I'd like to wish everyone who stumbles by my pot a happy and prosperous 'period between November and January where all the shops go mental'.
Being not a religious person, I intend to spend this period sat in a specially dug hole in the back garden, where myself and the lovely Ms Plants will gather together for warmth around a single candle (that was bought from a shop in April to avoid it being a special 'Christmas' Candle). We will sit there with an umbrella over our heads for the entire festive period whilst jamming clods of earth in our ears to drown out the carols and gaiety, and instead chant ancient pagan songs about how winter is just like any other time of year except colder, until it is all over. We will chew moss for sustenance. We will do all this for it is the atheist way.
Of course not! Anyone reading the above paragraph and taking any of it seriously needs to have a good look at what their idea of atheism is. Though I was not born into a particularly religious family, Christmas was always the best time of year when lovely things happened; my parents who had probably worked silly shift hours over the period laboured through Christmas Eve night to wrap daft amounts of presents and festoon the front room so that when I returned the following morning it would be like magic. Presents and food and cards and lights and tinsel and a tree that I could curl up under - not to mention some great telly and lots of ripped up wrapping to hide in.
[I've just thought: In many ways, Santa is a kind of 'Jesus for kids' - in that he's a magical being of folklore who would be great to have real, but after learning enough about the world you come to the conclusion he's just something that was invented to make you feel better and stop you from being naughty.]
Christmas for many people doesn't include much Christ these days, other than some imagery on a glittery Christmas card, and though some may lament the passing of the significance of he who may or may not have existed, it's a natural consequence of a few things coming together: People have busier lives these days, and religion tends to be one of the first things to go out the window, especially on a Sunday morning when its cold outside and you're too knackered from the working week to trudge to the church. We are all generally more educated these days, and so are less easily swayed by talk of naked people eating naughty apples, virgin births and zombie Jesuses, and when you get someone at your door asking you if you want some religion today (as if it's a commodity) many of us enjoy the sport of attempting to flatten their nose with the door. The consumer culture, for all its faults is another, rather large nail in the coffin - it has managed more than most other things to make Christmas a secular occasion, with nativity scenes increasingly sidelined by tinsel and crackers in the decorations aisle of your local Tesco. The religious origins of some of the Christmas symbols - stars on the Christmas tree, mistletoe etc. have long since been relegated to record.
For those people who are left who wish to celebrate the festive season with the religious parts intact - that's fine too, but it did bother me listening to the radio this morning that there are some people who seem to think that atheists just wander around their undecorated houses tutting at the seasonal idents on the telly and generally feeling a little intimidated by it all.
It's not so. We have a good time with our friends and families, eat stupid amounts of food we bought in folly, and we might even watch the Carols from Kings if it happens to be on between the traditional Indiana Jones/Toy Story/Snowman showings. We trim up our houses in anticipation for the big day, get in contact and meet people we may not have seen since the year before, and generally connect with the community in a greater way than at any other time, not because it's religious, not because we feel we need to, but because even though it was created in the name of religion, in a place of religion, it is still beautiful.
Christmas has very little Christian-ness these days and though I curse the idiots who think it should be called 'holidays' or 'winterval' or some such toss, just in case there is some idiot out there with a pen and paper and nothing to do, I can see why the debate between the secular and religious sides about how the period is celebrated will carry on for a while yet. Me? I hope that at some point the day will become a fully secular occasion where people of all religions (and none at all) can happily celebrate a bit of time off together with their loved ones without all the baggage of whether its origins have credence or not.
Happy Christmas and have a great New Year!
Mr and Mrs Plants.