Despite the title of my blog, I semi-love the holidays. Lighting the Hanukkah candles, baking cookies, wrapping carefully chosen gifts, decorating the house, creating Jib Jab cards with pictures of friends and family, Christmas Eve dinner at my aunt and uncle's house...when I'm not having an emotional breakdown tied to a broken oven or lost shipments, I mostly revel in the split personality of the Christmas/Hanukkah season.
Then there's the religious aspect. Sure, there's less and less "Christ" in "Christmas" every year, but Jesus' birthday is still the raison d'etre of the holiday. As an atheist with a Jewish son, I've carefully honed my skills at avoidance, denial and obliviousness. Fortunately, these come fairly naturally to me!
I grew up going to church, so carols and Christmas-themed hymns bring back vivid memories, and good or bad, those memories of our youth hold significant power. I recall the tension caused by my parents' different religions, the negative messages spoken and unspoken. I recall the last Christmas my parents were together (1972) and realize how hard they must have been trying to keep it together. And the first Christmas after they'd separated, how awkward to bisect our celebration.
Perhaps most vividly, I recall sitting with my mother and youngest sister in the front row at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on Christmas Eve 28 years ago, right before I left New York for Los Angeles, and all of us sobbing uncontrollably at "Silent Night." (I had the same reaction to the movie Platoon around the same time. Hard to believe I had such mixed feelings about moving cross country!)
These days, I get lots of requests to participate in caroling, Christmas performances, such as Handel's Messiah - even midnight Mass. Occasionally I give in, and try to enjoy some bonding and/or aesthetic fulfillment. But since I'm not a believer, those songs ring hollow and feel like an uncomfortable melding of mawkish and fraudulent.
For atheists, 'tis the season for hiking and movies!