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Ten Ways Atheists Can Enjoy Christmas

On the Beat


Atheists Just Want to Have Fun: Lots of people seem to think that atheists are grumpy folks who grumble their way through Christmas like a pack of scrooges.

Actually, I have learned through a lifetime of cool and not so cool yules, they’re generally good-humored people who smile benevolently at the rituals so many believers accept with grim certainty.

As the telepreachers admonish: Go with the program or go to Hell.

Barney Brantingham

Look, if there’s no God, who created cheerleaders? And doesn’t every red-blooded, football-watching, beer-slugging, chips-chomping, church-avoiding American man love to watch cheerleaders?

Actually, American atheists do about the same things this time of year as believers and quasi-believers, who, in the words of the Gershwin song, take the gospel whenever it’s possible, but with a grain of salt. Just as a reminder to atheists who may have doubts, here are 10 ways to enjoy the “holiday” season.

1. Santa: You can always believe in Santa Claus instead. He doesn’t threaten fire and brimstone. He’s a jolly character and even makes house calls.

2. The Relatives: Remember, a certain percentage will not be speaking to others in the family on the birthday of the Prince of Peace. Uncle Joe and clan, however, will show up for the family dinner, bring no presents, sing no carols, collect presents others give them, and leave promptly after dessert-without washing a single dish. “Got to get to church,” they’re liable to shout as they head for door. Your strategy: Have another piece of pie and contemplate Uncle Joe opening the box with the freaky tie you got last year.

3. The Movies: Okay, okay, I know you’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life way too many times. And frankly, other than the life-affirming happy ending, much of the film is a kind of downer. Try the 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon starting tonight, December 24, on TBS at 8 p.m. No, not the Dickens classic but the story of Ralphie and-well, see it and you’ll be hooked. (Watch for the lamp episode.)

4. The Music: The Messiah, of course, as performed so beautifully recently by the Santa Barbara Choral Society, and I saw atheists applauding like mad. And all those familiar carols will touch your heart because they’re hardwired into your memory bank, Good King Wenceslas and all. This year, the song that echoes in the wilderness of my mind is Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas. “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you : You’ll be doing all right with your Christmas of white, but I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.” Reminds me of the yule I spent on a troopship, opening a present from some church lady somewhere in the South. Just me and 1,000 strangers.

5. The Food: If your non-theist morals include avoiding eating our four-footed friends, you can enjoy a sumptuous feast without digging into corpses of cows and pigs, right? What did people eat before they were invented? Nothing better than a soy burger smothered with onions, jammed with sliced tomatoes, and slathered with catsup, eh? Think how superior you’ll feel to carnivores.

6. Goose: To keep the “happy” in your holiday, no matter what you read in Dickens, do not attempt to roast a fat goose unless you’re accompanied by Biltmore chef Martin Frost or someone equally accomplished. I tried it once. In a microwave. The bird unleashed gallons of hot, greasy fat. Taking the bird out, I spilled the juice on Muneca the dog. I was horrified, fearing I’d scalded the Sheltie. But she just licked it off, with no ill effects.

7. The Lights: Do you really want to be the only house on the block without blinking lights along the eaves, a huge Santa standing on the roof, and a stereo blasting carols? So what the heck, do it. The neighbors will like you for it even if they don’t speak to you the rest of the year. Back at our first house in Goleta, every light in the house would go dark 10 times a night due to the overload.

8. The Tree: Get one, even if it costs $275. Hang stuff on it. Anything. During the Depression, my parents used to drape strings of popcorn on ours. We were happy anyway, drawing cartoons on the frosted windows and listening to the radiators hiss merrily.

9. Intolerance Takes a Holiday: Reach out your hand in friendship to those non-speaking relatives, neighbors, and everyone else who may not share your beliefs. Aren’t we all part of the human family?

10. Big Bang: As one writer put it: “Christmas Day is an excuse to celebrate the biggest birth of all, namely the creation of the entire universe.”

News-Press Grinch: At 11 a.m. on Friday, December 11, a 30-pound fruit basket sent by the Teamsters Union to newsroom workers arrived at the Santa Barbara News-Press. But it never got upstairs to the newsroom. Nick Caruso, chief union negotiator, says he phoned and faxed management but never got an answer about what happened to the holiday basket. Maybe the Grinch ate it

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