Scoop Review of Books

SRB Christmas Musings

By Jeremy Rose

What’s an atheist to make of Christmas? I’ve been thinking that it could be re-named International Day Against the Death Penalty. After all if there was no crucifiction there would’ve been no Crusades, no Inquisition and no annual orgy of consumerism. As good an argument against making martyrs of political activists as I’ve ever heard. (Ironically, the Chinese Government chose Christmas Day 2009 to lock up one of the country’s leading human rights activists in the hope the world’s media wouldn’t notice.)

On the other hand there would be no Caganers (the wonderful Catalan Christmas Crappers pictured above) or Caga Tios (the equally weird and wonderful Catalan shit logs.)

But surely even a grumpy atheist must be able to see that there’s more to celebrate than the Catalans’ intriguing and seemingly inexplicable blending of shit and Jesus into their traditions.

Well yes and no. I look across the ditch to our Aussie cousins and see that their Government’s idea of the Christmas spirit is locking up refugees on, no joke… Christmas Island.

Less than 20 minutes after the close of Christmas Day an Australian navel ship intercepted a boat with nine passengers and escorted them to Christmas Island where they’ve been incarcerated with the nearly 1500 refugees already imprisoned on the island. Merry Christmas.

But I I did love watching my kids open their presents. And our Christmas feed was one of the best ever. I asked my three kids to nominate a Christmas dish and we ended up with: Tahitian raw fish, Greek Salad and rice pudding. Damn fine. A tradition is born.

And so to quote my favourite Christmas book – Raymond Brigg’s Father Christmas – A Happy Bloomin’ Christmas to you too


  1. David, 27. December 2009, 20:54

    Kia ora Jeremy – thanks, as always for the read.

    [Remember — Christian tradition dictates that Christmas is for the celebration of the birth (as opposed to the death) of Jesus. Easter is the one that celebrates the death. Jewish traditions and law at the time forbade the keeping of and commemoration of birthdays. To them, this was a gentile custom. Naturally, Jesus’ precise birth date is indeterminable.]

    In any regard, the origins of Christmas as a festival are Roman. The Romans celebrated ‘Saturnalia’ from Dec 17 – 23rd. The festival marked the birth of the unconquered sun (the beginning of the end of winter). It was a tribute to their God Saturn. Traditions included feasting, drinking, and the exchanging if gifts.

    When the Romans converted to Christianity, they made the nativity of Jesus coincide with the Roman festival and the traditions have carried on.

    So chances are, that even without the birth of Jesus and the Christian corruption of the holiday — you could be doing something similar!

    [obligatory: ]

    Happy New Year!

    Thanks David. Yes – Easter would be a better day to rename International Day Against the Death Penalty – but I suppose my point was we wouldn’t be celebrating Jesus’s birth if it wasn’t for his unpleasant death. JR

  2. Ramsey, 28. December 2009, 6:02

    Was the Australian navel ship carrying a cargo of blood oranges, perhaps to Christmas Island?

  3. Roy Fischer, 28. December 2009, 10:32

    The pagan Yuletide festival is far, far older than Christianity, so atheists can celebrate it with no hypocrisy. Furthermore 25 December is also Mithras’ birthday, and he is an older god than Jeebus. The early Christian church knew that they couldn’t stop people celebrating Yule, Ostara (the Spring fertility festival) and Samhain (which we now call Halloween) so they just renamed them and made up some Bravo Sierra to adopt them into the Christian calendar.

  4. stuart munro, 28. December 2009, 12:15

    We would be celebrating something during the winter solstice in any event. In times when Europe was more Christian, such as World War I, there were Christmas truces, a tradition that did not survive to the 2nd World War – so there was at one time some constructive merit in Christmas.

    The Aetheists have their gods too, only they do not choose to name them.

  5. Pete Fowler, 28. December 2009, 14:10

    As an atheist I celebrate Christmas. I’m not a Nazi, but if WWII had gone the other way, I’d cheerfully celebrate Hitler’s birthday, if it was a time of feasting, drinking, giving pressies and goodwill.

  6. James, 30. December 2009, 18:42

    Religion – the world’s most deadly virus.

  7. Kerry, 30. December 2009, 18:47

    I like the idea of an International Day Against the Death Penalty – Amnesty International usually tries to tie that one in with International Human Rights Day, the 10th December, but it often just shoots right by here without anyone noticing…

    Lol, I did ‘early’ Xmas with my teens on Solstice Day, so technically they didn’t celebrate Christ’s Mass this year, but the much older ‘turning of the wheel of the sun’. Lovely Catholic-educated children, the pair of them, so they’ll have made up for it with their father’s family on Xmas Day, I’m sure!

    Their elder sister doesn’t celebrate Xmas now that she’s converted to Islam, so we send presents to express affection & celebrate the summer holidays. Thankfully, Commonsense Organics sells lovely ‘atheist’ type greeting cards which transcend our family’s murky trails of belief, and allow me to express my pleasure at the growth of my family over yet another year’s journeying.

    Here’s to another year of intellectual stimulation via the books pages, let’s see what 2010 can bring on.