Like most kids, I grew up celebrating Christmas and I didn't give it up when I became an adult. Even though I gave up religion and a belief in a god, I still celebrated in Christmas.
What I mean is I continued with what Christmas had become in the modern world -- it was a time of pure joy. I even confess that I love the commercialism of Christmas. I tend to think people are far less lethal when doing business with one another -- provided, of course, transactions are voluntary.
The old pagan ritual of gift giving is one worthy of preservation. It is shows people you value them, that they are important to you. It celebrates those who reflect our highest values -- the people we love.
Like many people in the West, Christmas lost any religious significance for me, but I kept celebrating. I would wish others a "Merry Christmas" and thank them when they wished the same to me. I loved the idea that the holiday emphasized the joyous aspects of life and wasn't steeped in a message of "repent or perish." Christmas was people at their best.
Remember by this time I was a non-believer and like most non-believers wasn't offended by secular pleasures associated with the holiday. I drew the line where I think the Founders drew the line: Government should not be involved in promoting or attacking religion. It should be neutral.
I thought the Constitutional separation of church and state should be upheld. While I think there are flaws in the Constitution, it is fundamentally a decent document and one I wished the politicians took a bit more seriously.
I don't want government-financed school teachers leading prayer; using tax funds to promote religion. While Nativity scenes don't offend me, the use of public land, which means public monies, does. Keep government out of the business of promoting religion and I'm fine.
Outside of that, I was happy to celebrate the holiday. Yes, I grew tired of constant bad remakes of old Christmas songs, and the endless barrage of awful television shows with mandatory Christmas themes, but none of it caused me to drop Christmas.
I remember lugging the Christmas tree home -- and not one of these fake trees. I got a real one. Living in a flat overlooking Castro Street in San Francisco meant carrying the tree. The two of us would walk several blocks carrying the tree and taking it up the stairs to the third floor. We had a large living room with a Bay window overlooking the street; opposite was a marble fireplace. We'd put the tree just to the left of the fireplace. With high Victorian ceilings, there was never a problem of space. It would be decorated with lights and ornaments, with gifts placed underneath.
When it was all over, we'd chop the tree into small pieces and use it in the fireplace to heat the flat. It was a holiday ritual I enjoyed.
Then I stopped. I just went cold turkey with Christmas. I stopped sending cards, didn't decorate and only gave gifts to the one person that mattered most to me. I also stopped saying "Merry Christmas" and started to feel insulted when others wished it to me.
What changed, was that cultural conservatives started harping about an imaginary war on Christmas. They started making the merger of religion and state part of their agenda to "save America." When challenged about using state funds to promote religion they proclaimed a "culture war."
As part of that culture war, they staked an exclusive claim on Christmas, and insisted that the religious aspect be put first and foremost. Christmas, as a holiday, existed before Christ. It was the Catholic Church that proclaimed, with no evidence, that the already-existing holiday would be deemed the birthday of Jesus. Christmas, however, never lost the non-religious aspect or the joy.
But the Christian right claimed it as their own. If a chain store dared wish people a "Happy Holiday," in deference to the reality that different people celebrate different holidays and not all their customers were Bible-believing fundamentalists, the Religious Right would wage war on them. They would be denounced from pulpits, in badly written right-wing newsletters and on hysterical right-wing web sites and radio shows. Boycotts would be announced. Christmas became a proxy for the right wing's culture war.
If you said "Merry Christmas," it was accepted by them that you wanted to adopt their agenda on so-called family issues. It was now a way of expressing support for government laws against abortion and gay people. It became a term that had an entire agenda behind it -- and this libertarian-minded individual felt uncomfortable with that.
So I stopped celebrating Christmas. The Grinch from the religious right turned a holiday I loved into part of their hate-filled culture war; I no longer felt comfortable celebrating it. I didn't want anyone to think I supported any part of the moralistic crusade. I'm a small-government guy. I like depoliticized markets and property rights and have little confidence in political control of most things. But I don't share the small-minded prejudices and bigotries that infest the Religious Right the way fleas cover a wild dog. Their agenda is not mine.
The ornaments are gone. There are no lights up, no cards sent. I don't wish people a "Merry Christmas," but will wish them a "Happy Holiday". And when they wish "Merry Christmas" to me, I thank them pleasantly, inform them I'm not a Christian and wish them a
Who would have imagined people so hell-bent on saving Christmas would be the very ones who destroyed it for me.
Happy Holidays, and I mean it too.