Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Day before the Night before Christmas

I am agnostic about Christmas. In case you want a formal definition of "agnostic" here's what the on-line Free Dictionary has to say:


a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.
2. One who is doubtful or noncommittal about something.

1. Relating to or being an agnostic.
2. Doubtful or noncommittal.

I suppose the reason I am agnostic about Christmas is that I profess to be an agnostic (there, I'm using both noun and adjectival versions of the word!). I was baptized Catholic, and was raised with that as the prevailing religious culture on both sides of my family (even though, it should be acknowledged that both sets of grandparents were raised Buddhist and it's questionable about whether their conversions, in Jamaica and the U.S. respectively, were "authentic"--but that's the topic of another post).

I am also a CCD dropout--choosing Scooby Doo cartoons on Sunday morning for Catholic Sunday School, and therefore I haven't gone through confirmation. Which is the reason I never take the host on the few occasions (usually weddings) I find myself in a Catholic service. A friend of mine pointed out how silly this is--because it's not like God will strike me down for putting that wafer in my mouth, especially in light of my ambivalence over His/Her existence. But that's the thing about being agnostic and being raised culturally Catholic--I have doubt of God's existence and ambivalence about organized religion but I also have respect to believe that the minute I put that host in my mouth who KNOWS what will happen, and why tempt fate (or God).

My lack of belief actually bothers me--because I feel like I waffle. Hence my comment on the agnostic Christmas. I've got the tree. I've got the stockings hung by the fireplace. I listen to Christmas music. But I've bought into this consumerized version of Christmas--a secular Christmas where Santa replaces Jesus, because I don't have a creche and I prefer shows like "The Grinch who Stole Christmas" to "The Greatest Story Ever Told." In which case, I feel a bit blasphemous--I mean, this is supposed to be one of the holiest days of the year if you are Christian, if you believe in Christ's birth in the form of Jesus. And instead of treating it like a holy day I, and millions of Americans, buy gaudy wrapping paper and worry about the "right" gifts to buy.

OK, this is all now bordering on too much "journaling" and not enough about the point I'm trying to make, which is, maybe it's all OK. Maybe part of my agonizing every year about my agnosticism and my secular celebration of Christmas means I'm struggling to understand the consumerism-religion matrix here in the U.S. and that in many ways, even, ironically, regardless of religion, this is a time of year when we, as Americans, as people, try to make nice with one another--to acknowledge that whether you believe in this day as the day of Jesus's birth or whether it's the day that Santa brings toys to good girls and boys or whether it's a break from the day to day routine--a holiday from the rigors of our everyday lives--that on this day (or set of days since especially this year it feels like a 4-day holiday for those of us not in the retail world) this is when we can recognize our mixed-statuses, our mixed-beliefs, and our internally mixed-up feelings about Christmas and just acknowledge our shared humanity.

A total cliche to rely on the humanity bit, I know. But like the other cliches, peace on earth, goodwill towards wo(men), this is the one time of year it seems appropriate to remember that at the end of the day, regardless of our beliefs, regardless of our political affiliations, where we grew up, and most especially the color of our skin, we really are all human.

So for those of you who celebrate in whatever way you do, MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Paul said...

Celebrate Paulmas instead!

Jennifer said...

Excellent point my friend--Dec. 25 shouldn't just be remembered as the day that Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem but as YOUR BIRTHDAY!

So Happy Paulmas!