Christmas is about love. Not about jesus or gifts or religion. It’s about love.
So let’s make this really clear up front. I’m not a christian. I wasn’t raised a christian.
I was raised an atheist. Mother and father were both from southern protestant/baptist families (something like that, I’m not sure exactly), but they were both intellectual liberals who grew up in southern California. Dad was, as I’ve said, a science and logic guy, an empiricist who would never open his mind to anything science could not prove.
So have no religion. I have no spirituality, per se.
However, I find the idea of atheism to be as — I want to say wrong-headed but that sounds much stronger than I really mean, so let’s say intellectually closed — as theism. Because just as Satanists must then accept a concept of God, in order to worship God’s counterpart. Atheists, by absolutely denying the existence of any deity, thus close the mind to things without any proof. Labeling oneself, in both cases, implies an acknowledgement of an absolute truth.
So if required to label myself, I’d use the word agnostic. It is, to me, the ultimate rational position of mankind in an unknowable universe. We do not and can not ever know.
I’ll put of a rant on organized religion for another day. Because that’s not what I want to talk about here.
What I want to talk about is christmas. Because I love christmas. I love it, not as a festival celebrating the birth of someone who probably existed, but most likely was simply a minor philosopher with really great PR (because we all know he wasn’t born December 25th, and most likely never even lay in a manger.) Nor do I love it as a celebration of the solstice, which is far closer to what it is and how it’s celebrated. I love it, instead, as a cultural tradition. Which means that I can love images of Santa Claus just as much as I love a holiday creche; I can love a menorah as much as I love stars and angels and trees. I can love Santa Baby or Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree as much as I love Adeste Fideles.
It’s not about the religions that have tried to co-opt an older tradition; it’s not even about the older tradition. It’s about how my culture, modern America in the 20th century, celebrated the end of the year.
We all know, those of us who think and read, that these are all variants on solstice festivals; something that has existed, I would guess, since man first learned to count the days of the year and predict the long nights and short days of the year’s end. I suspect every culture since has celebrated the solstice in some way, with feast or sacrifice, solemn prayer or wild orgy, drink and plenty or fear. If I were to choose a thing to celebrate, it would be that, since that pre-dates any of our absurd modern ideas.
But to me, christmas, or hanukkah, or kwanza, or whatever else people celebrate here in this season, isn’t about any of that. And it’s not about the commercial nonsense either, about the getting and the buying, though try telling that to any kid you know and watch them laugh.
Christmas is about love. It’s about recognition of the people you care about. It’s about gestures and symbols and celebrations. It’s about remembering to say thank you and I love you and I’m sorry and I’m glad you’re in my life to people. Gifts are lovely; and the tradition of gift-giving is a delight, even though I’m terrible at choosing gifts for people and often get myself stressed because I can’t figure out what to get for someone I care about. But the gift-giving tradition isn’t about things, it’s about symbols. It’s about a physical representation of love and caring, the act of giving symbolic of intimate connection.
Christmas is about being with people you care about. It’s about music and drink and food and celebration of each other, of people you see every day and may not always remember to honor and celebrate, of people far away or seldom seen.
Oddly, christmas isn’t about family, to me, in the traditional extended family sense. That may be because I never had extended family; it was always the four of us, mom, dad, kids, dogs and cats, maybe a friend or two. We had no great clan, everyone else from both sides are far away, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, the east coast. It was just us. Later, it was us and friends, but never, apart from a few years with my grandfather, was it ever about generation-spanning family gatherings.
No, it’s about my tribe, not my relatives. It’s about the connections forged not by blood, but by love. It’s about my core family, and the people I care enough about to invite into my family, near or far.
My choice of celebration, my ideal, is not always what I manage. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that my simple view of inner-circle of family and friends is at odds with my extended clan of in-laws, who have a vast and complicated christmas ritual spanning several days of planned events. That’s a lovely and warm thing, though not really my vision of christmas.
But more, in my ideal of what christmas is, there’s also a celebration of love in a carnal sense.
Our culture keeps the ideas of love and lust so vastly separate; I do not see that divide as rational or sane. Chaste, romantic love makes no sense to me. Thus I wish, when the nights grow long, the year grows old, and we gather to celebrate, that we could celebrate in an older, more primitive way, with feast and orgy as might our ancestors. Drink and food, and physical love. There are so many things that are easy to say with touch that are hard to say in words, so many things that are easier to say when one is naked and covered with someone else’s sweat and bodily fluids. I wish that were possible in our culture, or rather, less difficult. I’m not talking about fucking a room full of strangers; I’m talking simply about sharing that love with people, celebrating love’s other characteristics.
So to me, this season is not about the birth of a messiah or a miracle of lights, or about shopping. It’s about music, songs of my youth, songs of different cultures with religious words but cultural meaning. It’s about cooking with people you love, eating and drinking with people you love. It’s about remembering who’s important in your life, and showing them you’re thinking of them. It might be about carnal love, it might be about friendship, respect. remembrance, but it is about love.
Friends, family, loved ones who read this space; I do not always show all the love I have, all the respect I have, all the caring and commitment I have. I do not always remember to treat you as well as you deserve. I can be a thoughtless churl, I can be impatient and short-tempered and arrogant and condescending. I can be demanding and forgetful and take you for granted. But I love you; and as always, I strive to be better.
Drink up my friends. It’s been a long year, yet over too soon. Celebrate love in all ways you can think of.