Christmas is no longer a Christian holiday.
If you follow Facebook or news on cultural happenings, however, you’ve known this for some time. Christians stole Christmas from the pagans, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, Jesus has nothing at all to do with Christmas, and therefore everyone has a right to this holiday except Christians. Zombie “nativity” scenes are therefore more appropriate than traditional Jesus nativities at this time of year.
There are a few problems with this though, not least of which is the very word Christmas. No one can argue against the linguistic fact that the word Christmas is a compound word, combining the two words Christ’s Mass. Sure, mid-winter celebrations were observed long before the advent of Christianity. But recent evidence points to Christian selection of December 25 as the date on which to celebrate the Incarnation of God’s Word stemming from Judaism rather than paganism. In fact, the Roman Mithras cult may well have stolen December 25 from Christians (why is it that it’s always Christians doing the stealing, and no one ever considers that it might go in the opposite direction?…).
In a nutshell, the new scholarly research goes like this: Because Christ’s purpose in entering the world was to die on the cross to atone for the world’s sin, a tradition developed very early on that the date of Christ’s death coincided with the anniversary of his conception. Another early tradition was that Christ had died on or near a Passover that had occurred on a March 25. Since this event was believed to occur on the anniversary of his conception, his conception was also observed on March 25 (and still is to this day, as the Feast/Solemnity of the Annunciation).
Now – count forward nine months from the date of Christ’s conception on March 25. You’ll find that you arrive at December 25. See how that works?
Not to mention that Christmas, the celebration of the Light entering the world (Jn. 1:14), roughly coincides with the observation of Chanukah, the “Festival of Dedication” that recalls the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple to Jewish worship after it had been compromised by the incorporation of Greek pagan worship into its rites. Since John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the true Temple, it’s most appropriate that his birth be observed at the time of a festival about the restoration of the Temple’s holiness.
But really, there are so many fun things to do at this time of year that I don’t mind sharing. Atheists are even claiming this joyful season for themselves, as a time with its origins in Santa Claus (who of course has nothing to do with the historical Christian bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra), replete with beautiful lights and decorations, presents galore, sleigh/hay rides, and of course, PARTIES. And you know what? That’s all fine. I actually have no problem with people of any faith or no faith enjoying the wonderful things this otherwise dark and cold time of year has to offer. Why, if an atheist participates in the neighborhood lighting competition and his/her house is truly the best on the block, I’ll even give it my vote.
In this spirit, I thought I would help atheists by providing a list of seasonal songs that would be appropriate for those of no religion to sing. This list includes songs that would be totally inappropriate, as well as an “iffy” category.
Frosty the Snowman: A snowman comes to life when a magical hat is placed on him. Nothing religious here. (In fact, evangelicals may well object to the magic reference!)
Jingle Bells: This one is just about winter. No problem for atheists.
Jingle Bell Rock: Like its predecessor and namesake “Jingle Bells”, this one is just about winter fun.
Let It Snow: Again, just about the weather, this time with some fireside romance thrown in. Lovely!
Baby It’s Cold Outside: Romance in a winter nor’easter, certain to be a winner among folks who don’t share religious objections to casual sex. Nothing to do with Christ’s Mass here.
Santa Baby: Despite the reference to Santa Claus, who is actually based on a Christian saint, this song is all about “give me presents, expensive ones and lots of them,” which is one of the things atheists claim this season is really all about. Not an insurmountable obstacle.
Sleigh Ride: Ah, the warmth of human companionship and the promise of hot cocoa after an old-fashioned sleigh ride through “a wint’ry fairy land”. One of my faves!
