Atheists at the Christmas Party
Holiday events are starting. In the video below from before Thanksgiving, I encourage MAAF members to participate in Holiday/Christmas Party planning. Joining other groups, the MAAF Chapter in Kaiserslautern, Germany is having a Holiday party potluck event. This year should be the year that everyone sees atheists participate in holiday cheer. That’s the best way to increase positive perceptions not just during December but throughout the year. This isn’t a concession to Christian influence on society but rather a recognition of societal influence on Christianity.
(quick note: the two cadets pictured are not atheists as far as I know. It’s just the name of the article.)
Ft Campbell MASH has created an outstanding float for their local holiday parade. The theme was The Evolution of Christmas. This is a bit of a recognition of the angst some Christians have about the scientific theory of evolution. But the theme is that what we now call Christmas has a long history. The science-minded like to say “axial tilt is the reason for the season.” The natural wonder of seasons created early celebrations by nature worshippers. And then Christians associated the birth of their savior with the Winter Solstice. In America today we have a celebration that is, at its worst an ugly promotion of consumer waste and greed but at its best a celebration of family, charity, and good cheer during harsh winter weather. So this season hopefully people of all beliefs, even Christians, can have a nice secular holiday celebration.
(more after the picture)
Today’s Christmas has a diverse history
But what does right look like? Often there is focus on the name of the party. But “Holiday” party with nativity scenes and Christian carols doesn’t get excused because it’s not called a “Christmas” party. Note the Christmas party picture above. This picture was recently posted on a West Point alumni society Facebook page. It provides a good case in point. It’s very obviously a Christmas party but has no apparent Christian bias. Having a ‘diversity’ holiday party Christian, Jewish, pagan and other religious imagery would be appropriate for a chaplain-led diversity event but not for a command-sponsored unit event. Below is a short checklist to help parties be organized properly but there is always flexibility. In terms of flexibility, in the image above, there is an angel as a tree-topper but that alone should not be considered overt evangelism.
Kudos to West Point for a good setup. note: Cadet identities/beliefs unknown.
- “Christmas Party” and “Holiday Party” and “Winter Party” are all acceptable labels so long as all are accompanied with clear identification that this is a secular not religious party. It’s arguably better to call the party what it is, a Christmas Party, than to use a politically correct euphemism.
- Santa is good to go, in our opinion. Santa means “Saint” and it is drawn directly from Catholic history. However, it’s really hard to connect the modern expression of jolly old Saint Nick with any historic origins of the 4th century martyr Saint Nicholas.
- Presents and snow and winter flora are all appropriate and have limited if any religious content.
- Tree-toppers are basically impossible to get right because there are limited options. Angels and stars refer directly to the birth of Jesus, but those are by far the most common. The picture above has a ball as a topper, which is good. But even with a nominally religious tree topper, it’s more likely to be what was available rather than an attempt at evangelism.
- Christmas carols like Jingle Bells and Rudolph are good but Christian carols like Silent Night and Little Dummer Boy are not ok.
- Prayers should be left out and if there is a pretext of ‘solemnity’ to add to the event, this is an important opportunity to avoid the appearance of promoting Christianity. There really is no excuse to add a prayer to an event that already has Christian undertones. On the other hand, there are good reasons for commanders to explicitly explain the secular nature of the event and to take action against any attempts to promote exploit the event to promote Christianity.
- Making such a party ‘mandatory fun’ would be ok since it is not a religious activity, and promoting in uniform is also ok for a secular activity. But atheists uncomfortable with the Christian history of the event or Christians uncomfortable with the secular nature of the event or pagan imagery should be excused.
- Explicitly religious imagery and activities like manger scenes, prayers, menorahs, or a Tree of Knowledge are appropriate in the chaplain setting with chaplain sponsorship and advertising but not in official or mandatory events. Despite Christian propaganda, candy canes have absolutely no religious connotation or history and are totally fine.