Christmas for Atheists

I’m not one of those Grinch atheists that want to remove Christmas celebrations from governmental locations.  I’m sure my faithful friends would be horrified, but I no longer believe Christmas is just about Christ, and seeing baby Jesus in a manager is no different than seeing Santa in a sleigh.  Christmas supplanted a pagan holiday, so is it all that strange that a secular Christmas has supplanted a religious Christmas?  Our society is about diversity and inclusion, so why not let the religious Christmas coexist with a secular Christmas?  I don’t believe in angels, but I like them, and I especially like movies with angels.  I value the concept of the separation of Church and State, but is a nativity scene really a religious endorsement in our modern commercial Christmas times?  Isn’t it closer to a holiday brand?

christmas-carol-1938-ghost-of-christmas-past

I love that we have a holiday based on giving and sharing, that promotes goodwill to all mankind.  That’s very positive and not particularly endorsing any religion when you think about it.  It is sad that Christmas has become a commercial holiday, but the underlying concept is still about giving, and that’s good.  Plus, helping businesses stay afloat and keep people employed is a positive concept too.  We’re a capitalistic society, so a commercial Christmas is the perfect holiday for our economic philosophy.  And isn’t giving a nice way to expand the GDP?

Wasn’t Christmas redesigned by Charles Dickens in the 19th century anyway?  Isn’t A Christmas Carol the real model for modern Christmas philosophy?  It’s sad to say, I think even the wonderful sentiment of Dickens is now being supplanted by Comedy Christmas – which makes me wonder what the holiday will be like in one hundred years.  I guess it’s sort of funny, but serious Christians want to restore the ancient traditions about the celebration of Jesus, and I want to maintain a mid-20th century traditional view of Christmas.  My concept of Christmas comes from these movies:

  • A Christmas Carol (1938) – with Reginald Owen
  • The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
  • The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
  • Holiday Inn (1942)
  • Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  • It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  • The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
  • Scrooge (1951) – A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim
  • White Christmas (1954)
  • A Christmas Story (1983) – a modern movie about a mid-20th century Christmas

Younger people today when they list their favorite Christmas movies pick films that are about the Christmas holiday such as Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but they seem to lack the sentiment of what I think Christmas is about.  Even the Christian Science Monitor lists Die Hard as one of their top Christmas films.  Really?!!! 

Thus, we have to accept that Christmas is constantly changing, mutating, and must I say it, evolving.  I think it’s interesting that many low-tech animated Christmas television shows from the 1960s have a retro popularity now.  I guess Christmas itself is always about looking backwards, and promoting a sentimental view of the past.  Sometimes a modern movie conveys this almost as well as my old favorites, such as the films Love Actually, and The Family Stone.  Even the comedy Christmas movies add moments of touching generosity between their crude gags.

Christmas is about reminding people they shouldn’t be Ebenezer Scrooge.  Does it matter how the message is delivered?  I can accept that some people like it with metaphysical trappings.  That’s cool.

JWH – 12/16/13

Movies I Love to Watch at Christmas Time

For Christmas 2010, Entertainment Weekly came up with their “20 Top Christmas Movies Ever” which included movies which I found downright bizarre to be calling Christmas films, like Gremlins, Die Hard, Trading Places and Bad Santa.   What kind of uplifting holiday spirit do folks get into from watching those flicks?  No wonder Christians are worried about the corruption of their sacred holiday.  Wikipedia does tally a very long list of what some people consider Christmas movies, but most of them miss the point of what I think of as Christmas spirit.

I am not a Christian, but I love the spirit of Christmas as defined by Charles Dickens in his 1843 book, A Christmas Carol.  Christmas is not about Santa Claus, Christmas trees or giving presents.  Christmas is about being grateful, compassionate and giving.  You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the struggle to become a better person by trying to improve the lives of people around you.  I love Christmas movies because I’m a selfish person and I need constant reminding to be more generous and selfless.

To me the classic Christmas movie to watch at Christmas time are those that inspire me to be more charitable, compassionate and considerate.  It takes a great movie to move me.  Die Hard and Home Alone are lots of fun by not uplifting.  And I really need to watch Christmas worthy movies all year round because I need steady inspiration to remind me to be less selfish.  That’s why some movies on my Christmas movie list would be bizarre to other people making their list of favorite Christmas movies.  For example, I think of Groundhog Day to be a great movie to watch at Christmas time, or any other time of the year to inspire Christmas spirit.

For me, a great Christmas film must inspire us to be more like Jesus.  Now that’s a weird statement to come from an atheist, but let me explain.  We know very little about the man Jesus.  Most everything written about him is pure speculation, especially about his birth and death.  But there is enough evidence to believe there was a man who tried to invent a philosophy about compassion.  That core philosophy about compassion is taught in many religions.  It has nothing to do with life after death, God or other metaphysical beliefs.  A Christmas Carol or It’s A Wonderful Life attempts to inspire this philosophy too.  I think it’s the spirit of Christmas.  It should work for both believers and non-believers.

With that said, I’d like to list some films I think are inspirational to watch at Christmas time.  Several of them are not about Christmas, but they are still great to watch at Christmas time.

It’s A Wonderful Life

A Christmas Carol (1938)

The Bishop’s Wife

Groundhog Day

You Can’t Take It With You

Miracle on 34th Street

Gattaca

Dances with Wolves

Battleground

On Borrowed Time

We’re No Angels

Little Women

The Shop Around the Corner

The Wizard of Oz

JWH – 12/21/10