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A Socialist Atheist XMas

When I was a kid, I stayed up all night on Christmas Eve. I’m sure I probably dozed intermittently, but that’s not how I remember it. I remember lying in bed, buzzing with excitement, straining to hear hooves on the roof or jingle bells, or Santa gulping down a glass of milk. The palpable magic of Christmas utterly overwhelmed me.

When, in third grade, my father told me that Santa wasn’t real, it rocked my world. It was like losing my virginity; I walked through a one-way door and I was not the same person I had been.

For a variety of reasons I held on to the idea of some kind of man-made magic at Christmastime well into middle-age. I used to proclaim that I still believed in a Santa Clause of sorts, well into my forties.

As I settle comfortably into curmudgeon-hood, I am angry and disappointed, not in the loss of the “magic” of Christmas, but in the way I so eagerly drank the Kool-Aid. Putting Christ back into Christmas just makes it worse for me: mixing two different kinds of Kool-Aid, the delusions of religion and the mania of competitive consumption.

I don’t want to win Christmas. I don’t want to spend money I don’t have to buy presents that I will worry are too much or too little or send the wrong message. I like singing Christmas carols, but not in a church. I want to feel hope, but the hope offered this time of year seems to depend on money as much as anything.

It’s fitting that in this America we measure love by the value of the presents we receive, or the time put into choosing them. This is, after all, our common culture. We work. We spend. We pretend our grievances and complaints are on hold for a week. I wonder what we could do for our country with all the money spent on frivolous stuff.

People suffer at Christmas just as they do the rest of the year. Instead of giving them a turkey and some free toys for the kids, why not use those resources to make everybody’s life better all year. Are a hundred thousand Tickle Me Elmo’s worth sending a railway worker to his or her job sick, because they don’t have paid time? For the cost of all those Christmas sweaters, could we not give warm clothing to everyone who needs it?

Christmas always reminds me of Jesus’ most disappointing moment in John 12:8. “The poor you have with you always, but you do not always have Me.” Translation: it’s nice to help the poor, but let’s not get carried away. Other translation, “I’m special, so you can spend on me without guilt.”

Aren’t our works of charity during the holidays really about assuaging guilt? Christmas propaganda is full of admonitions to keep the Christmas spirit in your heart all year long. If the Christmas spirit is about compassion and empathy, our largess shouldn’t be limited to six weeks a year. Maybe we should be taking care of each other all year long.

On the “magic” of Christmas I call bullshit. Our obligations to each other and to our communities are there every day. We should see each other, care for each other, help each other, every day, and setting aside a little time each year as a balm to our avaricious hearts makes our problems worse, not better. We can go forth and spend with impunity because we dropped a couple of bucks in the Salvation Army kettle.

We can do better.


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