I’ve been making cards for a Holiday craft fair in December. I started making cards with flowers on them after creating a few pieces for family members and then kept painting flowers — get well cards for humanity.
Then I added a few cards for Christmas and Hanukkah since it’s a holiday fair, but, as an atheist, I felt a little funny at first. And I wondered, for the umpteenth time, if it was hypocritical and why we celebrate those holidays at all.
This year, health issues are changing our Thanksgiving celebration, separating us from family members. We still have so much to be thankful for, but being separated from family on this one holiday that is sacred to me helped me understand why the religious holidays of others are still celebrations for us.
There are the rituals and the memories. But there are also the holidays themselves. Hanukkah and Christmas and other religious celebrations that occur concurrent with the winter solstice are often celebrations of light at the darkest time of year. They are celebrations of miracles against all odds and of physical and spiritual growth even in the coldest winter. They are perennial demonstrations of communal good will and of hope.
Right now the world is in a dark place. It sometimes seems like the bomb throwers (literal and figurative) are everywhere. If there were ever a time to celebrate light in darkness – to celebrate and nurture hope and good will in those who want it, this is it.
I don’t have any illusions that the bomb throwers and disrupters in the world are going to come to our house and sit down for Thanksgiving dinner to solve the world’s problems over a bottle of wine. I do, however, look at the very existence of these holidays as unscientific proof that in our species there is an innate, inextinguishable desire for peace and even good will that is as vital as our competitive and destructive natures. That desire is something I am willing to work for wherever possible.
As an atheist, a belief in an inherent desire for peace not only gives me hope, it gives me faith (something I guard closely and try to nurture) in the future of humankind. And I’m happy to celebrate it by lighting candles, stuffing a stocking, or simply sitting at a table to acknowledge the good in my lives and hope for good in the lives of others.