27 October 2005


My family celebrates Halloween. The construction paper bats go up, the ghoulish "porch people" appear, the spiders descend from the ceilings and fill the mantle place, the skulls dangle from the living room arch and delights such as snaketti, graveyard pie and blood-lemonaid appear in our kitchen.

Like all holidays with religious roots (the issue is discussed at They Get Letters here and here, which has a charming detail about Santa Claus), I'm ambivalent about it, mostly due to its linkages to the Christian All Saint's Day, and the older pagan Samhain. Holidays can be fun to celebrate, but I'm wary of being sucked into supporting parts of our culture which I reject myself.

I don't like Christmas celebrations, and in our home, they are understated, with a non-religiously decorated tree inside the house, but far less hoopla than in many homes. Our children get presents from us, rather than from Santa Claus. I have even less room for Easter. A neighbor sometimes offers our children a small Easter basket, but we don't provide one and have not perpetuated the Easter Bunny mth with them. While my wife and the children sometimes attend a Unitarian Church, we generally have not gone on Easter. They will hear the Nativity and Passion stories when they are older, but as fictional stories which many people believe, not as elements of our own heritage.

As Jehovah's Witnesses recognize clearly, although run of the mill, mild mannered Christians do not, almost all of these holidays have pagan roots, as well as Christian ones. I put no more stock in pagan mythology than I do in Christian mythology, although I acknowledge that both need to be studied to some extent to understand a Western culture that is steeped with references to both. But, generally speaking, the closer the association with Christian, as opposed to pagan, elements a holiday has, the less inclined I am to celebrate it, and Halloween is so stripped of its Christian elements that I'm more comfortable about celebrating it than most other observances with Christian linkages.

My theory is, basically, that I am more worried about Christian myths being taking seriously, despite the fact that they are bunk, than I am about pagan myths being taken seriously. Despite the efforts of some valiant pagans (and as a religious minority I often relate to them), very few people in our society take pagan mythology seriously, so this inflence is less likely to "stick".

There are secular people who simply don't worry about concerns like mine, which it takes a theoretical and indeed, almost theological mindset to care about. It isn't as if I will suffer some divine retribution if I celebrate the rituals of some non-existent god or gods. But, if you aren't public in your beliefs at times like the present, when it is relatively safe to do so, how can you expect to be safe later when the mutual silence of your in the closet community has caused that thin venire of safety to evaporate.

It was a pre-condition to the gay rights movement that people came out and publicly told the public that they existed and where gay. There will never be support for the rights of people who don't exist. The same principles apply to non-theists. If we aren't willing to proudly acknowledge our existence, we will be treated like doormats. And so, while I pick my battles, I do insist on not simply going only with the Christian trapping of an ordinary American life.


Kyle said...

If you get a chance, post a picture or two of your decorations! I'd love to see what you do.

Me and my wife were talking and have decided that as soon as we can, we will start doing Nightmare Before Christmass (suggesting the movie) instead of Christmass. It's basically an excuse to do halloween twice!

Unforutnately we won't get to start with that this Christmass, because she has agreed to have her extended family over here for christmass dinner. As a fairly quiet atheist I see what you mean about ending up a doormat... but I think having the extended in-laws walk in to a shriveled christmass tree and Jack the Pumpkin Tree may be a fight I'm not ready for yet.

Kyle said...

Er I meant "Jack the Pumpkin King"...