The Post-Christian,
Pre-Christmas Blues?
Mark Silgalis

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This reply was revised from the original.

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Mark Silgalis"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: December 21, 2001 3:50 AM

If you take a close look at Christmas, you can find lots and lots of religious symbolism in it. If you want to be really strict about it, you can find religious symbolism in just about everything there is to do with Christmas. And if you feel obligated as if "from above" to purge yourself of anything and everything that has to do with religion, Christmas is a golden opportunity to get in some righteous indignation. It's one way to make what used to be the big problems at the family gathering quickly become small by comparison.

But if you take only a cursory look at Christmas, you'll see that the hand-carved Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a few goats and a camel with a missing leg, and perhaps two of the three wise men are still carefully wrapped in the box and have been on the mantle every year since your Mother was a child -- and nobody remembers how long they were here before then. Even a hand-carved baby Jesus can have a symbolic value, but that's really the only thing about Christmas that's overtly religious. Maybe a few angels here and there, but really, they won't hurt you one bit. They're just decorations, and you have the option of imputing whatever meaning you want -- if that's what you want to do. We kept the hand-carved crèche off to the side just in case religious visitors came by, but mostly because it had been in the family forever. Dad's parents stuck to the Santa and the gifts and the tree and the wreath and the meal, probably because they had spent so many years living in Islamic countries and nobody in that side of the family even toyed with Christianity -- probably since the Revolution.

Then there's Midnight Mass or whatever your family did as the religious ritual. We skipped that until toward the end of Mom's Mom's life, when sometimes she went to the Unitarian Church because her husband's father was a Unitarian minister of the Spinoza's god variety. And sometimes some of us went with her. When she could no longer drive and still wanted to go, then someone had to go with her. Oh, well. Unitarian services are pretty cool. None of it has to mean anything, and the Unitarians, of all the sects, realize this.

So, if you get rid of the religious symbolism (but not necessarily the symbols themselves) and then shift the emphasis more toward the family and away from the religious aspects, you'll end up with what my family did. It wasn't perfect, but I only saw neighbors and distant family members have Christmases that were worse than ours -- never did I see somebody else celebrating a Christmas that I would have preferred over what we had. Mostly, though, the Christmases that we had and the Christmases that I saw the religious friends and neighbors have were pretty good all around. I don't think we were missing anything that the religious people had -- except the object of the symbolism, which, to us, was imaginary anyway.

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Some that I've known and heard from over the years, particularly those who jettisoned their faith with bitter emotional upheaval, sometimes have had trouble with these symbols and other things "triggering" unpleasant memories and sad emotions. There are psychological tricks that sometimes work (this is right up Cognitive Therapy's alley). Or, you just might find yourself happier treating Christmas as just another day -- although that's almost harder to do that just going through the motions, considering that everybody else does Christmas. Unless I've worked it out so that I can fly down to be with the family, Christmas is a day to catch up on my work. It's a sad time for me, to be sure, very sad, but throughout my adulthood I've always had jobs where I worked on Christmas, so I'm used to it. This doesn't make it go away, just helps to be used to it. The only times I've had serious problems, in fact, were when the family made it clear that I was not welcome. (Note to everybody: For gaud sakes find some other way to send a message to an unpopular family member!) This year I moved to a part of town that has lots of Chinese restaurants within walking distance, so I'll at least be able to eat without too much trouble!

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Then it will be over, and those who made a big thing of Christmas being a special day will be just starting their depressive cycle, while I'll be happy as a lark that we're back to normal.

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The whole point of Christmas, originally (the very reason we even have Christmas and Solstice, etc.), was to deal with this depressive cycle you're feeling. That's what the whole thing is about: the sun is going to come back. So, make do with what you've got. I mean, if you were imprisoned in a foreign land where they don't do Christmas, and if, on December 25th, some alert fellow-prisoner walked up, bowed or shook your hand, and said, "Merry Christmas," you'd probably wrap your arms around him and consider that one of the nicest Christmas gifts you'd ever received. I promise you that if Christmas has ever meant anything to you at any time in the past, his simple gesture would tear your heart right open -- regardless of what Christmas meant to you then or means to you today.

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I'd put this out to the list but I'm moving and don't have time to do anything except give my back a bit of a break now and then. Nobody is lifting a finger to help me get this done, and the movers come tomorrow and I'm not even halfway packed, and I'm frightened as hell. I'm so terrified that I sometimes can't stop crying. I really shouldn't even be posting this, but I will. If it weren't for all that, I'd have been more than happy to send something out to the list for you.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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Added: December 22, 2001

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Mark Silgalis"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: December 22, 2001 5:51 AM

I will reply because I need to take a break sometime, and I'm exhausted. Besides, most of the hard stuff was already done this morning.

Well, the movers came by this morning (they were supposed to call, first, to find out how many boxes they needed to bring), and I quickly realized that these guys weren't going to cut it. As time went on -- that is, as I tested their ability to listen to instructions, as I tried their sense of patience with someone who is not all that skilled at dealing with people, as I determined just what they do and do not think about cats, and as I listened to them bicker amongst themselves over how much they wanted to charge me (with an hourly rate, that depends solely upon how long it takes them to do the job -- or so I thought), I decided that this was one crew who was not going to touch a thing that I own. The clincher was that after almost an hour, I still had not seen a piece of paper for me to sign. Now I am sorry they even know my new address.

So, I played real stupid and became quite "difficult" -- difficult enough for anybody to get the message -- thereby making them think it was their decision not to move me! Prompting them to cancel exonerates me from any liability for the fee, and that was the only thing left at that point.

Before they were even off the property, I'd grabbed a phone book and made a few calls. It turns out that Oregon law requires movers to charge a set hourly fee -- which these other clowns were undercutting by about 50 percent. Whoops! That's not how I do busines: I never have! I won't go with someone who is undercutting anybody. I don't do anything "under the table." I won't patronize a scab and you'd better have a business license plus a professional license if one comes with your line of work. So, I called several movers in the phone book (I'd found these first guys in the Classifieds) and determined that one would be willing to move me on the 24th of December -- although everybody else was off celebrating a religious holiday of some sort.

That's similar to the way I found Web-1Hosting, on whose box you will have found PAM's Internet expression for over a year, now: I needed help at 11:30 P.M. on a Sunday night, and this guy was answering the phone. We were uploaded and online by about 3:00 A.M. and the other guy who had thought he'd just sold an account but wasn't there to help me get the thing working on time woke up to a polite e-mail saying "Thanks, but no thanks."

So, I've got a few more days to dink around and make sure everything is secure -- and listen to the devil coming up through the ground (the neighbor's TV set -- what started the whole thing: I can hear it now).

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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