Many of us who spent a lot of time in the Borg developed a narrow view of holidays as a result of what we were taught. Once I started traveling, thinking for myself, and studying social sciences, I came to the realization that holidays meet a human emotional need. This is one of the many reasons why I do not hesitate to celebrate holidays. I've "talked" to many ex-jws on the forums who still believe celebrating holidays is either morally wrong or would hold no meaning to them. In light of the upcoming holidays, here is my gift to you--a very short essay about the emotional need filled by holidays from a social science perspective.
I have been seeing some Xian Pastors on the news recently saying they are no longer conducting church services on XMas because the Bible doesn't say we should. 1 even went so far as to say he will not call it a "holiday" because that word is rooted in the word "holy"; he also mentioned people should not pretend using the term "holiday tree" or "Santa tree" take the religious meaning out of the term, Santa being rooted in the word "saint". My feeling is that is all unimportant; the main reason we celebrate holidays (or whatever you want to call them) is because it meets an emotiona need--and what's wrong with that? (I personally am finding it way too annoying to invent new terms for my XMas tree and other XMas celebrations.)
Does the religious connection with holidays mean that an atheist/agnostic/humanist cannot celebrate holidays meaningfully? No. Again, life does not have to be about pleasing a supernatural being, whose wishes about holidays are truly not known if he or she exists at all.1. Holidays reinforce community, family, and social ties. It reminds us of our interconnection with each other. It reinforces our role and importance in our family and society. 2. Holidays mark the passage of time and create a rememberance, a sort of pause in the rhythm of our daily lives. 3. Holidays are a method to reinforce ideological convictions. 4. Holidays provide a forum for expressing emotional attachments. 5. Rituals (repetitive practices) add formality and dignity to an occassion, which tends to convey a sense of importance. 6. Rituals and holidays reinforce societal structure, etiquette, and formality. Humans have an emotional need to belong; holidays reinforce the feeling of belonging. 7. Rituals and traditions can provide a sort of metaphor for important values and goals. 8. Cookies. Need I say more? (Ok what I really mean here is there is a pleasurable sensory experience associated with holidays--food, art, music. We treat ourselves to special foods that are too fattening to eat the rest of the year; we treat ourselves to other miscellaneous things that make us feel like it's a special time. All of that is harmless FUN.)
Is it necessary then to celebrate the holidays the traditional way in order to get our emotional needs met? No. Use the "cut and paste technique"; simply observe traditions from various cultures and practice whatever ones you wish, discarding those you don't like and adding some of your own. Cultures have been doing that for as long as society has existed. (My personal cut and paste has been to decorate my home with only things from nature--snowflakes, stars, pinecones, etc., emphasizing the role of nature in my life instead of pseudoreligious stuff such as Santas--not that there's anything wrong with that. It also allows me to leave the decorations up longer without getting sick of looking at Santas and angels.)
There is some suggestion that there is a biogenetic component to human rituals: http://www.geocities.com/missionalia/ritual97.htm
"All religions have in common the periodical childlike surrender to a Provider or providers who dispense earthly fortune as well as spiritual health; some demonstrations of man's smallness by means of reduced posture and humble gesture, the admission in prayer and song of misdeeds, of misthoughts, and of evil intentions; fervent appeal for inner unification by divine guidance; and finally, the insight that individual trust must become part of the ritual practice of man, and must become a sign of trustworthiness in the community." --Eric H. Erikson