Christopher Hitchens, Kim Jong-il and Tom Lehrer. What more could we want in a video? (Via Reason)
I gather from that video that the late, lamented Hitchens didn’t much like Christmas time. I suppose most atheists don’t.
It seems to me that most people either love Christmas time or hate it. Some people get so much into the celebration of it that their merriment can be a bit grating. I can see what Hitchens was talking about in that respect.
But I don’t really have a curmudgeonly dislike for Christmas, either. I am not a religious person, but I have not in my personal experience ever felt as if the religiousness of the holiday was being imposed upon me by a Believer. In my life, I have never found either the religious trappings or the exhortations to joy particularly offensive. That is not to say that it doesn’t happen, only that it has never happened to me.
“Exhortations to joy” reminds me of the line in the Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Grand Duke, when the title character says “the entire population will be commanded to enjoy themselves”. I think this is the sort of feeling Hitchens got from the holiday. And I understand entirely the instinctive desire to rebel against such a thing.
But I don’t. For me, Christmas is neither a particularly happy occasion nor a very unpleasant one. It’s not my favorite holiday. (That would be Halloween.) But I do get a certain pleasant, yet almost melancholy feeling from looking at Christmas lights and decorations. Not sad, not joyous, but rather contemplative.
As I write this, I realize that my Grand Duke reference above is quite appropriate, in that the feeling I get from listening to it and from watching Christmas festivities is strangely similar. I have no idea why this could possibly be, but there it is. Perhaps it is the vaguely Germanic atmosphere of both the music in the Grand Duke and many traditional Christmas customs that causes it. But who knows.
It leaves me in a peculiar state of ambivalence towards the holiday, when I find that most other people hold strong opinions for or against it.
P.S. You may have noticed that throughout this post I addressed “Christmas” and not just “the Holidays”, even thought there are other holidays which take place at this time of year. I do not wish to give offense by doing this, or to seem as if I am diminishing the importance of these other holidays. The issue is rather that the feelings I am alluding to are related to the imagery and rituals associated with Christmas in particular and not any other holiday. So, I am saying “Christmas” so as to be precise about what I mean.