The Spirit Of Christmas For Non-Believers

Quite a few years back when my eldest daughter was around 8 or 9 years old, she came home from school upset and cross because her teacher had told her that people who don’t believe in God or Jesus should not celebrate Christmas. I was pretty pissed at the time, not least because it’s a rather cruel thing to tell a young child, who had no say at that age over her families choice of religion or lack of.

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I’ve never been religious. I was not raised with a religion, and neither was my mother or her mother before her. Like everyone else, I learned about the different religions at school and I understood that the predominant religion in England was Christianity. This meant that we had to sing hymns in school assemblies and say prayers.

I often wondered if God was real at that age, and I used to say the odd awkwardly hopeful prayer when I wanted something, but that was about it. Of course, as I grew older I thought about religion in more depth and like the rest of the family, I concluded happily that there probably was not a God. I won’t go into the ins and outs of this thought process, as this isn’t a post about atheism or religion. I’m perfectly happy with the idea of no God or Heaven, and though I am also prepared to keep an open mind about anything and everything, I can’t say any religion or indeed any religious person has ever been able to convince me otherwise.

This is a post about Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, as we see played out in every school nativity across the country at this time of year. (Even though I don’t buy the story, I do get tearful every time I watch small children in a nativity!) But if you’re not Christian, or indeed religious at all, then why celebrate Christmas? What’s the point? What’s it all about?

My husband finds it hard to justify. He also grew up in a non-religious household and he finds it hard to understand the yearly fuss and stress that comes with Christmas. He sees it as consumerism and materialism gone mad, and he’s probably right. Our poor planet could do without the extra plastic and packaging that goes on at this time of year. So, if we want to reject all that, and we’re not religious either, then why celebrate Christmas?

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Well, my reasons are personal and I’m going to list them below. Not because I feel I have to justify anything to anyone, but because I think it’s an interesting subject and because it’s what sprang to mind when I thought about writing a Christmas related blog post!

  1. All my favourite parts of Christmas stem from the Winter Solstice …  The way various cultures have celebrated the Winter Solstice led to so many of our Christmas traditions. Pagans, for example, would mark the shortest day of the year by slaughtering cattle so that they would not not have to feed them over the hard winter months, and at this time the wine and beer were fully fermented, hence the traditional feasting we know so well. The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian tradition from Scandinavia, and is where we get the word yule from. Fires were lit and a log was dropped into the hearth as a tribute to the Norse God Thor. Saturnalia was the ancient Romans way of celebrating the Winter solstice, and involved banquets, gift-giving and a party atmosphere. So many of the traditions we associate with Christmas are pagan in origin or have evolved from ancient cultures marking the shortest day. The Christmas Tree, wreath, holly and ivy, fires, candles, feasting, and giving to charity to name but a few. I wish I’d known this when I was younger, but I was able to explain this to my daughter when she was upset. I suppose technically if you’re going to celebrate the Winter Solstice in this way then you ought to do the whole thing on the shortest day of the year and not on the 25th. My son wanted to do this last year, but instead, we decided to mark the shortest day with pagan inspired ideas and save our gift-giving for the 25th. So this Winter Solstice we will be making bird feeders and hanging out for the birds, bringing in holly, ivy and fir cones to decorate the house, making a chocolate yule log, lighting a fire and putting together our Winter Solstice altar.
  2. Christmas is a time for nostaligia and I love a bit of that… It’s the end of the year. We all slow down a bit. The kids are off school, there are days off work, and more time than usual to sit and reflect. There is something so nostalgic about this time of year and I think it affects us all. We can’t help but look back on Christmases of the past, the good and the bad. I always think back to my childhood Christmases, and of course, over the years I have copied some of the family traditions we had then with my own kids. I talk to my kids about Christmases that stick in my mind and I smile sadly and think about the food we ate back then, the relatives no longer with us, the things we watched on Tv. It;’s no wonder I get a bit emotional this time of year!
  3. Christmas is a time for giving… My eldest daughter has just turned 16 and for the first time this year she went out shopping without us and bought us all a present using her own money. we have no idea what she got us, and I and my husband were so surprised an touched by her thoughtfulness. This is the first time one of the kids has used their own money to buy something for the family and I think it’s lovely. What’s even more lovely is how excited she was about it! I think she’s now at the age where she realises that choosing thoughtful gifts for your loved ones is actually way more exciting than receiving them. This is something that comes with age and maturity. When you’re a little kid you just want the presents! As you get older, you begin to find true joy in choosing gifts for the people you love, things that will mean something to them and let them know how you feel about them.
  4. Christmas is a time for hope… It is an optimistic time of year. People tend to be more forgiving, thoughtful and reflective. As the year draws to an end, we look forward to the next one and think about how we want it to be. Perhaps we want to make changes, try new things, make amends, and even do our bit to make the world a better place.
  5. Christmas is a crazy, often tacky, quite bizarre, exciting, nostalgic, reflective chaos and if you’ve got kids it’s even more so… Christmas changes. It doesn’t stay the same. When you’re a little kid it’s all excitement and jumping up and down and hanging out your stocking and writing to Father Christmas…Then when you grow up a bit and enter your teens and early adulthood it becomes less about family and more about friends. I remember some great Christmases around that age, hitting the pubs and clubs, all dressed up and sparkly, and swapping silly joke presents with my friends! It becomes about drinking and hangovers. Then you have kids of your own and it changes again. You bring back traditions you loved as a kid, and you create your own. You spend all year picking up things you know they will love. You thrive on their excitement as the big day gets closer. You happily feed the frenzy of Santa’s sleigh bells and reindeer and leaving out milk and cookies, and watching Elf and Home Alone. You get to do it all again! And then I imagine, as they get older and grow up and leave home, it changes again. I quite look forward that sometimes, as much as I adore the current crazy we have at this time of year. I sometimes imagine me and my husband as old people, slowing down, enjoying time together, drinking some home-made cider and wine and falling asleep in front of the TV.

