This might come as a shock to almost everyone who bothers to read this column, but I like Christmas. Well, maybe "like" is the wrong word. I actually love it. Now, naturally, this is probably because my own irreligious nature strips the holiday of all of its supernatural nonsense, and I no longer pay attention to which parts were stolen from which other cultures in an effort by the Church to make the religion appealing to pagans. It's mostly irrelevant, after all. Like a lot of our traditions, most people don't care about Christmas' origins. They're completely secondary to just having the tradition around as some sort of waypoint in their otherwise meaningless lives.
And Christmas is one of the best, because it embodies two of the three key pieces of human existence: there's "work," which a lot of people actually get away from for a day or two (but not everyone, after all, thanks to the next piece).
Then there's "consumerism," because Christmas is nothing if not a month-long orgy of coupons, deals, bargains, lines, and shopping, shopping, shopping.
The third piece, if you're curious, is "death." After all, we're celebrating the existence of life during the dead of winter; that's why you kill a tree and bring it into your house. See? Tradition! Or, if you're one of "those" people, you kill somewhere between two and seven trees to haul into your McMansion. And if you're one of those people, please stop. That's just ridiculous. There was only one baby Jesus and he and Santa Claus cannot possibly be expected to know which one of your 19 Pagan Trees are meant for them and which ones are meant for the guests and which one is meant for the help. We all know you're upper-middle class because you're wearing that terrible sweater, so just leave it alone, OK?
But I digress. The point here is that even I, someone who is an avowed atheist, loves the Christmas season. If you're thinking it doesn't make sense, well, you're right. It's pretty much a lot of things I should intensely dislike: the religious nature of it, the consumerism of it, the false pretense of people complaining about the consumerism of it while continuing to partake in said consumerism.
For all of its faults, though, Christmas has a couple of really strong things going for it. On the one hand, it's culturally pervasive — and quite ridiculously so. Santa Claus is pretty much as recognizable around the world as Coca-Cola (probably because for a long time people thought Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus, again because the truth of our traditions is always a distant second to the simple fact that we have them).
And on the other, there's the music. Outside of a few real stinkers ("Last Christmas") and the occasional uber-creepy ones (the NSA overtones of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and the date-rape anthem "Baby, It's Cold Outside"), Christmas has more enjoyable tunes than any other holiday. After all, how many people sing "The Star Spangled Banner" if they aren't atteneding a sporting event? Pretty much no one, that's who. But I'll catch myself singing Christmas songs in the sweltering heat of Charleston summers. Why? Possibly because the heat and humidity have finally damaged my brain, but also possibly because some of them are really fun songs.
But outside of all of this, I know one thing that keeps me grounded. Even though Christmas is a deeply rooted tradition in this country (even if almost no one can tell you where any of it came from, or why we think it's important or even which parts are less than 50 years old), and even though it seems like literally everyone on the planet celebrates it, the fact is that they don't.
And that, I think, is part of why a lot of people don't understand why it's just an absolutely low-class thing to insist that everyone say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" or whatever other neutral sort of thing you can come up with. Sorry, but it is. The least you could do for yourself in the coming year is put yourself in the shoes of people for whom Christmas isn't as natural as breathing oxygen. Wonder to yourself what it would be like if you, for one moment, found yourself living in a completely different culture. Would you assimilate? Would you mouth empty platitudes of celebration of a culture that was not your own? Or would you want just one person to acknowledge that you have a different background and culture by at the very least admitting that you might have a different idea of what the season is about?
If you can do that, then I wish you and yours a Happy Holiday this year and every year. Otherwise, I hope you find yourself playing an endless game of Hot Cockles with a group of large, angry people next December.