It is strange during this time of the year, when people wish ‘Καλα Χριστουγεννα’ and ‘Merry Christmas,’ to issue a slightly fake smile in return when those phrases are smiled towards me. This is my first Christmas as an atheist. I don’t quite know what to say, so I’ve just decided to return the sayings or just say thanks. To my family in Greece at least, Christmas is about family and being thankful for being alive. Uncle Spiro said to me as I walked from the kitchen, “Stamati, enjoy life. Before you know it you’ll be sixty.” Alithea, True. And then it will all be over, as far as we know, this weird thing of being.
God plays a base role- the reason for the celebration, but only a side note in its execution. Christianity is institutional in Greece, a corollary to the flag and to olives and to dancing. Thus the superficial formalities of religion- good will, love, respect, giving- are venerated, while those ideas one discovers deeper down- hell, heaven, salvation, evil- are not believed or not talked about. For me, now, this is a good thing. And my family truly believes in this version of Christmas. Never in my life have I eaten so many delicacies at one time or experienced more acceptance from as many people. My beliefs, my choices, my loves, my hates, my vices, could not have mattered less. I am family and the rest, I am convinced, is temporary.
I do miss the religious aspect of the holiday, like a child realizing that his parents are Santa. The mystery is more or less gone. I could view this as an irretrievable loss, but I won’t. Instead, this season is a time to discover something new about being human, something new about family, and something new about myself. Turn lemons to lemonade and all that.
Where Christmas is about a birth, it is also about my rebirth, part of feeling my environment again and for the first time, for looking at my family with open eyes, for taking in this world like a child.
So, Merry Christmas.