My Mom, Religion, and the Cancelling of XMAS

Nothing has earned more controversy, strange looks, or eye-rolling in my life than my decision to cancel Christmas.  Not even my strong opinions on various subjects, my vocal condemnation of religion, or my open hatred for dumbasses that affect and infect my life.  (You probably have a good idea who you are.)  The consensus is that I am a bitter, bah-humbuger-Scrooge-Grinch, hybrid.  It is assumed that I don’t care about my family and worse, do not want to be part of it.
    First of all, this is about no one but me and bears no reflection on my relationships with friends or family.  It is only partly rooted in my disdain for Theism, but those assumptions run between comical to downright annoying. 
    I grew up in a spiritual environment with religion very much present in my life, although not in a strict sense.  My grandmother was a devout Christian and I respected and adored her, went to church with her, and like most children absorbed a small portion of the strange phenomenon going on around me every Sunday morning.  If we did not go to service, my grandmother played her ‘programs’; Rex Humbard, (whom she refered to as Rex Humbug), Oral Roberts, Day of Discovery, (while always lamenting that she had no color television to enjoy the flowers), and Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power.  After that, the television was mine. I gratefully found Abbott and Costello or Shirley Temple movies which are much more entertaining to a seven year old. 
    It was also at the age of seven that I began to pray every night before bed.
    It was not a divine light that shone down on me, nor a heavenly grace that seeped into my life.  No, it was Channel 100.  During a party that my mother and then boyfriend went to, (me in tow)—full of wonderful ethnicity, close friends, good food, and no small amount of hippy communing; (by that I mean weed), it was decided that we should watch the Channel 100 airing of The Exorcist.  I cringed through two unedited hours, alternating between my mother’s lap and the slivers of the grainy picture slashed across my vision between splayed fingers.  Since I could not get Linda Blair’s make-up caked face from my mind when we had finally gone home, my mother—in a fit of frustration and guilt that I could not sleep, suggested that I pray to God to not be afraid or to have nightmares.
    It worked!  I was pleasantly surprised and blissfully unaware of the power the mind can have over one's self when applied even through such frivolity and continued to pray through my childhood and well into my twenties, always asking for God to favor me with no nightmares. 
    Through these formidable years I was always encouraged to be a seeker, to be curious about religion. In fact, my mother and I explored many as I was growing up—even the ones that are considered somewhat extreme; Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, all for more insight.  My mother never expected me to settle for the status-quot, certainly, and also to never leave questions unanswered for myself.
    Later in life, this would coalesce into an insatiable need to question mainstream religions.  It was the beginnings of my Anti-Theism and my present day views; the perception that religion is evil brainwashing that saturates all of our lives…
    But this is not about that particular topic.
    Hating Christmas came much later.
    My mother always tried to do what she thought was right and I am grateful to her for the gift of curiosity that she gave, among many other things.  She is, even if she does not want to take credit for it all, (or the blame), the inspiration for my stubbornness, my dissatisfaction for what is accepted as the norm, and my burning need to ask questions even when it is possible I will not like the answers.  She is generous, wise, and sometimes goofy—and always has been encouraging with whatever pursuits I choose.  Well, with one recent exception:  She does not understand why I do not like Christmas--and by that I mean that I refuse to celebrate it completely.
    It is understandable that somehow she thinks that she is to blame, that I am damaged in some way.  Not so!  My most memorable Christmas’s involved her as a boy growing up.  She made them wonderful, so much so that I never realized that we were pretty poor in those lean years.  I have tried to convince her that my loathing may have taken shape much sooner in my life if not for her loving efforts.
    But the proverbial die was cast with my questioning of religion and formed the foundations of the man I am today.  When I was not satisfied with the triteness of the concept of faith and learned of a myriad of inconsistencies, lies, and double-talk within organized religion that only ‘faith’ could excuse, Christmas’s days were numbered. 
At least they were for me.
    All of her arguments have been mostly ineffectual; that this is a holiday rooted in pagan tradition adopted by the orthodox mainstream.  I know this of course, but being Anti-Theist, it is still based on theism, archaic though it might be, and therefore still suspect.  Celebrate family, I am told!  That is of course something I do daily.  No, that argument has not worked either. 
