I recently came across this piece, which beautifully sums up how I feel about Christmas, in the pages of Playboy magazine, of all things. I bought it because it had Marilyn Monroe on the cover. I have very little interest in the fake plastic women that populate the magazine’s pages these days, so after Marilyn I found myself reading the articles.
Anyway, it is entitled “A Christmas Sermon” and was written by the agnostic thinker and speaker Robert Ingersoll in 1891. I recommend that you print it out, put it in your wallet, and pull it out and read it whenever holiday stress starts to get you down.
The good part of Christmas is not always Christian; it is generally pagan—that is to say, human, natural.
Christianity did not come with tidings of great joy but with a message of eternal grief. It came with the threat of everlasting torture on its lips. It meant war on Earth and perdition hereafter.
It taught some good things — the beauty of love and kindness in man. But as a torchbearer, as a bringer of joy, it has been a failure. It has given infinite consequences to the acts of finite beings, crushing the soul with a responsibility too great for mortals to bear. It has filled the future with fear and flame and made God the keeper of an eternal penitentiary, destined to be the home of nearly all the sons of men.
Long before Christ was born the Sun God triumphed over the powers of darkness. About the time that we call Christmas the days began perceptibly to lengthen. Our barbarian ancestors were worshippers of the sun, and they celebrated his victory over the hosts of night. Such a festival was natural and beautiful. The most natural of all religions is the worship of the sun. Christianity adopted this festival. It borrowed from the pagans the best it has.
I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy. We in America have too much work and not enough play. We are too much like the English.
I think it was Heinrich Heine who said that he thought a blaspheming Frenchman was a more pleasing object to God than a praying Englishman. We take our joys too sadly. I am in favor of all the good free days — the more the better.
Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget — a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds — a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine.
So you’re telling me Robert Ingersoll is someone like Lao Tzu? Is that what you’re telling me?
Well what if I went into the store planning on buying a pair of socks? Are you saying I’d come out with three Robert Ingersolls?
That would confuse me. And it would probably anger him. He sounds like a hot-head.