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So, there we have it. Reasons I love Christmas and have always loved it despite not being remotely religious. I think this is a special, sparkly time of the year for anyone who enjoys it. I think the trick is to think about what it means to you and go with that. It can be a weird and stressful time of year, but it really doesn’t need to be. At the end of the day, all you really need are your friends, family, some good food and a drink or two! I absolutely love this time of year, although I’ve had my fair share of horrible Christmases and many moments of wondering what the point is. I don’t stress about it at all now. I do it exactly the way I want to do it and love every moment. Merry Christmas folks!! Have a good one!!

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Character Interview- Mack Walker

Morning folks! With Christmas just around the corner, many of you lovely bookish types might be thinking about buying books for your loved ones. With this in mind, myself and my friend indie author Kate Rigby are holding a little Christmasssy event today over on Facebook. The Christmas Pop-Up Book Shop will be full of links to paperbacks by fantastic authors. Authors, feel free to add your links throughout the day, and readers, please come in and browse the shelves. We will be leaving the event up for a few days so that you can pop in and out and not have to worry about missing anything. We will also be posting some other things of interest, such as giveaways, competitions, and character interviews. Here is one such thing. Indie author Mark Gillespie is an incredibly talented and prolific writer. I can’t keep up with the number of books he releases! This character interview is with Mack Walker, the main protagonist in his dystopian/post-apocalyptic/speculative fiction style trilogy, The Future Of London. (I’ve read two books in the series so far, and it is brilliant!) Enjoy!

Mack Walker (The Future of London Series)

1. Do you have any negative character traits and if so, what would you say they are?

I suffer from obsessive tendencies. But I don’t know, are those negative traits? To wake up in the morning knowing that only one thing matters above all else? That sounds like clarity to me. I’m looking for someone you see – that’s my thing. You could call it hunting rather than looking, because when I find him, well…

2. What are your most positive personality traits?

Obsessive tendencies.

3. Tell us what your current most pressing ambition or dream is?

To kill a man called Hatchet. In 2011, he did a terrible thing, something that changed all our lives for the worse. Someone has to make him pay and only a few people know what he did back then.

4. What are you most afraid of?

I still don’t know what happened to my parents. Nine years after they locked us up in London I don’t know what happened to them. Did they stay behind to look for me or did they make a run for it and try to get out before it was too late? I’m afraid I’ll never know the answer to that question. Most of all, I’m afraid they stayed behind.

5. Do you have a best friend? If so, why this person?

Friends don’t last long in this city.

6. Have you ever been in love?

I was only 16 when they locked us up in here. I never had much time for all that stuff back then. I’ve got even less time for it now.

7. Have you ever committed a crime?

Yes, but not without good reason. I don’t even know what counts as a ‘crime’ anymore in here. We do what we do to survive. Things like stealing and murder, they don’t mean what they used to.

8. Do you have any secrets?

I have a big secret. I know why no one is a hurry to let us out of London even though it’s been nine years since they sealed off the city. I’m certain they could find a way to bring us all back into society if they really wanted to. Only one other person in the city knows what I know. They’re using us – they’ve installed hundreds of thousands of micro-cameras everywhere, all over the city and they’re filming us. Not only that, we’re part of a reality TV show called The Future of London. Apparently it’s very popular and people pay a lot of money to watch us in here. They gain nothing from letting us out but they stand to lose a lot of money.

9. Do you have any regrets?

I wish I’d never moved to London in 2011.

10. How would you like to be remembered?

There haven’t been any new headstones in London for a long time. But it doesn’t matter if no one remembers me. Not as long as I find him.

Thanks so much to Mark (and Mack!) for this interview! You can find out more about Mark’s books on the link below;

Mark Gillespie books