This post is appropriate for (two days after...oops) the 8th of December, which as I have mentioned before is the day in which, traditionally, the Christmas season officially starts in Italy. It is the day the trees go up, the Christmas lights come on on the streets and the Christmas markets officially begin (although I have noticed that this year, in light of the economic crisis, they were given permission to open shop earlier than usual) all to coincide with that famously confusing Immaculate Conception. I am one of those atheists that does in fact celebrate Christmas, or Mithrasmas, or Xmas, or whatever I may feel like calling it. I like it, its fun, and every year I act as Santa for my grinchy Italian family buying everyone's gifts for everyone else, so getting to Christmas knowing what's in all the packages except for my own. This does not mean, however, that I do not know plenty of people that are of Taslima Nasreen's opinion, that it is silly to celebrate Christmas:
I get surprised when ex-Christian atheists instead of celebrating a day off work, celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a Christian holiday, a religious event — it is for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Atheists don’t believe in God the father, Jesus the son or the holy spirit. Atheists are not Christians, they do not need to participate in Christian holiday.
Well, I think that part of the answer come in her next paragraph (emphasis my own)
Many atheists even celebrate the pagan festival of winter solstice. Why do they need to celebrate a Pagan festival? It is true that many rituals of modern Christmas celebrations are pagan. But this is not a good reason to celebrate Christmas or Solstice. Atheists are neither pagan nor Christian. They don’t uphold ancient pagan superstitions, so why do so with those which happen to be popular at Christmas time? There’s nothing about ancient paganism which is any more rational than modern Christianity.
That's exactly it, Christmas celebrations as we know them are really bastardizations of much older pagan rituals, adopted when Christianity became big. Those who believe in a historical Jesus say that, if he did exist he most likely was born in September, so why change it all up in order to fit nicely with a pagan holiday which has nothing at all to do with Christianity?
Well, because people like their holidays and like their traditions. They are some of the best childhood memories for some people, and often they want to continue those great memories for their own kids. For Christians it was strategy: it's much easier to convince people to switch over to your religion when you tell them they don't have to change some of their favorite things about their old one, but for many atheists it's for similar reasons that we continue to celebrate it. People have been celebrating this time of year for ages, all under different names, so why can't we do the same thing this time around and have atheistic Xmas? I had some great Xmases in my time and I want to have that for my kids, the tree, the presents, the dinner, the family, all of it holds a special place in my heart and is an experience I wouldn't want to deny my future children. So what if Christians also celebrate this time of year for their own purposes? Why should that affect my celebrations with my family?
Now, do any atheists have to celebrate Xmas? Of course not! If they don't have any special memories attached to it or don't like it, then don't celebrate it! Celebrate, as Taslima suggests, Women's Day or Anti-Slavery Day, or hell make up a random date and call it My Family Day and come up with a bunch of traditions for your family alone!
The only thing that I would personally suggest, as I did to a friend of mine who does not have the happy Xmas memories that I do, is not to forgo having any holiday at all to celebrate, especially if you have kids. I know people say "well I can see my family at any time", but when life starts to get going and each family member starts doing their own thing, it's amazing how quickly time slips by until you stop for a minute and think crap, how long has it been since we've all been together in the same place at the same time?
Having an xmas-like holiday gives everyone something to look forward to. It makes you stop and think what would my brother/sister/uncle/mother really like? What present could I get them that would make them happy? It gives you an excuse to bake cookies, make a nice meal or whatever else you don't indulge in when you're far too busy working. Most importantly, it gives everyone an excuse to drop whatever they're doing, take a break and visit with family and friends. I don't think there is anything wrong with that at all.
So as for me? I just bought my xmas tree and decorated it over the weekend listening to Nat King Cole carol for me. I then made myself a nice hot chocolate and relaxed, enjoying the beginning of the season, amazingly watching it snow outside. I was content, and I could care less that at the same time there were others boring themselves silly at mass. They're celebrations have nothing to do with me, and mine are for my benefit, not for Christianity's.
As an aside, if you haven't seen Taslima Nasreen's blog yet, do check it out. I may have disagreed with her in this case, but I do think her writing is remarkable. However I do think a trigger warning is in order: many of her posts are very hardcore: she blogs about women's rights and fundamentalist Islam, so the sad hard truth about rape, beatings and torture, including graphic images and videos, can often be found there.