I’m a selfish agnostic: to begin with… This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. I love the Christmas season but I don’t believe in the biblical stories of Jesus Christ and I was recently asked to explain this apparent incongruency. While I was trying to talk about that, the question came up of, ‘What is the true meaning of Christmas?’
I’m not a Christian, but as an outsider, I think that the religion’s explanation about the true meaning of Christmas is that it is an occasion to feel grateful to God for having sent his son, an aspect of himself, to join us on earth for the eventual purpose of dying for our sins so that we may ourselves be accepted into the embrace of God upon our own deaths. But I’m agnostic; I don’t feel a strong belief that God exists nor that God doesn’t. So either I can choose to ignore the holiday that wouldn’t mean anything to me in its probably original interpretation, or if I want it to mean something to me, then I have to come up with another meaning for the holiday that I can appreciate. When it comes down to it, we all celebrate holidays for the reasons we’ve decided upon; for many people who don’t think on it, that reason is just tradition.
Three-hundred and thirty-ish days of the year, I’m selfish and proud of it. I’m aggressive and materialistic and try to make decisions for logical reasons in order to improve my own life. It’s exhausting and isolating and after living my life unapologetically like this all year long, I develop an irrepressible desire to be nice to people. Weird.
Christmastime brings me various warm and fuzzy feelings with positive memories from the past, and in our country it’s a pretty universally accepted time to be nice. So, I save up my niceness and let it out at Christmas.
At various times in my life, I rebelled against Christmas for numerous reasons: I didn’t want to wish a Merry Christmas because I didn’t believe in Christ; I didn’t want possibly to offend people who don’t believe in Christianity; sometimes I just wasn’t merry. I’ve since decided that part of what Christmas means to me is that I am happy during that time of year regardless of the origin of the holiday. I don’t have to be unhappy just because that’s the cooler, more modern way to behave. And since when I wish someone a Merry Christmas, I’m not forcing someone to believe in the holiday, nor the religion, nor even to be merry, I don’t feel that I should have to refrain from stating the wish. It’s just a succinct and pretty readily understood way for me to say that I am happy and that I hope that the listener is happy, too. It even implies that I care about the happiness of the other person!
And I like Christmas music! Mind! I don’t like all of it, just the music that seems to convey the singer’s (or songwriter’s) actual joy or solemnity for the occasion. Um, or if it’s fun. But if some pop singer really feels like rockin’ around the Christmas tree, then that’s awesome. If she really feels like collecting a paycheck, then I’m not interested in listening. If some singer really feels an emotional, spiritual, or even intellectual connection to the holiday and is moved to sing about it with all of the sober dignity he can, I’ll probably dig it. If he’s just trying to sing deeper or louder or with more vibrato than the other guy, then he might as well bug someone else because I don’t want to hear it.
I like songs as diverse as “Elf’s Lament“ by Barenaked Ladies, “Meet Me Under the Mistletoe“ by Dick Robertson, “Winter Wonderland“ by Chet Baker Quartet, and good ol’ “Jingle Bells“ by Diana Krall. My favorite song is a silly little one from the Rankin/Bass animated special, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas“ about the clockmaker and the mice: “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand.“ I have yet to believe in God or miracles, but that’s just a darn nice song, plus it’s peppy and catchy.
I also like some christmas decorations, like the tree and some ornaments and some lights and a wreath and a stocking… but nothing garish. I’ve always liked green and red in general, and then as I grew into adulthood, I came to really like silver and gray. So I put up a Charlie Brown sized Christmas tree and some tinsel and a great wreath that I bought from Dana and a stocking and I love it! It brings some nice color to my apartment.
But why would I put up a Christmas tree and hang a stocking unless… yes! I believe in Santa Claus. I don’t mean that I think there is a real live fat man in red at the north pole, necessarily. I mean that at this time of year, I’m okay with the idea of a completely generous and selfless person giving gifts to everyone who is good in the world via his magical abilities who survives in some undisclosed magical fashion without having to work some other job. I think that would be a great person to exist!
I also like that the most commonly held notions of St. Nicholas include the ideas of the naughty and nice list, and the lump of coal for those who haven’t been good. I realize that these aspects that make up the Kris Kringle story sound a bit like Christianity-in-a-nutshell; some bearded guy in the sky who judges you and sends you to heaven or hell based on your goodness is quite similar to some bearded guy in the sky who judges you and gives you gifts or reprimands based on your goodness. But even acknowledging that, I’m thrilled that this figure who has come to represent Christmas to many as equally as Jesus does, is a merit-acknowledging figure. Yay, merit!
But I can’t remember ever having Santa visit me and leave me unexplainable gifts. I think it would evoke a sense of wonder in me if that ever were to happen. I’ve thought this since I was a tiny child sitting glued to christmas specials on TV. So one year after I had become gainfully employed and had a car on Christmas, I decided that if there were no Santa out there dropping off magical gifts to my friends, then I would step up and do it myself. After all, I can’t remember ever being anything but alone on Christmas Eve, and what a waste of a perfectly good eve! So, I got out my addressbook and loaded up mapquest in my web browser and then mapped out night-long journeys to deliver gifts (or cards when I’m poor) to everyone I could reach between dusk of Christmas Eve and dawn of Christmas morning. Well, not everyone. Everyone who has affected me in such a positive way through the year that I still remember it come early December. I think I started in 1998 or 1999. I also think that I’ve managed to make Santa’s ride every year since then.
I love it. I love riding around the DC/Baltimore area when most have settled down to a long winter’s nap. I love listening to Christmas music for a twelve hour stretch while only stopping to replenish my redbull or the gas tank, or to make the actual deliveries. I love surprising my friends with a gift or a card that magically appears on their doorstep with no stamps attached. I’ve never been caught, either! I even wear my own modern interpretation of the santa claus outfit, with more black than white. Sure, I mail some stuff, too .. but it feels so much better to be the deliveryman myself.
So there it is: I love Christmas! The day after Christmas, I’m perfectly happy to shed the Scrooge-reborn attitude and go back to being just Scrooge. But up until that day, I just keep getting merrier and merrier. What Christmas means to me is a time to be irrationally, illogically, cheerfully, generously, compassionately happy. If you’re on board with this crazy attitude I have, then that’s great and I wish you a Merry Christmas!
And if you hate everything I wrote and everything about this…
…then I wish you a Merry Christmas, too!