The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.
An atheist gift wrapper helping a Christian shopper in a department store during the holidays
Valentine: Would you like these wrapped together or separately?
Willow: Together, with the snowman paper. Can you use the white lacy ribbon with that?
Valentine: Certainly. It will only take a few minutes.
Willow: Terrific — I still have a lot of shopping to do. By the way, how much will that be?
Valentine: There’s no charge, but if you’d like to leave a donation all the money goes to Kids Club America.
Willow: How nice! You’re a volunteer, then?
Valentine: Yes. I’m going to get started on this, but we can still chat if you like.
Willow: I’m terrible at wrapping, myself. I’m sure I can pick up a few pointers by watching you.
Valentine: I don’t know about that. It definitely helps to have all these nice materials to work with.
Willow: So how long have you been volunteering for this group?
Valentine: This is the fifth year I’ve helped with the gift wrap booth. I also help with the annual bake sales when they’re raising money for summer camp.
Willow: Do you do volunteer work through your church as well?
Valentine: There are other groups I volunteer for, but I don’t actually go to a church.
Willow: I’m so sorry for assuming. You’re Jewish then? I’m sure that helps, since you can cover for your Christian friends on holy days.
Valentine: No, I’m not Jewish either. I’m not a religious person.
Willow: That’s a little odd, isn’t it? If you don’t mind my saying so?
Valentine: How is it odd?
Willow: Well, if you’re a, well, you know — an atheist.
Willow: Then why are you helping a charity Christmas wrapping booth.
Valentine: To support the charity. We take in quite a lot of money this way and it really helps the kids.
Willow: I’m not talking about the charity; I mean Christmas. Why are you supporting Christmas if you aren’t a Christian?
Valentine: I’ve got nothing against Christmas. I’ve got a Christmas tree at home myself.
Willow: You do? That doesn’t seem right.
Valentine: Why not?
Willow: Because Christmas is a Christian holiday. Why would an atheist celebrate the birth of Christ?
Valentine: I don’t. I celebrate Christmas.
Willow: It’s the same thing.
Valentine: No, it’s not the same. I celebrate the traditions of the season, not the religious origin of those traditions.
Willow: That’s pretty disrespectful, don’t you think?
Valentine: Not any more than a Christian who has a Christmas tree is being disrespectful to the pagans who started the tradition.
Willow: Don’t be silly — Christmas trees are Christian, not pagan. Do you have a crèche and put a star or an angel on your tree? There’s no getting away from the religious significance of things like that.
Valentine: I have a crèche that’s been in my family since my grandparents were little, and I display it because I have fond memories of playing with it when I was little. My tree has a hand-made Flying Spaghetti Monster on top.
Willow: A what?
Valentine: It’s a light-hearted atheist symbol.
Willow: What about Christmas music? I mean real Christmas music like "Silent Night" or "Joy to the World." Doesn’t that bother you?
Valentine: I think it’s pretty.
Willow: But it’s celebrating something you don’t believe in.
Valentine: I believe in pretty music and the joy of the season.
Willow: No, this isn’t right. You can’t leave Christ out of Christmas.
Valentine: I leave St. Patrick out of St. Patrick’s day.
Willow: That’s not the same thing at all.
Valentine: It is to me. The story of Jesus is a beautiful part of the Christmas tradition, and I share it with my children every year during the holidays. I also tell them about Santa Claus.
Willow: Those are two very different things. Do you at least explain that Jesus is real and Santa Claus is just a story?
Valentine: They know that Jesus was a real person that people tell stories about, just like St. Nicholas was a real person that people tell stories about.
Willow: Jesus is the son of God!
Valentine: Not in my house.
Willow: This isn’t acceptable at all. You’re making a farce of Christmas. What about the real meaning of Christmas?
Valentine: Like being with family, giving gifts, and doing charity work?
Willow: Yes, that, but I’m thinking about the real reason for the season.
Valentine: The solstice?
Willow: No, the birth of Jesus Christ!
Valentine: Actually, Jesus was probably born in September. The date for Christmas comes from pagan solstice celebrations.
Willow: But Jesus is the reason we celebrate it!
Valentine: It’s the reason you celebrate it. I celebrate Christmas because it’s a tradition in my culture.
Willow: You can’t just take traditions and make them your own. If you are going to turn away from God, you have to go all the way. You can’t pick and choose the parts of Christianity you like and throw away the parts that you find restrictive.
Valentine: My parents are the ones who became atheists, not me. I’m not picking and choosing anything; I’m celebrating Christmas the way it’s been celebrated in my family my whole life.
Willow: I’ll bet, then, that your poor grandparents are spinning in their graves.
Valentine: My Grandmother’s still alive, actually. The whole family is spending Christmas day with her.
Willow: Isn’t she mad about what you’re doing?
Valentine: No. Why should she be?
Willow: You’re trying to take Christ out of Christmas!
Valentine: I’m doing no such thing. Nothing is stopping my grandmother from believing in Jesus if she wants to — which she doesn’t anymore, by the way. My celebrating a secular Christmas shouldn’t do anything to dampen your joy for a religious Christmas.
Willow: It still feels like your Christmas is a mockery.
Valentine: I’d rather that we focus on what we have in common instead of where we differ. If there’s one time of year that we should look for the good in others, isn’t this it?
Willow: Well, yes.
Valentine: Look, your packages are done. I think they look pretty festive.
Willow: Yes. You did do a nice job.
Valentine: All right. I’ll put them in a bag for you. If you feel like making a donation to Kids Club America, there’s a box at the end of the table.
Willow: I suppose I could do that. For the children.
Valentine: Thank you. I appreciate it, and I know they do, too. Merry Christmas!
Willow: Oh, yes. Merry Christmas.
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