bring it up, yet again. It’s usually a short conversation as she just wants to talk at me about how I need Jesus in my life when I try to actually engage in a discussion about differences the conversation ends. Hasn’t happened for a few years and probably not something that will happen this year.

  • Art Vandelay

    Do you engage or ignore the “war on Christmas” folk?

    I’ve tried not to. I really have, but it’s just so bad these last couple of years. I have the privilege of living in Rhode Island where everyone and their mother is spewing righteous indignation in every direction over the governor calling the effing tree a Holiday Tree…just like the governor before him and the governor before him called it. You’ve seen how rationally people in Rhode Island react to these things, right? I can’t take it anymore.

    I have some chain mail from Ben Stein popping up on my FB feed every 12 seconds. BEN STEIN!!! Awful photoshops of the governor. Incoherent rants from Catholics constantly. I don’t know what goes on inside churches these days but I have no doubt that they have to feel threatened because the propaganda over this “WOC” is completely out of control. Their persecution complex is out of control.

    So, I kindly tell them about the 1st amendment. I tell them about Jefferson et al. I point out how Christmas is everywhere. I tell them about Saturnalia and the Pagan and Egyptian traditions where the Christmas tree comes from. You’d think this would be interesting, right? Finding out that their priest has been lying to them? Nope. I’m the asshole for just trying to drop some knowledge and maybe open up some honest discourse.

    I’m officially Michael Corleone.

  • Loqi

    We get together at my aunt’s house and have a breakfast feast (eggs, bacon, venison sausage, hash browns, some kind of Bavarian blood sausage that I don’t even know the name of). We used to spend the rest of the day playing games, but now all the cousins are having kids, so it typically devolves into toddlers screaming and crying the entire time. At that point, I make up an excuse to leave. I can’t stand kids.
    As for the “War on Christmas” folks, I usually drop my pants and show them the scar on my ass that I got fighting against the forces of Jesus at the Battle of Candy Cane Hill.

  • Rhubarb The Bear

    Spaghetti. There is never a time when I don’t like spaghetti, so it’s the perfect celebratory meal. And yes, this tradition predates my discovery of the FSM.

    • baal

      The FSM has always been there. You just had to open your heart (and digestive system).

  • neatospiderplant

    On Christmas eve, my dad would dress up as Santa and ring the doorbell. He would give us a present (usually a pair of PJs to wear that night). He would ask us if we had been good that year. When we told him we had, he would give us a candy cane and tell us to hang it on the tree and when he came back later that night, he would see that good children live there and know to leave presents. He did this not only for us, but for some of our neighbours too. Once we figured out the whole Santa thing, my mom made us elf costumes and we would go along with him to the neighbour’s houses. Every year, the list of how many family friends we would visit seemed to grow. I think at one point, we had about 20 houses. After a few years, some of our neighbours learned the truth about santa and we passed down the elf costumes. I have to say it was a wonderful way to keep the Christmas magic alive when one of the most exciting parts of Christmas is gone.

    Also, when I was about 9, our family hosted a French exchange student for a year. At Christmas, his family sent us Christmas presents, since French tradition is to open presents on Christmas eve, we got to open our French presents on Christmas eve and the rest of our presents on Christmas day. The following years, we kept the tradition and opened a present Christmas eve. Now that my brother and I have grown up and moved out, we go back to our parent’s place to celebrate on Christmas eve. Dad still does the Santa thing for my neice and nephew and only a couple neighbour’s houses.

    My husband and I are the only atheists in the family. I’m never too sure how to answer when I’m asked why we celebrate Christmas. To me, it’s very secular anyway as long as you don’t go to midnight mass, put up a nativity or pray.

  • SparkyB

    I was out shopping last night and was really starting to get annoyed with all of the Christmas music. So when first reloaded the page and saw “Christmas!” I thought “oh, another thing that Christmas is invading” before I remember what blog I was on.

    I was raised Jewish so we didn’t have Christmas, we had Hanukah. When I got a little older I was sort of torn because on the one hand it is kind of a fake Jewish holiday that mostly exists to be a rip-off of Christmas, but on the other hand, it is the best Jewish holiday because it has all the good stuff like songs, getting together with family, delicious traditional foods (jelly donuts!), candles, etc without any long services, things you can’t do, or anything about God really.

