You’ve noticed, haven’t you? The tinsel and twinkling lights? The trees intended for outdoors suddenly indoors, already wilting and quietly mumbling to themselves in abject misery? The forced jollity and excessive excessiveness? The grim determination to empty the shelves in every local store because, you know, the shops are shut for ONE WHOLE DAY?!
Yes, it’s that hodgepodge of religious holidays that even we atheists occasionally delight in cheerfully moaning our way through—Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah and any others I may have inadvertently overlooked.
And, as you might imagine, we being such a possessive species, I often find myself being asked by those of a more religious bent than I just what it is that I actually find to celebrate at this time of year. On the whole, the question is asked sincerely, with genuine interest—often with a twinkle of mischief (of which I, being something of a mischievous twinkler myself, wholly approve)—but every now and then with those territorial “how dare you celebrate OUR religious festival?” undertones that make me want to defecate in their eggnog (an impulse I resist, naturally … on the whole).
But it is, however it may be asked, a question definitely worth considering—not just for atheists, but for everyone. So what do I celebrate? Well, this year, in particular is especially poignant for me. This time a year ago, as most of you will already know, I was struggling my way to recovery in the high dependency unit of the James Cook Hospital after a particularly annoying bout of sepsis and an ensuing cardiac decompensation. It was grim and, however determined I day by day became, I didn’t for one moment imagine that I would ever regain full health (which I’m pleased to report, I have—and then some). Christmas was, at that time, just about the furthest thing from my mind. An abstract concept that other people talked about but which didn’t touch me. I was visited by no ghosts of Christmases gone or to come. I simply pushed through each minute, finding a strange emotional stasis and existing within it while my body gradually started to find its way.
This Christmas, however, is a different kettle of fish altogether. I’m not going to go on about all that counting my blessings bollocks, because that’s something I’m pretty much always inclined to do whatever the season. I understand the randomness of my existence, the statistical unlikeliness we’ve all beaten to find ourselves in these quite remarkable bodies, living our bizarre and multifarious lives. But this year … as simple as we are keeping Christmas, I shall be quietly celebrating the understated, often ignored pleasure of being with those I love, looking forward to a new year and projects I haven’t even imagined yet.
And, on that note, may I wish you all—family, friends, readers and unexpected visitors—a very happy holiday season, whichever one you celebrate, however you celebrate it, or even if you don’t. Keep safe, enjoy, and remember to turn those fucking Christmas lights off before you go to bed!
©2015 Gary William Murning