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The True Meaning of Christmas

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Many religious believers get upset during the winter season. Bill O'Reilly leads the outrage by claiming that there is a "war on Christmas," and he is not alone. Many other Christians insist that everyone must "keep the 'Christ' in 'Christmas,'" while still other Christians flip out over the commercialism of the holiday. I have even seen a Christian go on a rant about how Santa Claus is "of the devil" because he distracts people from Jesus. Everyone seems to think they know the "true" meaning of Christmas, and that it has something to do with this Jesus guy.

First, I object to the view that many Christians hold that the month of December belongs to them alone. Humanists, freethinkers, and atheists are starting to organize, and we are forming traditions of our own. Across the nation we are starting to celebrate things that matter to us. Some atheists like to celebrate Festivus; others like to celebrate the Winter Solstice, the Pastafarian holiday of "Holiday," or the Humanist holiday of Human Light. Sure, some of these started out as jokes, but atheists tend to have a great sense of humor.

The bottom line here is that if religious believers get to use county and state courthouses as billboards for their religions, then other people should be allowed to put up Festivus poles, Flying Spaghetti Monster displays, and even a Tree of Knowledge if they choose. Christians and Jews aren't the only ones with the right to celebrate during the winter season.

Second, at this point it is pretty much common knowledge that Jesus was not born on Dec. 25, and that the holiday of Christmas as we know it today was pretty much stolen from many different pagan traditions. In fact, many puritanical Christians may be shocked to learn that the Christmas wreath was originally a pagan symbol for fertility, and that the Bible actually warns Christians against erecting evergreen trees in the home (Jeremiah 10).

Then of course there is Santa Claus, who -- dare I say -- isn't biblical. The story of Santa, loosely based on a Catholic saint, is a mix of folklore taken from Dutch and German traditions, with a tall glass of Coca-Cola thrown in. Yeah, Coca-Cola helped create the image of Santa Claus that we know and love today.

My point here is that Jesus obviously isn't the reason for the season. So what is the reason for the season? Many atheists joke that the reason for the season is the tilt of the Earth's axis, implying that the winter solstice is the true reason for the season. That's funny and all, but it only goes one level deeper than the Christian view. Sure, Christmas was stolen from winter solstice and Saturnalia celebrations, but why did people celebrate those holidays?

Here is the godless honest truth. Both the alleged birth of Jesus and the winter solstice are merely excuses to celebrate. Winter is often cold, it gets dark earlier, and trees have lost their leaves and appear dead. This is a depressing time of year, and that can mean only one thing: It is time to party!

The true meaning of Christmas is to cheer people up during a cold and depressing time of year. That means lots of food, getting together with family and friends, giving each other gifts, being kind to others, and helping those in need.

Whatever excuse you want to use to celebrate the winter season is great. Jews celebrate a day's worth of oil that lasted eight nights. As excuses go, that's pretty weak, but if it makes people happy, great. Celebrate long-lasting oil, the tilt of the Earth's axis, the birth of a mythical figure, a funny episode from a sitcom, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce be upon him), Human Light, or even Star Wars Life Day. Whatever you celebrate, have a happy holiday season. Personally, I like to keep the "Chris" in "Christmas" -- Chris Hitchens, that is:

Learn more about atheism with my Atheism 101 series, and follow me on Facebook at DangerousTalk.