I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.Charles Dickens December, 1843
Far too many people this year have asked me why I celebrate Christmas while being an atheist. Some seem to suggest that it may within the margins of hypocrisy, others suggest that I have some lingering bit of Christianity floating about the back works of my pathology, or even that I may be a closeted Christian. To all of which I say Bah and Humbug! But in deference to the recent death of Christopher Hitchens I will now explain myself.
The short version is that despite the fact that on the 25th of December is a day that I will have a tree up and been seen as unusually Merry I do not I am not celebrate anything particularly Christian. And no, I am not referring to the long a torrid history involving solstice holiday tradition. I am not paying homage to any elder gods or any recent new age reinterpretation of vaguely pagan traditions. What I am celebrating is a very human tradition that has been instilled by a very mortal man. That’s right, Charles Dickens.
I know this may seem a little counter intuitive to most but that is because a great many people don’t know the history behind our modern Christmas tradition as opposed to fiddling about with various ancient elements while decrying the terribly tacky and ostentatious habits of the Baby Boom. In fact Christmas nearly became what Easter has become. A trivial holiday that while the religious take is seriously the large majority use it as an excuse to indulge themselves in a few sweets. The difference was made by Charles Dickens and his work A Christmas Carol.
In 1843 Christmas was falling under the wheels of progress. Taking a half-day, a special meal, and fulfilling the requirements at church but not anything more than that; simular to our modern easter. It was simply the way of the times. There was no real antagonism to the act. Merely just the changes in the social-economic winds. And it would have stayed gone along that path sure enough it was not for the fact that Charles Dickens liked the holiday both as a child and as an adult. He then sat down a penned the classic we know toady, well approximately, as both a serial and as love letter to the holiday of his youth.
But we must remember this is Charles Dickens and not some schmuck with a pen and fond memory of his childhood. The Dickensian ethos is much more than that, in fact it is much more the Christmas Story – meaning the one involving the Birth in Bethlehem, which is why there was a sudden resurgence of Christmas traditions in response to the book. It was not the birth of some god with little relation to the daily life of England but rather a human being of modern times. This resurgence is what forms the basis of our modern traditions.
The Dickensian iteration of the tradition, which forms the backbone of our modern incarnation of the holiday, is a reflective one. An opportunity to gaze into ourselves; not to gaze upon high. Just look at the plot. Scrooge is forced to look at what he is doing with his life, what he has done, what others are doing, and what will come if he continues on his merry way and he then desires to be a better man and most importantly does so at the end. The supernatural – the ghosts – and natural – the length of the night – backdrop is just there support that message of a plight to look upon ourselves.
To repeat there is nothing truly supernatural in this message. It is not the coming of a God on Earth. It is merely the story of a man wanting to make both himself and the world around him better. This maybe somewhat Christian, given Jesus’ message, but it is also Buddhist, and has a compatibility with many other religions especially when shoved through the current politically correct rose tinted glasses.
And that is message I choose to celebrate every year and I think the major part of the success the modern western christmas.
Since I am not much for the ‘God Bless Us Everyone’ stick let me close with this.”May we forgive our past mistakes, try to wake up as better people, and make a better world.”