[Image: People wearing red underwear and Santa hats run through the Castro in San Francisco.]
This Friday, I will be following my usual tradition of honoring Buy Nothing Day. My reason for avoiding the shopping frenzy goes beyond a critique of consumerism. I do not exchange cards or gifts for Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other religious holiday because I am an atheist, and I am not interested in secular celebrations of these events.
Many atheists, including myself in the past, are happy to exchange cards and gifts and otherwise participate in non-religious activities this time of year. I no longer feel comfortable doing so. I simply cannot ignore the theistic origins of these holidays, including the pagan Yule (which Christians co-opted). Despite what conservatives may claim, the USA is still a very religious country, and while I may not be able to avoid all entanglement with religion, I am under no obligation to observe any holiday traditions.
So am I just a Grinch? To the contrary, I believe that the ideals of peace, goodwill, and generosity should be followed year-round, and not just be given lip service around the time of the winter solstice. When I was gainfully employed, I frequently took my friends out to dinner and bought them gifts at other times of the year. I’m just not interested in doing so purely out of social obligation.
The family nature of the season is another stressor, as I am estranged from my birth family. Depressed people like myself often have a very difficult time during the holidays. Seeing images of smiling children gathered around Christmas trees does nothing to lift my spirits.
All that said, I am not an anti-Christmas activist. I’m not going to yell at someone for wishing me Happy Holidays or even Merry Christmas. I’m not going to tear down any decorations. I still enjoy some seasonal music, and I have no objection to fun activities like the Santa Skivvies Run pictured above. (Hordes of queer folks running in their underwear for charity is a great San Francisco tradition.) I’m just not interested in participating.
I look forward to longer days returning after the solstice, and hope that next year brings more true peace and understanding.