As a REAL wellness enthusiast fond of reason and science, disposed toward exuberance in all forms (joy, serenity, love, meaning and purpose and so on), committed to athleticism (a health-enhancing, mostly vegan diet and daily exercise) and determined to resist incursions on my liberties and personal choices (e.g., violations of church/state separation), I have a cafeteria view of Christmas. I like the gatherings of friends and one or two other small pleasures associated with the season (e.g., FFRF’s Winter Solstice songs and the excitement of children who delight in the falsehoods told by their parents and other adults about an obese person who brings presents on Christmas day. However, I deplore all xmas music (how any adult as old as me can patiently suffer “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” or other banal musical staples of Christmas escapes me), talk of a baby Jesus and the nonsense of Fox News’ annual “War on Christmas” campaign.
But, it’s really no big deal. I don’t pay much attention. For the most part, I’m cheerfully oblivious to almost everything about Christmas.
However, every year at this time I do enjoy re-reading Robert Green Ingersoll’s famous “Christmas Sermon,” first printed in the Evening Telegram on December 19, 1891.
Ingersoll General View of Christmas
“The Great Agnostic” was fond of Christmas. However, not in the usual sense. For him and his family and friends, it was a holiday, a day of rest and pleasure, a day to get acquainted with each other, to recall old memories and to cultivate social amenities.
It was, after all, an historic occasion, a day celebrated for thousands of years before Christianity came along. It grew out of sun-worship. Like other religious festivals of his time and today (e.g., communion), it’s origin is pagan and its popularity due primarily to its being a holiday. Overworked people have always welcomed rest and recreation and time to be with families and friends. Humans enjoy giving and receiving gifts, what Ingersoll viewed as “evidences of friendship, of remembrance and love.”
Three years before writing the famous “Christmas Sermon,” Ingersoll offered these words about holidays and Sundays, for that matter:
For my part I am willing to have two or three a year — the more holidays the better. Many people have an idea that I am opposed to Sunday. I am perfectly willing to have two a week. All I insist on is that these days shall be for the benefit of the people, and that they shall be kept not in a way to make folks miserable or sad or hungry, but in a way to make people happy, and to add a little to the joy of life. Of course, I am in favor of everybody keeping holidays to suit himself, provided he does not interfere with others, and I am perfectly willing that everybody should go to church on that day, provided he is willing that I should go somewhere else.
The good part of Christmas is not always Christian — it is generally Pagan; that is to say, human, natural. Christianity did not come with tidings of great joy, but with a message of eternal grief. It came with the threat of everlasting torture on its lips. It meant war on earth and perdition hereafter.
It taught some good things — the beauty of love and kindness in man. But as a torch-bearer, as a bringer of joy, it has been a failure. It has given infinite consequences to the acts of finite beings, crushing the soul with a responsibility too great for mortals to bear. It has filled the future with fear and flame, and made God the keeper of an eternal penitentiary, destined to be the home of nearly all the sons of men. Not satisfied with that, it has deprived God of the pardoning power.
And yet it may have done some good by borrowing from the Pagan world the old festival called Christmas.
Long before Christ was born, the Sun-God triumphed over the powers of Darkness. About the time that we call Christmas the days begin perceptibly to lengthen. Our barbarian ancestors were worshipers of the sun, and they celebrated his victory over the hosts of night. Such a festival was natural and beautiful. The most natural of all religions is the worship of the sun. Christianity adopted this festival. It borrowed from the Pagans the best it has.
I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy. We in America have too much work and not enough play. We are too much like the English.
I think it was Heinrich Heine who said that he thought a blaspheming Frenchman was a more pleasing object to God than a praying Englishman. We take our joys too sadly. I am in favor of all the good free days — the more the better.
Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget — a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds — a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine.