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Heathen’s Greetings: The true meaning of the season

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Those of us who are nonreligious are often asked, almost pityingly: What do you “do for Christmas?” Most members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation do what everybody else does at the end of the year — feast, gather with friends and family, decorate homes, exchange gifts, eat too many cookies. The difference is we just don’t pretend there’s any supernatural meaning to such human good times.

Reason’s greetings from FFRF’s staff. (Photo: Chris Line)
Reason’s greetings from FFRF’s staff. (Photo: Chris Line)

Sometimes, nonbelievers are even accused of being hypocritical if we celebrate at this time of year — as if we’re trying to horn in on a Christian celebration.
But the fact is: Christians stole Christmas. We don’t mind sharing the season with Christians, but we don’t like this pretense that it is the birth date of Jesus. It is the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun — Dies Natalis Invicti Solis.

Christmas is a relic of sun worship.

The Winter Solstice is the reason for the season. Today is the shortest day and tonight is the longest night. The Winter Solstice heralds the symbolic rebirth of the Sun, the lengthening of days and the natural New Year.

All of our major festivals had corresponding pagan festivals tied to natural events. The Winter Solstice is a natural holiday. The human race has been celebrating the Winter Solstice long before Christians crashed the party. For millennia, our ancestors in the Northern Hemisphere have greeted this seasonal event with festivals of light, gift exchanges and seasonal gatherings.

The 19th century’s most famous “infidel,” Robert Ingersoll, noted: “The good part of Christmas is not always Christian — it is generally Pagan, that is to say, human, natural. . . .” He noted, “I am in favor of all the good free days — the more the better.” We nonbelievers are quite willing to celebrate the fun parts of anybody’s holidays. We just want to be spared the schmaltz, the superstition — and the state/church entanglements.

The customs of this time of year endure because they are pleasant. We enjoy hearing from distant family and friends, gathering, feasting, singing. Gifts, as Ingersoll once remarked, are evidence of friendship, remembrance, love.

The evergreens displayed now as in centuries past flourish when all else seems dead, and are symbols, as is the returning sun, of enduring life.

In celebrating the Winter Solstice, we celebrate reality. At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail.

Wishing you a “sunny Solstice” and a peaceful and serene New Year. This blog is adapted in part from a statement by the late FFRF President Emerita Anne Gaylor, and from FFRF’s “Heathen’s Greetings” nontract.

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