As a decidedly secular human, and married to someone who is consciously atheistic after a very Christian childhood, I always have problems with the notion of Christmas. I can understand it as a day of rest, a day of celebration, maybe even a day of reflection, but I just don't get the relentless pressure to perform, the extended and prolonged lead-up to the event, and the overburdened and under-thought media beat-up of one single day that only leads to a huge sigh of relief on Boxing Day (the day that we really should be thinking about charity) that it's all over for another six months (depending upon when your local shops start displaying tinsel). And that ridiculous rush around the shops, followed a few days later with another rush around the sales. Bah humbug, to infinity.
So when I was offered the chance to read The Atheist's Guide to Christmas in return for a mention, I jumped at it (that was back when I thought I'd have ample time to blog!). I knew BB would have a squizz, and I was quite interested myself. So it duly came, I read some, passed it on to BB, who read some and then lost it somewhere around the house until I had my memory jogged by a couple of emails, and I found it again. Classic. In the meantime, NZ jumped on the campaign bus. I'm very aware that by doing this review, I've become very 2009. Why not? It's almost 2010!
Anyhoo, here's my mention: this is a jolly good read. Apart from the fact that it's very British, and has multiple moments when the text is very Anglocentric (not in terms of skin but in culture -- can you say Britocentric?), there are some really good essays and writers. BB was a bit sad that Ricky Gervais wasn't in it (didn't surprise me), but was consoled by Robin Ince, who is the subject of Ricky's annoying cry of OOOOHHHHHHHHHH ROBIN! that all of the extended members of my family know so well, thanks to BB (who, I despair, is a real catch-phrase man in the way that other men obsess about sport or beer).
There are big drawcards like Richard Dawkins and little deterrents like Simon le Bon, whom I wasn't aware carried any weight at all in any arena (again, must be a British thing), but for my money this book is worth getting for one piece alone: the essay by comedian Josie Long, entitled Things to Make and Do at Christmas. She has wonderful ideas for Christmas preparations and Christmas games, and her idea about Christmas Crackers will inspire me in years to come.
Another essay I really enjoyed was by David Baddiel and Arvind Ethan David, who conducted a serious survey of the mainsream film industry (focussing primarily on Hollywood) and asked:
...name three movies with explicitly atheist protagonists or themes. Not documentaries or TV programmes, but proper, popcorn-eating, multiplex-playing movies.
BB and I played this on the way to Colonel Duck's farm last night (where I type now). We couldn't do it. In fact, according to these two filmmakers,
...even the Atheist Film Festival, after running an internet-wide competition for suggestions, has only been able to settle on three titles: The Root of All Evil, Deliver Us from All Evil ... and The Life of Brian...
(And they admit the latter title isn't really atheistic, just a naughty boy.) The rest of the essay is a great discussion about how some movies start with atheistic themes or from an atheistic book (like The Golden Compass) and then are sabotaged by a nervous industry, and why. I highly recommend it.
I have to admit that I haven't read the entire book, but I think that's a plus. I've read over half, and it's a bit like a volume of poetry: so diverse that you can't actually read it from front to back; you have to dip in and out, read something, think about it, and then try something else. Simon Price wrote an amusing piece about ways of enjoying Christmas music, Mitch Benn made a salient point that allows us to use the term 'Christmas' (I still prefer 'Xmas'):
if only practising Christians can use the word Christmas, then only Vikings can use the word Thursday.
BB and I had fun trying to work out who most of the writers were -- again, the British thing -- but it suited both of us, as he knows who Derren Brown is (Magician) while I know who Ed Byrne is (stand-up comic).
So, we're having Xmas today. It's ironic, I don't want to have any bloddy Xmases, but every year I have two: an early one with the Duck family, and then one on the actual day wherever we happen to be travelling. This year we'll be with the lovely Sacha and her family again on the eve before the Woodford Folk Festival. That Xmas will be very laid-back, but today we have a tree, lots of presents, my dear little Nana, the first of BB's Xmas puddings, and lashings of bubbly. We're all dressed up, but not going anywhere. Maybe we'll play Scrabble. Maybe we'll fall asleep in front of the tv with full tummies. Whatever we do, this is the last year I'll do Xmas this way. Next year, with a bit of planning, I want to do it Josie's way, with lots of fun and laughter. She's been dog-eared, and her essay will be loved by me for a long time.