At the root of Christmas—at its very core—especially in my mother’s world, is gift giving; which I have also included in my choice when I decided not to celebrate it.  I think this bothers my mother the most not because she wishes to receive gifts, but sincerely enjoys giving them.  To this, of course I say have at it! You do not have to do so with the pretense of a holiday other than my birthday.
    I will not decorate, sing carols, or wish you a Merry Christmas.  I may grudgingly offer a Happy Holidays, but that’s about it.  I also choose NOT to receive gifts, nor will I participate in White Elephants, exchanges, name drawings, or any gift giving activities.  It is a very personal choice that unfortunately and ironically affects all of those around me. 
    It is not entirely about religion.  The stimulus to the economy is undeniable as well as the incessant ploys to get your money for that must-have gift, the same one that if you do not get it you will be ostracized mercilessly for you inadequacy as a human being.  It is that media devil foremost, (one notch below religion), but there are other things.  The horrible red thread of rage that rises when I hear insipid music that I have heard in one form or the other annually for four decades or the phoniness of the people that use the holiday as an excuse to say ‘look at me, I am special’.  That is based on my recalcitrant nature as much as anything.  I am told I MUST want, or that I NEED, and I revolt.  Why can I not give or receive a gift in March, say on the 28th or October 17th?  Because I choose to forgo the pomp of religious ritual--one I am told I MUST entertain, and the retail behemoth taking full advantage; must I be made to feel guilty?  That just fuels me more!  It is in my nature.  It is surprising to me that I survived the Army or can even hold down a job; this beast that is my aversion to being told what to do or in the case of society at large, how I must act, feel, dress, fuck, etc.  Why does this—again a very personal decision—have to cast me in a disparaging light or at the very least, as a wacky cousin, brother, or son?  
But I begin to wonder how much I am responsible for the good feelings of those around me when it comes to this choice and I come to the conclusion that some responsibility must be taken.  While I refuse to change my colors, I am willing to compromise, it seems, after all. 
A little. 
We have agreed to a simple gift exchange this year, one that will not overpower the family get-together.  I am sure that in a year or two, my loved ones will try to expand my willingness, (as my wife puts it)--to keep the peace.   I will once more be faced with stamping my foot and crossing my arms.  My fallback position is that ultimately I do not have to justify myself to anyone.  This may sound harsh but is a truism, one that I am reticent to point out unless given no choice.  I love my family and friends, (despite Christian assertion that an Atheist like myself is incapable of such grand emotions), and I obviously do not want them to feel that I do not, simply because I choose to ignore a holiday.  It is my right, one that boils down to not being a hypocrite that claims a position and then undermines it, i.e.; (being an Anti-Theist and celebrating Christmas would do just that for myself), but also to do whatever the hell I please. Of course this would be within the establishment of society’s laws—I would not fair well in prison and I am fully aware of that. 
I would like to assure all of those close to me—those that care.  I am not dying from some mysterious ailment that affects my cognoscente thought.  I have not been invaded by an alien spore that causes me to hate all things saccharine, like Christmas lights and frilly bows.  In short, there is nothing wrong with me.  I am not damaged, bitter, or otherwise impaired.  I have made a choice in my life and will undoubtedly make several more.  They are not subject to a popularity contest, nor should they be.  Those that care will respect that, and those who want to continue to think of me as strange, eccentric, or simply lacking God in my life, can expect me to, at the very least--mentally flip them off anytime I have an opportunity.  Abhorring Christmas does not make me any of these things.  It does not make me imperfect, and it doesn’t make me flawed.
Nor does it take away my adoration of my mother, and her tolerance of the so-called monster she created. 

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Comment by Alan Perlman on August 11, 2013 at 2:47pm

Christmas is a religious, cultural, and commercial monstrosity, and everybody just follows along.  Every principled atheist has to deal with Christmas.  Usually it's quite personal, as with your family memories.  Of course, you are answerable only to yourself.  It takes a strong person to stand up to the Xmas-meme. 

Early on, my attitude was that of South Park's Kyle: it's tough to be a Jew at Christmas.  But when I saw, year after year, the overeating, overdrinking, overconsumption and forced gaiety (I'm SO glad to be free of office Xmas parties), I realized that freedom from Xmas is a good thing.  Favorite Jewish Christmas pastimes: working out, going to movies (delightfully uncrowded), Chinese for dinner.

Passover is as big for Jews as Christmas is for Christians.  It is the founding myth.  But none of it happpened -- no slavery in Eqypt, no plagues, no exodus, no wandering in the desert.  But nobody will say that - it's heresy.  But as soon as I learned it was all bogus, I opted out.



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