Tagged: Christmas

Saturnalia, atheists take the blame (again), and will the world end tomorrow?

Contrary to what Christian leaders have been claiming for a long time, the “real meaning of Christmas” isn’t their nativity story. A midwinter festival has been celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years (it’s pre-Christian in origin). The Romans had a festival called Saturnalia, which the BBC website details – Did the Romans invent Christmas? The answer is, no, they didn’t; the early church high-jacked the Roman festival of Saturnalia, when it became clear that no one was going to stop having a good time at around this time of year.

Originally a one-day feast at the end of autumn, Saturnalia gradually moved to later and later dates, with longer celebrations, throughout the Roman period.

By the time of Christian conversion it was running into and incorporating a number of festivals. These included the Opalia – the festival day for Saturn’s consort Ops – on the 19 December and the Sigillaria- the day of present-giving – on the 23 December. The 25 December was dies natalis solis invicti – the birthday of the ‘invincible’ Roman sun-god Sol.

Cancelling Saturnalia was unthinkable, so Christian Rome converted it to a Christian holy day instead.

American atheists have a lot of invective aimed at them by ignorant Christian fundamentalists. One extreme example, this week, was in response to the school massacre in Connecticut; a Tennessee Baptist pastor told his congregation that the number of mass shooting were escalating because of schools were government “mind-control centers” that taught “junk about evolution” and “how to be a homo,” and that “humanism” in schools taught Lanza (the shooter) that he was God and “he can just go blow away anybody he wants.” He wasn’t alone in blaming atheists and atheism for the massacre. Former US Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said that the shooting was a result of having “systematically removed God from our schools” (ignoring the fact that America is constitutionally secular).

David Niose, President of the Washington-based American Humanist Association, writes,

It’s great that many Americans, even those who are religious, find the statements of Huckabee and company objectionable, but it’s unfortunate that the objections focus on the wrong issue. Rather than argue about whether God is jealous and vindictive or loving and compassionate (or at least in addition to that argument), Americans should be calling out fundamentalists for depicting nonbelievers as agents of evil.

A Humanist’s view of Christmas celebrations

Suffolk Humanists & Secularists member Penny Binsted wrote the following article for the Lawshall (Suffolk) village newsletter. She says, “It has been very well received and I have had many positive comments! Maybe there are more closet Humanists than people like to admit.”

As Christmas is meant to be a celebration for Jesus’s birthday it is obvious to me that I have nothing to celebrate as I am a humanist. Humanism is the conviction that we can make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values and that we can all lead good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. Humanists make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves. We choose to take responsibility for our actions and work with others for the common good.

The number of people in the UK choosing non-religious humanist ceremonies for births, marriages and deaths is growing rapidly, as is the membership of the British Humanist Association, from Professor Richard Dawkins (Vice President of the British Humanists), Professor Susan Blackmore, the late Claire Rayner, Ricky Gervais, Rowan Atkinson, Woody Allen, the authors Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, to politicians Roy Hattersley and Ken Livingstone. The journalist Polly Toynbee is the current President of the British Humanist Association and all three main parties in the House of Commons have Humanist groups.

The history of Christmas celebrations is eclectic – for thousands of years in Europe, in Scandinavia communities celebrated life in midwinter, with eating and drinking, around the time of the shortest day on December 21st. It is highly unlikely that Jesus Christ was born on 25th December, and there were no  Church celebrations for Christmas until the 4th century as there was disapproval of the Pagan festivities. Then Christians adopted the old Pagan festival of Midwinter, making it a joint secular and religious event – it is now a jumble of ancient customs and more recent inventions: many of our ‘traditions’ like Santa Claus, Christmas trees, cards, gifts and turkeys are all fairly recent, mostly Victorian inventions from Prince Albert.

The Winterval myth

You may have read that the Pope, Eric Pickles MP, the Daily Mail, and many others are blaming atheists, Muslims, councils and various other killjoys for “banning Christmas” in the interests of not offending anyone – “PC gone mad!” – and are calling the festive season “Winterval” instead. Calm down. It’s not true. Kevin Arscott, who writes the Angry Mob blog, explains that the story is all due to bad journalism (and there’s a lot of it about) in an essay you can download as a pdf file.

Christmas with children, without hassle

This was an article in a newsletter from 2008 by Sophie Lovejoy, who has two young children. It provides ideas for parents with limited budgets who’d like to keep their spending under control, yet still have a good time.

Xmas cookingChristmas is invariably a challenge with small children, particularly if you aren’t Christian. For the past few years, my halcyon days of totally ignoring Christmas have been entirely forgotten. I got away with not celebrating when Tess was one, but as she turned two, I couldn’t hold out any longer. Once Toby came along, I had no choice but to rethink how I’d manage over the festive season. I work very hard in the run up to Christmas to keep the kids focused on the people they love, and who love them. Part of this is making almost all our gifts and cards, and I try to make something for each of the children too. I occasionally let the kids buy something very small, but usually my response when they ask is “Do you have any money? No? Well we’ll have to make something then.”

An Atheist’s Guide to Christmas

Atheists GuideAn Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is in the shops now (and if it isn’t, it jolly well should be). Edited by the lovely Ariane Sherine, of Atheist Bus fame, a whole bunch of atheists, including some very funny ones, have contributed their thoughts about the festive season, including how to avoid it.

The royalties will go to the UK charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust, which seems particularly appropriate now that Pope Benedict, that homophobic old goat*, is about to visit the UK with his message that condoms shouldn’t be used in countries where AIDS is rife.

You can buy the book now at Amazon, or take a trip down to your local bookshop and demand that they put it in a window display.

*Actually, I take the goat insult back – I like goats.