Why This Formerly Jewish Atheist Celebrates Christmas

Yeah, I know. It seems highly unlikely, doesn't it? I was brought up in a Jewish household, and identified myself as Jewish until I was 17 or so, when the doubts began to creep in. So I was agnostic for a while. Then, I gave up and admitted that the concept of God just really didn't feel quite right to me.

Sometime after that, I started celebrating Christmas.

Finally, it sunk in, though. Christmas was about peace and love and joy to the world. Chanukah was about courage and perseverance and miraculous lamp oil during war. Courage and perseverance were all very well and good, but I felt that celebrating peace and love and joy was much more important. I felt (and still do) that having a holiday when I could get together with friends and celebrate our mutual caring for each other, and exchange gifts to denote that caring and friendship was, basically, a wonderful excuse for a party. So, I began buying Christmas trees and, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, decorated them with everything except angels, madonnas, crosses or anything else that reminded me of the religious origins of the season. It soon occurred to me that Christmas became a joyous holiday for me (and perhaps others like me) because it had become so commercialized over the years. Commercialization had stripped away enough of the religious aspect that non-believers like myself could enjoy some of the underlying messages of the holiday, the cheeriness and friendliness that card stores and television put out. Not to mention, all that chocolate.

Also, as someone who didn't grow up celebrating Christmas, I had no childhood memories to live up to. At first, I managed to avoid much of the depression that so many people seemed prone to around the holidays, much of which came from having Christmas not live up to their Christmases past. After ten years or so, though, I had built up expectations based on those first few years, even though my life changed and my circle of friends was dispersed. So, for a couple of years, I endured the effort to re-align my expectations, become more realistic about the "holidays." Which led me to evaluate, again, why I celebrate Christmas.

My reasons haven't changed. I love choosing Christmas cards (making sure they say "Season's Greetings," for those I'm sending to my non-Christian friends, and to better reflect my reasons for celebration and well-wishing), and sending them, many times to people I don't hear from during the rest of the year. I enjoy hearing back from them. If Christmas were nothing more than that, an opportunity to keep in touch with old friends and acquaintances, then it's worth it. I also love find just the right gifts for my friends and relatives; I enjoy the special cookies, the pies, the eggnog, all the nutmeg and cinnamon and small sparkling lights, the incredible scent of pine trees indoors. I love seeing how other people decorate their homes, from the simple to the ornate, even the overblown.

And if it's not perfect, well, then, what is? This is a holiday I make for myself and those I love, or at least like, and maybe even those I don't, with hope for the world in the coming year. I hope that this is the spirit in which others celebrate Christmas as well. Hey, any excuse for a party.

--Sharon Lee Harkey

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