Question of the Week – 12/14/16

Dec 13, 2016

How do you navigate the holiday season? Whether or not you personally celebrate anything this season, what advice can you offer to those whose secular identity makes a stressful time all that much more difficult?

Our favorite answer wins a copy of A Brief Candle in the Dark by Richard Dawkins (no repeat winners).

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26 comments on “Question of the Week – 12/14/16

  • 1
    Pinball1970 says:

    More a question for the states I think.

    I love xmas, time off work too much food and beer. My family know they will get a lecture about the bible if they mention Jesus.
    Xmas is pagan anyway?

    My advice is be open and honest, let it out and ask why they trust religion and its claims.

    Probably leave till after the xmas pud.

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  • There have been a number of discussions on this over the years.
    My view has not changed much since these ones!

    A party or celebration – is a party or a celebration – in this case a mid-winter solstice knees-up and cheer-up one.

    If some people think they have an exclusive or a monopoly on this, that is their delusion – and probably their ignorance of history too!

    Xmas is a mid-winter celebration taken from earlier cultures and religions (The Roman Saturnalia and the Viking Yule)
    Having a mid-winter party has nothing to do with Xmas.
    Even Xtian scholars think Jesus was not born in the winter. (Assuming that such a person existed)

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  • 3
    flyingfsck says:

    Why call it Christmas? I grew up with Yuletide and that is what atheists should call it. It is a time to be merry and have a nice party. Religion has nothing to do with Yule, but if some people want to drag religion into it, then let them be in good spirit and good cheer. There is no reason for anyone to be a party pooper.

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  • I like using “Xmas” because even though it’s factually incorrect (, many Xtians believe it’s a secular attempt to “take the Christ out of Christmas” and, happy infidel that I am, I’m quite happy to perpetuate that myth. That said navigating the holiday season is relatively easy for me and my family. What’s to navigate? Dinner, drinking, exchanging gifts? Easy stuff. Of course I realize I may be in the minority as I don’t have to deal with fully indoctrinated family members. My significant other (who is even farther along the atheist bent than me according to the Dawkins atheist Richter scale) got a pre-lit dwarf pine from LL Bean to act as the Xmas tree. This tree will then be planted outside in a large planter with seasonal flowers adorning the planter.

    As an added bonus Chanukah falls on Xmas Eve this year and since I’m still a cultural Jew we include that in our celebration. My fully agnostic daughter delights in reciting the Chanukah prayer in Hebrew as recognition of the Maccabees triumph over the Seleucid dynasty. She is aware of Chanukah being a middling holiday in terms of significance and the secular embrace of it as an absurd analog/equivalent to Xmas even though they are worlds apart in significance for the devout of both religions. My daughter usually creates a unique silly “prayer” that she likes to recite before we eat, which she always ends with a giggling “ramen!”

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  • …what advice can you offer to those whose secular identity makes a stressful time all that much more difficult?

    I’d say, maybe it’s time for a reality check.

    You think Christmas is stressful?

    How does that compare to, say, the President-elect having picked Rick Perry as Energy Secretary?

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  • For those who like history – re-enactments – or picking choice features of celebrations!

    Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of deity Saturn, held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves.[1] The poet Catullus called it “the best of days”

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    How does that compare to the President-elect having picked Rick Perry
    as Energy Secretary?

    As true as that may be, the Mods will not be pleased Cantaz…

    Indeed! Again, for anyone who missed it on the other thread: there are several threads at the moment that deal specifically with Trump and the consequences of the Trump victory, but please allow other users to discuss other topics on the non-Trump threads.

    Thank you!

    The Mods

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  • As a secular individual, not only is it important to reaffirm this to yourself, but to remain respectful to the society in which you live. Whether we like it or not, irrational beliefs surround us and maintaining an “us against them” mentality can add to the stress we all experience on a daily basis.

    This holiday season, despite my lack of a belief in a deity, my family and I have chosen to begin a 12 day Yule tradition. My wife actually provided the plan and when I saw it I realized not only am I proud to share it with others, the few that I have including the deeply religious, have complimented the idea. Each day is given a specific theme, and we decided the day most people call Christmas would be our “Children’s Day”. We also have a “Woman’s Day” and a “Men’s Day” where we celebrate, honor and share stories of the people holding those genders that helped influence and shape our lives. We have a “Baking Day” where we work together and make baked goods that we distribute to friends, family and neighbors.

    I believe the important thing as a modern secularist is to remember we are in the minority and change does not always happen over night. Sometimes it can take years for a successful transition, and maintaining a tradition when other people within our society do, allows us the opportunity to continue to relate to one another on a compassionate level. When friends are talking about what they’re doing for Christmas, Hanukkah or whichever religious or secular event they will be celebrating over the next few weeks, instead of stating “I’m a secularist and do not practice that tradition.”, I can proudly say “Winter will be over soon and I’m taking 12 days to celebrate it.”.

