"I choose to decline all invitations to a ghost's birthday party and to shun Christmas things as much as possible. I have no religious faith, I have no Christmas tree, and I want neither…and I don't believe I've missed a thing."


"... the willingness to do, in some form or another, what others have always done because of foundationless teachings that that is what we're all supposed to do," is "what aggravates me about holidays and religion,"


John G. Rodwan, Jr., in Holidays and Other Disasters



Just from reading the promotional material from the Humanist Press, I knew that this is a book that would resonate with me.  

Every year now, for decades, as October winds to a close and the Halloween specialty stores open briefly, like irises in the spring (my wife found a fetching half-angel-half-devil costume a few years ago), we begin the annual mad rush of choreographed behavior.

The holidays 

Everybody doing one thing at one time, just because it’s the right thing to do.  I get more skeptical every year, but my attitude really turned a corner when I attended, in Chicago, a CFI Festivus Party.  The symbol, the source of all wisdom, was a broomstick and a balloon. 

One of the group answered questions like an oracle.   (“How come no one understands me?”  “We’ve got a long waiting list for that one.  Take a number.”)  Humanists can party, too, but they’re not going to ignore the absurdity of the exercise.

Government-sourced holidays

The government declares a holiday, and we obey.  Just celebrated another war holiday.  My heart breaks at people who think they’re “doing their duty” and “defending my freedom.”  All because a politician said so.  Not gonna go there right now right now.  But it is a tragic subject.

The government says we have to give thanks.  But traditions accumulate on their own. I saw a “first Thanksgiving” cartoon in which both pilgrims and natives complain about the traffic and parking.  They joke about overeating. The last panel shows them sitting around a wood box.  One of them says, “If only this box showed images of prancing athletes.”  Another responds, “Aye, that would be heaven.”

Fun times!

So Christians and others begin the season by stuffing themselves, along with people they probably don’t like, do the same for weeks on end at office and personal parties (SO glad to be free from that!), celebrate the birthday of a dead ghost, cap it all off with drunken revelry to greet a consensual calendar changeover.  Fun times! 

Throw in a couple of other religious festivals, like Seders and Easter sunrise services, and you have a LOT of mutually-consensual behavior about what to do, when.  That’s OK. Makes people comfortable to know they’re doing the right (albeit arbitrary) thing at the right time.

Are all the participants equally enthusiastic?  Almost certainly not. Psychology tells us that we vastly overestimate the obedience of others, so we go along ourselves.   Everybody secretly resists questioning the norms, and we get the Emperor’s new clothes, in endless variety.

Holidays as disasters

Maybe it’s obvious to you, but holidays-as-disasters was something I kept to myself.  After a long time of feeling out of it at Christmas (listen to South Park’s Kyle’s plaintive melody, “It’s Tough to be a Jew at Christmas), I learned that a lot of Christians would like to be out of it too.  From obnoxious relatives to alcoholic/dietary overindulgence, there’s a host of reasons to be repelled by Christmas. 

Out of it, with people celebrating something that didn’t happen: That‘s how I feel at a Passover Seder, which is probably why I don’t get invited to my brother’s.

Once a year

My Dad, a pharmacist who sold greeting cards, had no respect for once-a-year holidays (thanksgiving/gratitude, Valentine’s Day/love, High Holidays/forgiveness), and I agreed with him. 

We will soon once again hear the usual Yuletide cries from the pulpit to practice the Christmas spirit year round, but people won’t do it.  There’s just too much antagonism built into our brains, our cultures, our politics.  There are limits to our charity and altruism.  But we can try, each day, to practice that from which holiday merchants prosper.

I know I’m going to like Holidays and other Disasters.  I didn’t know anyone questioned holidays as deeply as I did (but I‘m always meeting like-minded people on A/N). 

I would like to see more people turn away from each holiday’s “expected ritual” to its “intended spirit.”  I’m not holding my breath on that one.  Just around the corner is that quintessential expression of the unquestioning sheep mentality: Black Friday -- such a powerfuil metaphor that all the negative connotations of "black" have been abandoned in favor of this one good one: retail finances go into the black. 

Go nuts buying crap for other people because in a legend, a special baby supposedly received gifts?  Oy, vey.  Great to be a Jew on Christmas.  Too bad Jews couldn’t resist the assimilationist frenzy and not add gift-giving onto Hanukkah.  Back in the day, the gift of choice was money, but now Jews too are busily browsing online merchants and elbowing Christians aside at Wal-Mart, Macy’s, and 10,000 other retail emporia.

New additions

From time to time, new holidays are added to the culture.  The most recent example is Super Bowl Day, when people eat, drink, and pretend to be interested in the outcome of a contest between strangers (as Jerry Seinfeld pointed out, sports fandom is basically rooting for haberdashery: if the other guys were wearing your team’s uniforms, you’d root for them). 

I know people with such a highly developed sense of what’s right that they have a Super Bowl party, even though their interest in football is minimal.

Holidays are a disaster.

What a grab-bag.  War holidays, special-interest holidays, once-a-year holidays (one day a year to recognize mothers and fathers? preposterous!), hypercommercialized holidays (that would be all of them, I guess)…toss ‘em all out. 

Every day has the potential to be a holiday, whether it’s expressing gratitude, atoning, granting forgiveness, loving, practicing charity, showing appreciation to Mom or Dad, or just loving (or at least not hating) your neighbor. 

That’s the humanist approach.  Lose the commercialism.  Keep the spirit – year-round.   

Views: 153


You need to be a member of Atheist Nexus to add comments!

Join Atheist Nexus

Comment by Alan Perlman on November 18, 2013 at 3:07pm

Dennis....Don't get me started on lights.  TV local news features people who have tens of thousands of lights, all coordinated. 

And in Highwood IL, a working-class enclave on Chicago's tony North Shore, the Hispanics and Italians have magnificent lawn displays.  One guy had multi-icon overload: Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, Holy Family. Where does he store it? I

nteresting how tradition trumps accuracy.  Jesus was more likely born in the spring around 4-6 BC, but there's no movement to correct it

Luara...Yes, I've read many times about how people kill themselves because they don't have close families - unaware that few or none of the attendees at a "close family" gathering believe they have a close family -- they're just playing along.

Comment by Michael Penn on November 18, 2013 at 8:57am

Christmastime was fun when I was a child. Then some idiot started telling me it was Jesus birthday. Huh? That don't even sound right. Maybe we should bake him a cake.

Today (everyone and their brother) thinks that I should have lights all around my house, decorated trees inside and out, or otherwise make my home look like a landing strip at an airport. They even argue in favor of my doing this, but I don't buy it. I'm not a kid anymore and we have no youngsters here. If the wife wants to put up a tree I don't forbid it. She does this sometimes but not every year. I don't even like snow or cold weather. Some are so sold on Christmastime that they tell me I should move away from the USA and go somewhere that is warm. They seem surprised when I say I would if I could afford it.

Presents, now that's another thing. I'm happy with new socks and underwear, maybe some blank DVD's or CD's. I've learned a long time ago that you simply cannot buy for my wife. She takes the stuff back and gets something else. So, I give her a couple hundred bucks and we both go shopping together, then come back home and have a nice dinner.

Comment by Luara on November 18, 2013 at 8:19am

The holidays are hard on anyone who doesn't have a good family to go back to.  If they go back to a bad family, it's often a bad experience.  If they don't go back, they are left alone as everyone else goes back to their family.

And the ideal of family togetherness is also a pretense and it makes people depressed because everyone else seems to have it.  There are a lot of suicides over the holidays.

Comment by Alan Perlman on November 17, 2013 at 10:22pm

DOG, thanks for kudos.   Way to piss them off!  Of course Jesus should bring the gifts...that makes a lot more sense.  Buying stuff serves many functions, and the more holidays, the more reasons to buy stuff.

Joan, I admire your efforts against materialism.  Your gift of time and imagination is much more valuable.

Comment by Joan Denoo on November 17, 2013 at 2:46am

Dyslexic DOG, commercialism is for the benefit of those who have stuff and want to sell, and those who have money and want to buy; unfortunately, too many people want the stuff and don't have the money to buy. If they are really unfortunate, they have credit cards that they will spend a lifetime trying to pay off, getting poorer and poorer as they gather more stuff.

That is why I stopped buying such stuff years ago, and no one seems to hate me for the effort. My grandkids and great-grandkids still give me hugs, even if I am the only grandparent who doesn't play the commercialism game. We do have fun though. We don't do as much activity as we once did because I have no energy. But we can sit on the back porch, blankets over our heads, turn all the lights out, and use a flashlight to shine up over our faces as we tell ghost stories. We pass the flashlight around, and each child gets a chance to add to the story. At first they didn't know how to make up stories, but now they are the best fabricators I ever heard. Kind of reminds me of being a very small child and hearing the stories my grandparents and parents told.

More precious than gold in my memories. You know, I don't remember a single gift I ever got, but I surely do remember those wonderful times of make-believe.  

Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on November 17, 2013 at 1:57am

Here Here!  Spot on M8!

I have watched the commercialism grow as I spent 16 years delivering junk mail to households for paid exercise and once upon a time to teach my children a little discipline and work ethic.

Years ago the load would only double  by holiday time, with even the heavies load fitting into mail slots, never had to use the paper shoot.

Now they reach such proportions that it is a struggle to get them into the paper shoot, with no way of using the mail slot.

This is the true meaning of public holidays, commercial profit.

Even Christians realize that and complain bitterly about it.

Though I actually find their embitterment humorous, and sometimes poke fun at them with lines like, "What's your problem? Is it that a fat imaginary character is more popular and generous than Jesus?"  LOL
"Maybe Jesus should have worn a red suit and gave gifts to children, instead of preaching Buddhist philosophy to Jews."

They hate that last line, immensely.




Update Your Membership :




Nexus on Social Media:


© 2018   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service