    When my mom started dating a Catholic and he started wanted to bring in a Christmas tree and other decorations, I was at first off-put and upset. Eventually I got used to it and liked the annual family Christmas Eve party at his aunts house and sitting around the living room with family in front of a fire (even if there was also a tree there). They/we never really celebrated it religiously, and since I was always able to enjoy elaborate Christmas light displays for their artistry, why not a little in my mom’s house.

    Lately, though, I’ve lost some of that holiday cheer. I think that the consumerism of the holiday has turned ugly. It has invaded Thanksgiving, causes fights, there’s stress over having to get people gifts, and honestly I think we just do it because we thing we’re expected to. It is wasteful, both in terms of money and our planet, and it doesn’t really show as much caring as genuine, unexpected gift-giving does. Also, I’m a bit distressed how hard my stepdad works to convince my 10 year old sister that Santa is real. If she knows and it is just a fun thing to pretend that’s fine, but I hope she doesn’t actually believe it. I can’t imagine ever believing something like that. Even the first time I lost a tooth I remember pretending the tooth fairy visited me, but I always knew it was just my mom.

    Luckily this year I’m seeing my family for hanukah and doing all the gifts and family stuff then, so I probably won’t even go home for Christmas.

  • Kenn

    My wife and I like to celebrate Winter Friends. We got the name from the Baman & Piderman shows on YouTube.

  • Switchhttr

    I’ll de-lurk for a moment to share a tradition I’d like to have. I don’t actually do it because my budget doesn’t allow it (I’m what is called “food insecure” these days, and have been for several years). I hope you’ll consider it anyway.

    I’ve long been partial to those battery-powered candle lights (my current favourites are these: http://www.herringtoncatalog.com/hs384.html ). Aside from the safety advantage over actual candles, I like the symbolic representation of an old human solution to the problem of darkness. In other words, people didn’t simply accept the limitations of the natural world, but rather used their intellects to adapt. “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” This triumph of reason is a great thing to celebrate at any time of year, but it’s particularly appropos this time of year.

    Merry Solstice!

  • Karen

    This Christmas will be a new tradition: just my in-laws, husband and me. Traditional Christmas day involved siblings-in-law, nieces, nephews, etc. But the nieces and nephews have grown up to form their own families and traditions, and the siblings-in-law have other parents to attend to. (My own parents died in 2003 and 2006, and I have no siblings, so my side of the family isn’t.) I will grieve in private for my dad, who took to my in-laws enthusiastically. I will grieve even more privately for my mom, with whom I always had unresolved issues. But I will enjoy Christmas, and the company of my family, and make it a happy day.

  • John Horstman

    I do my celebrating on the solstice and generally allow myself to be persuaded to go to family gatherings on the 24th and 25th (one Catholic brother and sister-in-law, though my irreligious immediate family members also like celebrating Christmas a bunch). I went to a midnight mass (asked by some family friends, I was curious enough to give it a shot) exactly once, as an older child, and flatly refused to go to any others. Growing up in a non-religious household, we celebrated a bunch of the non-Christian traditions (Christmas tree, presents, food, COOKIES, family, friends). I have some ethical objections to ritual (whether regular, as in Christmas or birthdays, or occasional, as in weddings or house-warmings) gift-giving relating to social coercion (in terms of both giving gifts and the requirement to receive them with a particular demeanor that is often a disingenuous affectation), direct coercion (especially in the case of something like Santa Clause), class bias, and material sustainability, and I’ve managed to (mostly) opt out of giving and receiving gifts (which is to say I don’t give Christmas or solstice or any other sort of holiday-mandated gifts, and I’ve managed to convince most of my relative to stop giving me things). During high school, we had a coffee shop/net cafe in the area that allowed smoking and was open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. I’d hang out there on Christmas day, reading or writing, and most of my friends would stop in for a cigarette and a break from family gatherings at various times, which was a fun little not-Christmas ritual while it lasted.