Saturday, December 19, 2009

product displacement

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: 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.


Sara Bowen said...

congrats on making the Libris finalists! I saw your master class mentioned too... fab. Am thinking of flying up for the exhibition opening, but not sure yet. BTW, are you swinging past on your way up north? Let me know if you have any plans but either way, Merry Christmas from a houseful of republican atheists (although I want to make it clear that M is a CATHOLIC atheist and I'm a PROTESTANT atheist, which is a different thing entirely!). S x

Carol said...

Congratulations on the Libris finalists and thank you so much for the heads up on what sounds like a wonderful book. I'll be looking for it on Monday. Xmas greetings from another houseful of republican atheists. Whenever I feel I'm enjoying Xmas too much (like taking the kids to see Santa today) I remind myself that if I have to live in a Christian community then I'll jolly well take the bits I like from it and have a good time. Maybe I'm just too shallow for my own good.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the selection, Duck.
Ooh, now I'll have to look out for that book.
I'm a bah-humbug at this time of year. I threatened to screen a shirt saying "I don't do Christmas so stop f asking!"
But isn't it just troo-ly wonderful that Mary mcKillop will be made a saint. (ducks hurled cleavers and retreats...)

Ampersand Duck said...

Yairs, Catholic atheists still retain so much guilt, don't they? I just can't think of myself as an out-and-out atheist, it is just too definite a word, and agnostic isn't quite right either. I think humanist works best, but let's not nitpick too much.

I'm actually delighted about Mary McKillop, it's going to make some of my family very happy, isn't it, Auntie Lou?

And I'd also like to acknowledge here how much work my mother puts into making Christmas Christmassy. I just can't do it like that.

Anonymous said...

You have it. I went to a wonderful mass last night at the Josephite Convent chapel last night. (Just with the nuns) It was wonderful. I came away so full of emotions.I hope when Aunty Jan and I come over last 2 weeks of may we will be able to get down to ACT for a couple of days. We have already told Lady Duck what we are planing. We are going to a wedding in Bathurst for 3 days then to the North Sydney Mary MacKillop accomindation to stay for a week retreat. We will be over the east side for 2 weeks together no husbands. Enjoy Christmas we are off to Eserance for 3 weeks. Love always Aunty Lou

Heather L said...

Bah humbug! What an absolutely perfect xmas gift- wish I'd known about it sooner. There's none for sale in church-attending Bega & Merimbula, and alas, it's now too late to order. But there's always next year I suppose.
Heather L (who is embracing the full crassness of the season)

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

our dear friend MsFoil (who came down to Canberra with me to see the book exhibit 45026 light years ago, or so it seems) reminds us every couple of years that Xmas goes back to the fifteenth century as a completely acceptable abbreviation. Christ = cross = X.

I'm totally secular and I love Xmas! but then, I'm a bower bird, so I love tinsel and I *love* decorating the tree.

I love getting and giving pressies. I love getting cards in the mail, because letters in the letterbox are the most exciting things in the world. I love the pleasure children get from all the sparkly bits. I love thinking of people I love, even if it gets slightly maudlin when I think of people who aren't with me any more. I love wrapping pressies because no-one gets corners sharper than ME! I love wrapping paper and open presents with scissors to keep the pretty bits. nothing makes me happier than sitting in a room lit only by lights twinkling on the tree as I'm being totally nerdy on the net at midnight, the house quiet and still and the smell of last minute jam cooking on the stove because I am a slack tart.

Xmas! we love it! :-)

have a good one Duck-o-matic!

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Anonymous said...

Seriously, atheists need to grow a pair and show some real conviction. "I'm an atheist but I love Xmas" is piss-weak. By all means take the public holiday, but buying into the rest of the deal - even the secularised, nobody-mention-the-messiah-in-the-room version - betrays their self-deluding hypocrisy. I bet they don't have a birthday cake for the Queen the second Monday in June.