Winter Wonderland: Now you might think this belongs in the “Perfectly Fine” category above; but in fact there are scattered references to religion peppered throughout this song. For example, the lyric “In the meadow we can build a snowman/And pretend that he is Parson Brown.” As is common knowledge, parson refers to a Christian Protestant minister. Now if atheists wish to substitute something like “Justice Brown” or “Mister Brown” that would be fine; however we must still deal with lyrics such as “In the meadow we can build a snowman/And pretend that he’s a circus clown/We’ll have lots of fun with Mister Snowman/Until the other kiddies knock him down.” This line includes the gender-specific masculine nouns man and mister, as well as the masculine pronouns he and him. Perhaps the lyric “gender-unspecific snow construct” could be substituted, along with the new, convenient “pronouns” “ze” or “xyr”. However, the violence exhibited by children at the end of this line remains an issue and must be viewed as unacceptable. Whatever they are using to knock down this snow construct has to be banned immediately, and the children themselves must be medicated and given a safe space in which their feelings are known and respected by all.
The Christmas Song: This one is otherwise known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”. Not too much objectionable for atheists here (if we change the title to “Chestnuts”), until we come to the end with the words “Although it’s been said many times, many ways/Merry Christmas to you.” Now, as discussed above, Christmas means Christ’s Mass, so a legitimate atheist should object to using this term. Perhaps something like “Happy Winter to you” could be substituted. However, the line “And so I’m offering this simple phrase/To kids from one to 92” poses a problem. Ageism is present. What about people over the age of 92? Do they not deserve to be wished a happy holiday season? Discrimination. Also, what about babies under the age of one? (If, indeed, this age group qualifies as persons at all.)
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Christ’s Mass reference embedded in the verse “There’ll be scary ghost stories/And tales of the glories/Of Chrsistmases long, long ago.” What do you think the “glories of past Christmases” refers to? The glory of the Christ Child, of course! Also, atheists might object to the ghost reference, since this evokes the spirit world and implies the existence of the human soul. However, the reference to “gay happy meetings” is sure to please those who support marriage equality.
Deck the Halls: This one’s less iffy, but the reference to “the ancient Yuletide carol” might gall some atheists, as “Yule” is of course the name for the winter celebration observed by pagans/Wiccans and therefore has religious connotations. At the same time, “Yuletide” has come to be a common way to refer to the time of year, so in this case personal discretion prevails. As with “Most Wonderful Time”, the reference to “gay apparel” can be seen as a progressive and tolerant message (even though when these songs were written, gay meant “happy”. Who really cares about how things originated anyway?).
Mary Did You Know: Obvious. In particular, the line “Your baby boy/Will someday rule the nations” smacks of nationalism/imperialism.
The Holly and the Ivy: Believe it or not, after the first and last verses it’s all about Jesus. Every single verse between the first and last contains the line “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ”, using the holly tree to describe Jesus’ mission in the world and identity as the world’s Savior. Now, if atheists want to chop the middle and just sing the first and last verses, this could potentially move to the “Perfectly Fine” category above.
Here We Come a-Wassailing: The lyric “God bless you and send you a happy New Year”. ‘Nuff said.
Good King Wenceslas: A Christian king-saint helps the poor because his faith in Christ requires that he help the poor. Hmm.
Up On the Housetop: Now you might be surprised to find this one in the “Absolutely Not” category; but do you really think an atheist would be okay with singing about “Good Saint Nick?” Come on.
Really Anything That Contains the Word Christmas, Because It Actually Means “Christ’s Mass” and Atheists and Non-Christians Really Shouldn’t Be Saying Something They Don’t Believe In. (Yes, This Includes “Rudolph, The Red-nosed Reindeer”, “Pretty Paper”, “Silver Bells”, and “Happy Holiday”.)
In closing, I wish everyone, of all faiths and of no faith, a very merry winter holiday season.
If you can find appropriate songs, that is.
 William J. Tighe, “Calculating Christmas: The Story Behind December 25,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity (12/2003). The Fellowship of St. James, 2015: accessed 12/21/2015, http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v#continue.
Image in the public domain, at https://strawberryindigo.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/a-christmas-gift-in-public-domain.jpg?w=1200