    Throw in the secularist if you so choose. When asked, I tell people the truth about my own beliefs. I don’t offer that information without prompting because as far as I’m concerned, that’s the same as having Jehovah’s Witness come to my door trying to convert me. That irritates me, and I’d rather not irritate other people if I can avoid it. As to whether or not that’s the Kantian in me, or the agreeableness I have to Adam Smiths Theory of Moral Sentiments, I’ll leave up to you.

    Whatever you choose to do, know there are other people out there that are making a very similar decision.

    You are not alone.

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  • Max Hanson #9
    Dec 15, 2016 at 4:05 am

    As a secular individual, not only is it important to reaffirm this to yourself, but to remain respectful to the society in which you live.

    I agree! – But many of the religious are not – and will shove their brand of fundamentalist deluded absolutism in the face of others – or into politics where it needs to be resisted.

    Whether we like it or not, irrational beliefs surround us and maintaining an “us against them” mentality can add to the stress we all experience on a daily basis.

    It is worth remembering that the “secularlists against the religious” notion, is promoted by assertive preachers who assume their faith is “THE religion”, and pretend that there is some unity of view in the thousands of diverse religions, sects, and denominations.
    There is not “unity of belief” among the religious (except where one aggressive religion dominates the entire population or particular sections of it), so the pulpit promoted view of “secularists against THE religious” is an example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, in an attempt to present a (fake) image of religious unity (- glossing over years of religious wars, discrimination, and on-going bickering) so as to try to build alliances among religious groups to oppose secular principles and discriminate against secularists.

    I believe the important thing as a modern secularist is to remember we are in the minority and change does not always happen over night.

    Some of us in parts of Europe are not a minority! . . . . . so those in a majority, offer our sympathies to those in the USA and the world (particularly some parts), who are minorities in seas of woo and assertive backwardness.

    Whatever you choose to do, know there are other people out there that are making a very similar decision.

    In some places – droves of them!

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  • We still call it Christmas even though most of my family are atheist. We see it Not as a religious festival but a time where you get to spend time with each other and see those who you may not see as you should. I think in order to make it less stressful is not look at it a religious time but a time to relax and chill out. Also it more of a commercial holiday than a religious, so start buying around July at least you won’t have to buy in bulk!

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  • My wife and I (24 and 21) have spent almost our entire lives as closet atheists, we’ve spent holiday seasons avoiding contact with certain relatives and having to find a way to turn down their offer to take us to church or to pray with them at a gathering. We have made many strides in recent years to end the separation that has plagued us for so long, we have tried very hard to move away from the fear of offending or even losing someone close to us because we are atheists. The holidays are always a test for us, to stand up for what we believe and celebrate how we choose. Even as atheists, we choose to celebrate Christmas in our own way, obviously not for some sky God but for ourselves. We celebrate the end of a year, we find every way we can to enjoy the moments with family, and most importantly we use the time to reflect on what life means to us and what it means for us to be atheists. Reminding yourself of who you are has always got us through even the most religiously absurd things we’ve been succumbed to. Together we find strength in ourselves and reaffirm our views on the world and because of this, at the end of the day we are better people and we still get to take part in gatherings, parties, and days with our families.

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  • Presents, a decorated tree (artificial), lights (now solar powered, outside), and a Big Meal.

    Family get-together time, plus a good few parties to go to. It helps that it’s midsummer, here. Though I do recall much-the-same in midwinter, a motivator to get-out-and-shop, to put up decorations, to get in touch, and to gather in warm rooms with fancy lights and candles against the almost-perpetual dark, to celebrate … what? Each other, I think. Definitely Saturnalia. And for the kids, Santanalia, presents magically there when they awaken, along with others from more identifiable givers.

    The solstice is the Undeniable Reality behind the celebration. The turning point, days will now start to get longer (in the north), we’re not on an irrevocable slide into shorter and shorter days until it’s all Eternal Night. Quite a scary concept, if you think about it. Big sigh of relief all round. (And the celebration is 3 days late because – without modern instruments or a complex structure like Stonehenge or Newgrange – it’s only after 3 days that the turnaround is detectable. Or maybe it just takes 3 days to organize the party.)

    That seems worth celebrating, independent of attempts by various cults and sects to claim it as their own.

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  • OHooligan #13
    Dec 15, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    Presents, a decorated tree (artificial), lights (now solar powered, outside), and a Big Meal.

    There is an interesting link on Xmas trees here!

    Dating back centuries before Christ, cultures brought evergreen trees, plants, and leaves into their homes upon the arrival of the winter solstice, which occurs in the northern hemisphere between December 21st and 22nd. Although the specific practices were different in each country and culture, the symbolization was generally the same: to celebrate the return of life at the beginning of winter’s decline.

    Egyptians particularly valued evergreens as a symbol of life’s victory over death. They brought green date palm leaves into their homes around the time of the winter solstice.

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  • Make out a gratitude list. Write down (on paper or in your head) all the things you should be grateful for. So you’re getting some flack for being a secularist. That’s unpleasant, but it is also a good thing, a sign that you have evolved. That threatens people. Have compassion for them.

    Generating consternation and derision is part of being an independent thinker and individual, a price we must pay. It is not such a large price. Par for the course. But you have a heart and a mind, are alive and healthy, have had the ability to reject dogma and superstition. Be thankful for that. That was great.

    You have books to read, more science to learn (if that is your bent), art to enjoy and/or create, places to go perhaps, projects to work on, a roof over your head, friends, family.

    Be grateful. Life is a gift and can be a wonderful adventure. Embrace the pain and the joy. Both are necessary and the former produces growth. (Joy is growth producing too.)

    These are difficult times. Enjoy the struggle. Don’t let the darkness that has come over this nation and many parts of the world depress you to the point of despair. One is never alone. Find like minded people to connect with.

    (Hope that didn’t come across as hokey.)

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  • 16
    fadeordraw says:

    Ok so as atheists, with an appreciation of religious meme evolution and the importance, at one time at any rate, of superstitious understandings for communal survival (those without it did not), the annual festival of the winter solstice is indeed a time of gathering together; for some evolutionary reason we at this post-harvest time spend money and have cheer, incomprehensibly, because we are facing many barren months before the annual spring solstice. My advice to atheists stressed out by their Christian fellows being Christian at Christmas is go nuts with the tinsel, with neat lights. Buy gifts for loved ones. Spend money. It’s this practice we’re done for millennium. A ritual prior to the annual endurance of winter. Embrace it as such. All save the landfill wins.

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  • The seasonal festivities make sense from a social cohesion and survival perspective, regardless of the religious trappings tacked on later.

    Have a fire celebration – bonfires and fireworks – as nights become obviously longer than days, at the onset of winter. We’re not afraid of the dark. We laugh in the face of darkness. We are masters of Fire.

    Have a solstice celebration – extra consumption and fun – at the end of the darkest days. Then hunker down to last the winter, the worst of which is yet to come.

    Late winter, reduce to half rations, the period of Lent, go without, hang in there, make a virtue out of a necessity, but prefix it with one last splurge, on pancakes, apparently.

    Spring, the hens are laying again, the bunnys are frolicking and a new crop of young maidens has blossomed over winter, and food is once more on the table. Celebrate spring things with eggs and rabbits and really cool hats, time to get out of doors again. Some cultures might even go as far as having a bath, wash away that winter grime.

    Summer, go listen to rock bands in a muddy field.

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  • When I am wished a “Merry Christmas” by people whom I know to have a religious intent, I now have a ready reply; Happy Apostates’ Day! Religious people complain to me that I have stolen the christmas holiday. I readily agree with them — then explain how the Christmas holiday was stolen from the Roman Saturnalia holiday, and how that was stolen from… you get the message. Their eyes glaze over after the first “stolen from” and they then leave me alone. Better yet, some of them fear that I will post an Apostates’ Day message as a response to a Merry Christmas and as a result post “Happy Holidays” instead, which is much more inclusive.

    It has a serious intent. Apostasy is the final shedding of the religious blinders of ignorance, a true rebirth of intellect. And in this day and age I think it celebrates the incredibly brave people from backwards christian, muslim, communist and hindu lands who have proclaimed their apostasy in spite of threats to their lives and families. Apostasy brings small but repeated gifts of understanding that none of us expect. Apostasy ironically brings us closer to our fellow humans with no discrimination based on their religion. And it makes us more aware of our great interdependence.

    So Happy Apostates’ Day 2016. May the gleaming light of knowledge shine on you for all of your days.

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  • Wow, so many complicated answers to a simple question: How do you navigate the holiday season?
    Easy… you avoid, drink you favorite beverage and contemplate the beautiful fact you were once star dust without any divine interference. Happy contemplation all!

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  • First off, let me just say how glad I am to have found this site. I’ve always enjoyed thoughtful, intelligent discourse, but that can be very difficult to find online these days!
    As for the “holiday season”, my style of celebrating has evolved dramatically over the years. Having once been a very devout Christian who gradually moved to the “spiritual but not religious” category, only to finally settle in to a comfortable agnostic/atheistic identity, my “reason for the season” has changed considerably, although I can say that the underlying way I celebrate has not really changed all that much.
    I always hated the materialism surrounding what I always believed should be a peaceful season, only now I feel much more free to avoid gift-giving in general than I did a couple of decades ago when I was more religious and felt the need to “keep up” with other religious family members. I still put up a tree, but it is a small table-top one (I practice minimalism and limit my decorations to two small boxes) . My husband and I enjoy purchasing an ornament whenever we travel to a new place (typically once a year), and the ornaments remind us of our adventures. My reason for celebrating at this time of year is the Winter Solstice, and I enjoy the natural elements of greenery and fire (in literal form in candles and in symbolic form in strings of white lights) to carry me through to the shortest day of the year and beyond. Now more than ever, I am learning to embrace the dark and cold rather than complain about it, and this time of year is a time for me to take stock of the things I value in life, be thankful for them, and consider what changes I might like to take on in the year to come.
    Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has (and probably always will be) the one album I enjoy listening to at this time of year, and I find more and more that I enjoy quiet instrumentals over vocal holiday music to put me in a festive mood. I discover that, most of the time, the words to popular holiday songs are either too religious, too materialistic, or just plain stupid. LOL. But I do enjoy the melodies minus the words 🙂
    If someone tells me “Merry Christmas”, I respond “You too”, because I know that I will not change another person’s mind by correcting their mis-assumption and I feel no need to interrupt my own peaceful observance with a debate. If I am in a group that prays before a meal, I am now confident and comfortable neither bowing my head nor closing my eyes. I just wait.
    At the end of the day, I would say to anyone to make the season meaningful for you in the way that works for you. We ought not feel bad keeping whatever traditions we enjoy and ditching those that diminish our enjoyment. This season has no religious or spiritual connotations for me now whatsoever, but it has become a more special and meaningful time for me than ever…because I have made it so!

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  • “what advice can you offer to those whose secular identity makes a stressful time all that much more difficult?”

    If having a secular identity makes it difficult to have a stressful time, do those people really need any advice? Aren’t they doing just fine? The imprecise phrasing of the question allows this interpretation and I am running with it.

    A few Xmasses ago I was at a Christmas dinner with a bunch of evangelical relatives. There was also a retired C of E vicar with us. My brother-in-law was spouting some creationist nonsense. It was time for the Christmas pud. The vicar winked at me and I at him. We rose and went to the kitchen. Finding some mayonnaise and milk the vicar mixed it up with some salt and we went back in to the meal without a word. The vicar placed the small jug next to my brother in law who eventually paused long enough to pour it over his xmas pudding and began to eat… spluttering outrage ensued, followed by the vicar telling him it served him right for being so stupid and pompous.

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  • Here’s another way to relieve your Christmas blues: give your creationist relatives the Atheos app as a present, and amuse yourself watching their facial expressions as they fiddle with it…

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  • I am having a hard time applying what I said above (somewhere) to myself. I never thought about my secular identity, never had to. But now, with this new administration, I will be forced to.

    It’s getting hard to get through the day now. A cloud hangs over us all – and that isn’t hyperbole. I hate these people, wish they’d all go away. They are the worst of the worst. And people on TV, the reporters – and I really don’t think they care about anything except their jobs – are laughing and acting like everything is normal. And the Christmas jingles make it seem like everything is normal. Hard to get up, brush my teeth, get dressed. And I am not the only one that feels that way.

    (Mika Brezinski is the biggest jackass on TV. Bar none.)

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  • 26
    Robert Firth says:

    I celebrate few religious holidays. My personal devotions occur on the four days that Nature (or Nature’s God) has put in the sky, the solstices and equinoxes. So I celebrated the winter solstice on 21 December, at 1044GMT, or 1844 local time, just before sunset. And, as usual, I sacrificed a black goat to Satan.

    Just Kidding! I opened a bottle of good Spanish cava, and toasted Dionysos to thank him for his gift. As you may recall, Dionysos was the son of Zeus, and born of his holy virgin mother Semele at the winter solstice, or perhaps one day after. As were almost all the “saviour gods” around the Mediterranen world. As was Jesus – except that, when Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, he reset the Wheel of the Year not to where it had been when Julius Caesar lived, but rather to where it was at the Council of Nicaea in 325. And so we celebrate Christmas Day and Lady Day three days late.

    You know, when I discovered mythology (at age 9) it seemed to me that these many myths were not meant to be taken literally: they were metaphors intended to give human meaning to natural phenomena and to our hopes and fears. For example, I doubt any Egyptian really believed that Sekhmet had the body of a woman and the head of a lioness. Rather, the lioness was reputedly the animal most protective and solicitous of her young, so the figure was a metaphor for human motherly care and concern.

    But I do celebrate Christmas, though not with a feast. For me, the season begins with the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, from King’s College Cambridge, which I listened to on the BBC World Service, as I have for almost fifty years. It is broadcast at 1500GMT, which is 2300 here, long past my bedtime, so on this one day I stay up late.

    Sometime during the week, I shall also listen to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and remind myself that good can come out of religion, a fact I often forget.

    And best wishs to you all for the New Year.

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