Bagg: Christmas for everyone!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

In the next few weeks, families will travel long distances, give each other gifts they bought in the airport and remember why they moved across the country in the first place. Old friends will send each other novellas about the accomplishments of their children, all under the pretense of a family photo. Parents will lie to their children for weeks about a man who watches them sleep, only to spoil them with unabashed capitalist glee.

This is the American holiday known as Christmas, and I have all the love for it a Jewish atheist can hope to have.

A lot of people in my position frown on this wonderful holiday and America’s obsession with it. Some are offended if you wish them a Merry Christmas. Others lobby to have public funding cut from Christmas decorations because they represent a government’s endorsement of religion. And that big tree on the New Haven Green? An insidious violation of the First Amendment.

Good grief. Don’t you have something better to worry about, like global warming or your roommate’s sex life?

Christmas in America does not have to be a celebration of God becoming man; for many, it’s just an occasion to be nice to each other for once. We give gifts, smile and celebrate with family. We take a break from work, and see people we haven’t seen in a while. We endure cheesy movies, eat too much and sing badly — but with heart! — about partridges in pear trees.

Then why are so many Jews, Muslims, atheists and others afraid of Santa Claus? I suppose I can understand – the holiday does have the word “Christ” right there in the name. And perhaps it used to carry some meaning you wouldn’t want to associate yourself with as a member of the Chosen Tribe.

But now, it’s simply the American winter holiday. Rumor has it that we celebrated in late December long before that Christ guy came along. The Romans had a festival during this time period too: Saturnalia, during which people gave gifts, celebrated with family, sang badly and ate too much.

And it sure has stuck. Maybe people naturally need a break from the grind of winter and just want something to celebrate! They want to buy gifts and feel generous; they appreciate the good will of others and the cheer that comes with festivity.

But what about Hannukah, that sacred festival of lights so deeply and historically important to the Jewish faith? No problem! Light the candles, sing the prayers. Judaism is your religion, and it is an expression of your religious devotion. Christmas is not! Celebrate Hannukah because you’re Jewish and Christmas because you’re American.

In fact, by insisting on equal representation for menorahs and Christmas trees, you’re turning Christmas into the limited, exclusive religious holiday it doesn’t need to be. Embrace both — they don’t conflict.

Why do I care whether you celebrate Christmas? First, I just think you’re missing out. Christmas is fun, that’s all there is to it.

Beyond that, though, there is a bit of a deeper reason. American identity is fragile; there’s very little that holds us all together these days. In some ways, that’s a good thing — we don’t all have to be WASPs anymore to be considered Americans; and “patriots” drowning out meaningful conversation with chants of “U-S-A!” never did any good.

But on another level, national unity is a good thing because, especially in the United States, it brings people together from across all races and creeds. Christmas is one time of year when Americans can put aside their differences and acknowledge that deep down we’re all just people. It even works across nations — remember the Christmas Truce of World War I?

The day has a Christian history — as do most American traditions. So don’t go to church on Christmas morning — that’s no reason not to buy a small tree that will hemorrhage needles on your rug, or hang fake stockings above a fake fireplace to be filled by the work of fake elves.

Take the advice of Dr. Santa Claus, my friends: Learn to stop worrying and love Christmas.

Sam Bagg is a senior in Silliman College.


  • Pierson '90

    Merry Christmas!

  • Recent Alum

    Always nice to see an atheist who hasn't joined the War on Christmas bandwagon!

  • Fellow Jewish Atheist

    I know it's an affront to my deep cultural roots, but I'm going to say it anyway: I'd rather lick candy canes, hum along to Good King Wenceslas or Silent Night, and roast a Christmas ham than watch a Woody Allen film while eating Chinese food.

  • Sam Fan

    I love your writing! From one atheist to another. You are NOT alone!

  • mb

    As a culturally Christian atheist, I agree with you that the holiday has largely become a secular affair. My Jewish girlfriend, however, views it as something outside her own culture and resents having it forced on her as much as it is. (To be fair, I resent listening to awful Christmas carols all the time, too.)

    Regardless of Christmas's religious/secular status, it seems wrong to force something on other cultures because you think it should be ubiquitously "American".

  • Grad Atheist

    Why should I be offended by Christmas? It is, after all, a pagan holiday.

  • please?

    Now please, I've asked once and I won't ask again. GIVE ME A PEDANTIC, DISMISSIVE RIFF ON CHARLES IVES.

  • @mb

    we "force the 4th of july" upon other cultures too. You know, when they live in America.

    a first generation american

  • christian christmas

    as a Christian, I was really hurt by this article. Christmas IS a Christian celebration! It celebrates the birth of Christ-- the day in which our Savior became man to dwell among us and offer Himself as the final sacrifice for OUR sins. Christmas is NOT just some secular, non-religiously affiliated holiday that has less to do with the manger and the shepherds than with santa and his marketable reindeer. Unfortunately, in this day and age, that's what it really has become to some people- "capitalism day." Of course, giving gifts, loving, being kind, spending time with family are all traits of the Christian celebration that should be common to all of mankind, no matter what their religious affiliation.

  • Anonymous

    Oh good grief. Please, everybody, get over the knee-jerk being offended.

    My Christian friend, based on the last sentence of your comment, I suspect that if you put aside your hurt for a moment or two, along with your pre-conceived (and valid) frustrations about what secular Christmas has become, you would agree with the sentiments of this article.

  • Anonymous

    Hmm. I'm a semi-Jewish atheist, so theoretically I should be in this article's prime audience, but I just don't like Christmas very much. I've tried tree decorating with other families but wasn't too excited. I guess I just like being different. Plus, the Chinese food thing is fun.