Monday, September 23

An Atheist’s Christmas: “Why do I bother with Christmas? Oh, I don’t know really. What’s your excuse?”

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“Why do you bother with Christmas? You aren’t Christian,”

This is what they say, hanging their Druidic, Norse mistletoe upon the ceiling; decorating their fake Yule Weihnachtsbaum with electric lights and plastic tinsel; playing tug-of-war with a London sweet shop owner’s Bangs of Expectation; carving fifties’ Turkeys from the New World; singing Winter Solstice carols; hanging festive, fruitless, French stockings; taking their children to see the evolved familiarities of a red-suited, jolly gift-giver who lives in the North Pole with elves, who they maintain really gives gifts to children (except the exceptionally poor ones); and sending Christmas cards invented by a Victorian gentleman who had too many friends and, thanks to the penny-post, was feeling the pressure of having to write individual letters to all of them.

In 1644, an Act of Parliament banned Christmas for thirteen years, and Oliver Cromwell considered mince pies a pagan pleasure best avoided, banning their consumption on Christmas Day. Puritans in New England considered the festivities far too idolatrous and paganistic, and made it illegal for part of the 17th-century.

This time of year there’s normally some sort of “war on Christmas”, especially in America. Righteous Christian anger oozes out of their Christmas trees with dramatic irony, like some indignant, ignorant, sticky sap. “Christmas” has not featured next to the word “tree” somewhere, and that has them angry. Well, I hate to spoil their Noel, but the Yule tree predates Christianity. Yuletide was a festival of Germanic pagans, and the Yule tree, Yule log, and merry door-to-door Anglo-Saxon wassailing stem from these traditions. Odin is also the Old Norse Yule father, so our pre-Christian forebearers even had Father Christmas, our very own Saint Nick, covered.

On England’s green and pleasant land, we no longer offer a drink from the Wassail bowl in exchange for gifts, or sing to trees to promote a good harvest, but some of us still go caroling in bad jumpers and Santa hats. So, as you traverse through the Christmas markets, breathe in the smell of bratwursts, savour the Eggnog, stare at the illuminated snowflakes, and become intoxicatingly merry during the secular holiday we culturally refer to as Christmas, remember: this festival is a smorgasbord of culture, owned by no one and everyone. Raise a glass of mulled wine and spread good will. At the last, I defer to the amateur conjuror and noted man of letters, Charles Dickens: “It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

“Why do I bother with Christmas? Oh, I don’t know really. What’s your excuse?”

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Damon is a blogger and an award-winning close-up and stand-up magician

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