Humanists at Christmas, bah humbug!

December 1, 2017

“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” – Scrooge, A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Quite often Humanists find themselves being asked “do you celebrate Christmas?” or “aren’t you working on Christmas day because you don’t believe in Jesus?”. Perhaps Humanists are all just real life versions of the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge?

Of course in countries like Scotland there is no real surprise that most Humanists will join in some kind of celebration with friends and family. Most Humanists would grab that one day a year where almost all offices, shops and services are closed for the day and get together with those close to them. And why not? After all, part of being Humanist is celebrating the one life you have with the people you love.

Oliver Cromwell wears a Santa hat
Big Ollie hated the office Christmas party.

Christmas falls in the time of year when people for thousands of years have been celebrating in one way or another. From winter solstices and Yuletide to Saturnalia and Yalda, the season of midwinter, and certainly in Scotland, long nights and cold weather have often featured great celebratory feasts and gift giving. It’s perhaps unsurprising that early Christians wanted to associated one of their biggest festivals at a time of year that people were already in the party mood.

In the past some of the more puritan enforcers of “the real meaning of Christmas” like Oliver Cromwell’s government, were actually the real embodiment of Ebenezer Scrooge. They absolutely hated the fact that Christianity would be seen to be linked to pagan festivities. This went so far as to the point where the Cromwell government actually attempted to ban Christmas celebrations in an act of Parliament. People of a Christian nation, according to them, should be respectful and not ‘foolish’ or engage in ‘frivolity’.

A snowy battle scene from The Empire Strikes Back - three AT-ATs lumber forwards whilst two rebel snowspeeders fly between them
What is more Christmassy than an intergalatic battle on a frozen planet?

The reality is, across Scotland this December, people of all faiths and none will take part in Christmas celebrations of some kind or another. Many will not even give a second thought to any religious connections or attend any acts of worship but does that mean they shouldn’t take part in whatever way they wish? Who says watching The Empire Strikes Back ritually every Christmas morning isn’t meaningful to those who choose to make it so? Or the annual Christmas dose of aliens and time travel in Dr Who on the BBC.

Much furore was had by the “their banning Christmas mob” after *shock horror* Sikhs and Muslims appeared in a Christmas Television advert for a supermarket. Perhaps sometimes these shock jocks forget that those of other faiths or non-religious people, like Humanists, are actually real people too. They like giving presents and spending time with family, and yes the food is pretty good as well.

A scene from A Muppets Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens grew a long nose and fluff for his big screen debut

For many, this Christmas will involve going to Church or taking part in traditional festivities but for others new traditions are created. These will live on for many years, perhaps passed down generations, and will be looked forward to just as much as others look forward to nativity plays and carol singers. Traditions after all have to start somewhere.

For Humanists, perhaps what is most refreshing is there is no rule book in celebrations – either at Christmas or other times – no timetables or expectations. Some will take part in traditions, some won’t.

For me, I’m just looking forward to the mince pies and muppets, but I’ll pass on the sprouts.

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