This Friday, President Obama delivered a statement on the fiscal cliff, urging policymakers to compromise, admitting idealistic optimism that Congress can come to an agreement within the next ten days. Then he wished "every American a Merry Christmas." The Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Atheists, the Buddhists, the Nudists. Every. Single. American.
As an aggressive antitheist, my knee-jerk reaction was to be outraged. "How dare he! That's basically state imposition of religion!"
But actually, it's quite the opposite.
Christmas has, without a doubt, morphed into more of a cultural holiday than a religious one. Offices around the country close their doors and families gather to imbibe eggnog, unwrap gifts, laugh, hurl insults, eat too much chocolate, and fall asleep cuddling with the dog by the crackling fire. It's magical.
I have been affirmatively opposed to organized religion since about the age of 14. Since reading Christopher Hitchens' magnum opus, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, my freshman year of college, I've become an aggressive "agnostic teetering on the brink of Atheism," to quote Martin Amis.
But alas, I love Christmas. As you can imagine, this is often a point of contention in debates, which usually go something like this:
"So, you hate religion and think it's evil, but you love and celebrate Christmas? Christmas wouldn't be here if it weren't for Christ, so how can you say 'religion poisons everything'?"
Now, I could devolve into the argument about the pagan origins of Christmas, but I'll leave that to the Hitch. Mostly, the reason I can love Christmas without entirely debasing my argument is because Christmas has become more cultural than it is religious. There's nothing remotely religious about eggnog, "chestnuts roasting on an open fire," or a sparkling evergreen. There's certainly no Christ in my Christmas. Lots of family though!
Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, you passively partake in the festivities by merely walking down the street. Municipalities from Los Angeles to New York City invest funds in eccentric Christmas displays. Townspeople gather around the lighting of the big tree in the square. Main Street is adorned with twinkling lights and Christmas carols hum from every corner of the shopping mall.
In college, I lived with three of my best friends -- all Jewish. We always had a miniature Christmas tree and, let me assure you, I deserved no credit for its proud placement on our dining room table.
One of the three friends is the granddaughter of a man and woman who were sent to Riga and Auschwitz concentration camps during World War II. Her family keeps kosher. She fed us latkes during Hanukkah. And the moment the calendar flipped to December, Christmas carols could be heard blasting from her room for the next few weeks.
Look, if you want to "keep Christ in Christmas," by all means, set up your Nativity scene and go to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It's a free country. I, along with the increasing number of non-Christians, on the other hand, will be by the fire, glass of wine in-hand, listening to some Nat King Cole, snug as a bug in my new Christmas pajamas.
13 of the best "All I Want for Christmas" covers: