Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Meaning Of Christmas To An Atheist

This was originally posted on The Olive Fox before the online magazine closed.

Christmas is a big deal for me. It’s important, it’s special, and it’s meaningful. As an atheist, the religious significance of Christmas doesn’t hold any great weight, but it’s still a sacred time of year. It has nothing to do with the presents, the big dinner, or the great TV. For me, the meaning of Christmas is love and family.

We spend so much time with our eyes focused on one screen or another, we’re never really completely there when we spend time with anyone. Half of our attention is on the TV, the computer, the mobile, or the tablet. In my family, Christmas is a time for stepping away from technology, and spending time together, properly. Even before we had mobiles, back when there was only one TV and one computer in the house, they were both kept off. We would fully immerse ourselves in spending time together on this special day and the one that followed, talking and laughing and having fun.

The day starts with cooking the dinner. Most of it was put on the night before, so it’s just finishing everything off. We don’t do anything else until the dinner has been cooked and eaten. When my brother and I were younger, this was the time we would spend playing with the pillow case of presents we found at the end of our bed from Father Christmas. The morning would see us waking up Mum and Dad by taking our pillow cases into their bedroom, sitting on their bed and exclaiming in excitement over what Father Christmas had brought us.

We would always be a little frustrated that we couldn’t open our presents under the tree first thing, too, and it would always seem to take forever for dinner to be cooked, but as I’ve got older, I’ve come to understand and like the way we do things. By waiting until after dinner to open our presents, my parents are actually able to enjoy seeing their children open their gifts, and enjoy opening their own, without having to quickly put everything a side to carry on with the dinner. So now we help with dinner in whatever way we can. I normally set the table; our Christmas table cloth will be laid, the placemats and coasters dug out, along with the wine glasses, the Christmas crackers, and the party poppers, and then trying to do something fancy with the kitchen roll, but failing. It’s one of the best things about Christmas; sitting down as a family at the table for dinner. Generally, we’re plates on trays in front of the TV or the computer.

Once dinner has been eaten and the presents are opened, we spend the day playing games; Pictionary, Taboo, Uno, 221b Baker Street, Charades, and so on. We’ll have a break for ice-cream, and then get back to it. The whole day together, having fun and enjoying each other’s company, and doing the same again on Boxing Day. That’s what Christmas is for me – togetherness.

As an adult, I find myself longing for the days when we would have two weeks off from school, and Christmas could last for days, catching up on the Christmas TV, visiting other family, stuffing our faces on Quality Street. A lot of working adults are fairly lucky; they’ll work in an office that will be closed for a certain number of days, or they can use some annual leave to have a week or so off. However, I work in retail, and this isn’t how it works for me. I’ll get a few days off over Christmas or a over New Year’s Eve. Never both, and never for long unless I use annual leave, and even then I may not get it, because it’s retail and someone has to serve the customers. Working in retail has shown me more than anything that a lot of people see Christmas in a completely different light.

Family, it seems, doesn’t matter anymore. Our consumerist society has become obsessed with worshiping money and materialism. For retail companies, Christmas is all about the profits. For consumers, it’s about possessions. Children must have technological presents, of course, because adults and children alike must have the latest computer console, mobile phone or tablet. And let’s not forget the expensive perfume, aftershave, jewellery and clothes, too. And don’t get me started on the sales. This Boxing Day, I will be at work, raging quietly as I’m stickering sale items and serving a deluge of customers who simply must have any and all bargains within reach. It’s the day after Christmas, a day I should be spending with the ones I hold dear, but instead I’ll be answering a barrage of questions about what items are in the sale and which are now out of stock, and asking, “Would you like a bag?” over and over.

A petition was created to have the Government ban shops from opening on Boxing Day and as it received over 100,000 signatures, it was debated in Parliament on 12th December. At the time of writing this, I have no idea what the conclusion was. I very much doubt the Government will have decided to keep shops from opening on Boxing Day – apparently, they “do not believe it is for central Government to tell businesses how to run their shops or how best to serve their customers,” – but the fact the petition exists and that so many people signed it lifts my heart a little. Spending time with family at Christmas is important to others, too.

But is it to you? What will you be prioritising this Christmas; your avarice or those you love?

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