Monday, December 29, 2008

but isn't it just a made-up holiday?

I'm really tired of hearing all the bitchy comments about any non-Christian holidays from supposedly injured Christians (injured, you see, by anyone daring to celebrate a holiday other than Christmas or have a religion other than their form of Christianity or, Jeremy forbid, not have a religion at all!). Humanists and atheists who choose to forgo the holiday altogether are snubbed for not conforming, Jews find one of their lesser holidays elevated to a higher level because it happens to occur near Christmas and pagans try not to point out the obvious, that Christmas (not to mention Easter and Halloween) is basically a pagan holiday. Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, Bodhi Day, Id al-Adha holy days, Saturnalia, Yule, Zartusht-no-diso, Festivus, Omisoka, Shabe-Yalda, Human Rights Day… all are celebrated in December with varying numbers of followers and varying amounts of media attention. I guess the less you broadcast your faith, the less people take issue with it. But nothing is quite so questionable, it seems, as the audacity of celebrating Kwanzaa. Nothing gets more mocking in the "comments" section of an on-line article, nothing gets more eye-rolling in a family conversation. "Isn't it just a made-up holiday?" they ask -as if that aspect of it condones the mocking and simply dismisses the holiday out of hand.

Well, yes, Kwanzaa is a made-up holiday. It was created by African-American scholar and social activist Ron Karenga in 1966. No one disputes that. What people seem to forget, though, is that ALL holidays are made-up. ALL holidays are invented by someone at some point and much of what Christians hold dear about their December celebration are actually pre-Christian pagan practices condemned by the Bible they claim to follow.

In celebrating Christmas and assuming it is a far-reaching and universal holiday, you forget that December 25th was certainly not the birthday of Jesus but rather was co-opted by the Christian church to bring in all the pagans and heathens daring to celebrate other holidays at that time. You forget that the Christmas Tree is a pagan symbol and that Santa Claus as we know him is basically a creation of the Coca Cola company. Certainly the celebration of the birth of Jesus is a couple thousand years old but the holiday we know as Christmas is much younger. The Jewish Festival of Lights is a slightly older celebration, but certainly not one that has been celebrated since the dawn of time. Pagan celebrations are far older, and their roots can be found throughout most modern-day holidays. All holidays were made up by someone at some point or another and the only reason Christmas gets more respect than Kwanzaa or National Talk Like A Pirate Day is because it's a federal holiday -leading people to assume that the day takes on a federally accepted Christian meaning, which is simply not true. As soon as a day becomes a federal holiday, it automatically becomes secular because the Constitution of our country declares that the government shall not make laws impose religion onto their citizens.

Heck, most people -Christians included- don't realize that the Twelve Days of Christmas do not end with Christmas but rather begin with Christmas and the Twelfth Day is January 6th, also known as (surprise!) Twelfth Night.

As you may have read in my previous blog entry, Jesus is certainly not the first son-of-god-and-a-virgin born on December 25th. If anything, the Jesus myth is a story made up to match myths already in existence for other deities from Mithra to Buddha to Dionysus to Adonis. Christmas is as made-up as any other holiday, it's just that it's been made up for longer.

Kwanzaa is a made-up holiday that consists of seven days of celebration, featuring activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations, and culminating in a feast and gift giving. It is a celebration honoring African heritage. All bad so far, right? Nothing remotely normal or common place there, certainly nothing you might find in any other December holiday.
Now, keep in mind that each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. (For more information, please see the Official Kwanzaa Web Site). Again, nothing good here. Nothing worth lauding and contemplating incorporation of in ones’ own holiday celebration, right? No, community building and unity and responsibility and creativity are definitely things we should avoid at all costs. And we should definitely mock people who celebrate Kwanzaa for actually putting into practice many of the themes and principles which Christians claim as their own and yet so rarely espouse.

So before you start mocking anyone for their religion or their holiday or their customs, take a look at your own religion and holiday and customs and see if maybe yours aren't just as nutty as theirs. Or maybe theirs are simply more honest than yours. This is something I had to keep in mind during the election this year because sure, Mitt Romney believes in a nutjob wacko religion -but it's no more nutjob wacko than Scientology or Christianity or Flying Spaghetti Monsterists (though, to be fair, that's kind of the point of FSM) or Spiritualists. In my opinion, anyone who believes based on faith rather than evidence is equally in nutjob wacko territory so until we have out atheists running for office, I can't really make a voting decision based on the candidates’ belief system when none of them are really any more rational than the rest, in my view. Whew.

To steal from Tim Minchin, "Science adjusts its views based on what's observed. Faith is the denial of observation, so that belief can be preserved."

And stop judging others, lest ye want me to judge you. And smite you.

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