What does Christmas mean?

“What does Christmas mean?” Fiona asks me, minutes after we wake up and seconds after the lights are turned on and the tree plugged in.

Yeesh. I don’t have my ducks in a row on this one. I am bleary eyed, and coffee craving. I haven’t found my glasses yet and I stare at the blurry, lit-up tree, and fumble for an explanation for my smart three-year-old. “Um. Well, Baby,” I begin stalling for time to organize my lethargic thoughts, “Christmas means that we celebrate all of the joy of the year before and are happy that even though it’s cold outside and the year is ending, the sun doesn’t stop shining and it will get warm again.”

“Oh!” She says excitedly, “And that’s why we have a tree! They keep growing! And a star! Because the sun is shining!”

“Yep.” I say, smiling at her joy, but dissatisfied with my explanation.  See, if I haven’t said it before, we’re atheists. So, Christmas is… challenging. I like it. But, I also kind of believe that I should call our celebration Yule, or Festivus, or really anything without all the religious connotations.

I also think that I needed to address the other part of the equation, that I didn’t mention, and let her know that a lot of people believe a lot of different things. And that that’s okay, the world would be a dull place if we lost the diversity of belief, thought, and culture that defines the human experience.

A few days later, I was talking about this conversation with my sister and she suggested that when I get these kinds of questions. The ones that make the gears in my head grind way too early in the morning that I tell Fiona ‘that is a great coffee question’. Then I take her out for coffee and we talk. It’ll make it special and give me a chance to come up with an answer that’s a little more complete, an answer that doesn’t leave me with a puzzled frown on my face two hours and three cups of coffee later.

Still, my answer isn’t bad, such as it is. And I really like Christmas. So, I’ll leave you with a song by another atheist who likes it.  Here’s Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun”

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3 thoughts on “What does Christmas mean?

  1. That song makes me cry every time I hear it. Happy Christmas Amanda. I think your sister has a fabulous idea about “Coffee Questions.” It could create a very special tradition between you two. I wish my mother would have given more thought to some of my young questions, rather than throwing out canned responses. I find myself frequently quite jealous of Fiona’s upbringing.

    I look forward to future Christmases when you and I can drink white wine in the sun with out children together, and enjoy the blending of our favorite parts of a hundred different cultures Winter Holiday traditions. Love you Lady!

    • I tear up at that song every time too. I think in part because my family is scattered and in part because I relate very strongly to it belief-wise and in part because the sipping white wine in the summer sun at Christmas is a very Aussie thing and reminds me even more of my family.

      I really do wish that I’d thought of the coffee questions thing, but all credit for it goes to mys sister. Though I’ll definitely be using it.

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