47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2009
I want to begin by admitting that I am one of the 42 contributors to this book. When Matt Kirshen asked me to forward Ariane Sherine's email on to fellow Atheists who might want to submit stories for consideration, I knew I wanted to toss my proverbial hat in the ring. I was after-all, born on Christmas.
So I forwarded the request to many atheists I knew, some well known and others, not so much. Then I set out to write the truth about being born on Christmas.
After sending a first draft to Ariane I got a response that sent me through the roof. I was giddy with excitement because I knew I was going to have my scratching publish within the same pages as; Richard Dawkins, Charlie Brooker, Ben Goldacre, Phil Plait, AC Grayling, Richard Herring, Simon Le Bon and my friend, Matt Kirshen. And while all of these people of note have written wonderful stories, filled with amazing anecdotes, sound advice and absolutely wonderful and well spirited humor, I was thoroughly stunned after opening my personal copy to page 91 where I found Nick Doody's offering.
Nick is a wonderfully funny stand up comedian and writer. He is very close friends with Matt Kirshen and I am proud to say that I have, on a number of occasions, had the chance to hang out with him. He's charming, extremely original in his comedic style and always spot on with perfectly structured stories and ideally placed punchlines.
How To Understand Christmas: A Scientific Overview by Nick Doody is a work of pure genius. His laser guided satire has it's way with not just the idea of Christmas, the word itself and rituals surrounding it, he takes the art of written word and annihilates the very medium as well.
As he pulls you along through a scientific mindset, analyzing Christmassiness while citing studies that are duly footnoted and clearly documented and confirmed, Doody never lets on that anything he is saying might be anything but pure fact with peer review backing and published in the highest order of scientific journal.
He begins with an apology to the purists who will be disappointed that he does not have enough space for an in-depth explanation of Barsky's Chimney Hypothesis but he promises an overview of the scientific history of Christmasology that will be accessible to the layman.
I found myself harassing my wife as I held back howls and laughter and read passages aloud through tears. We were simply giddy with how Doody had managed to make fun of not only the absurdities in the holiday, but the age old dialogue between Atheists and the religious. His piece is a perfect satire of how utterly masturbatory any discussion is when one side has it's beliefs in faith and the other, science.
Nick Doody, shows no respect for either argument and simply drives a stake through all our hearts and offers us each up like a pig on a skewer. If you take yourself remotely serious, Nick Doody will happily show you how silly you are for doing so.
I am very proud to have been published alongside so many atheistic luminaries and I am quite pleased with my own offering. It's nice to be translated into another accent. But I felt compelled to compliment Nick Doody specifically in a public forum because this little book that is meant to bring humor and joy and to raise money for the Higgins Trust Foundation to battle HIV and AIDS, may come and go and that's fine: but when someone writes something that is as complex and original as Nick Doody has, It should not be overlooked or downplayed.
Thank you Nick, for writing the most important and the most funny story in the entire book. You are a brilliant writer and a legendary comedic mind.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2009
This is a great collection of opinion pieces about the meaning of Christmas from an atheists point of view. Essentially starting from the point of - What really is the meaning of christmas. They are divided into categories such as science and philosophy and while some of the pieces are patchy I think there is a lot in here for everyone.
Some of the more famous - such as Richard Dawkins, are along side less than well known (well form most people anyway) the novelist Kapka Kabossova (sp). What I really appreciated was the variety of perspectives on a subject which is, of course, pertinent. Why do atheists celebrate Christmas?
The first section on science I found the most interesting. The Jewish astronomer (I've forgotten his name off hand) was wonderful. His early years discussing the lack of Christmas celebrations in his family, and his own fascination with the sky and the supposed phenomena of a super-star at the time of Christ's birth was beautiful.
The rise of the pagan and pre-christian celebrations of a mid-winter festival and the forms it took - including all the mythical links to Christian and Christmas celebrations offer a much deeper perspective into the human psyche.
After about 30 of these peices I started to lose interest, I found that they were a lot of the same kind of thing. One man who was a bit of a christmas hater, who went to the Middle east one year for teh festive season to escape it.
The essential message is that the Christmas spirit is there, and it is not about the birth of Christ and 3 wise men. The humanity of the midwinter festivals is about hope, eating, giving gifts, sharing time together, laughter, revelry, and new dawns. Pretty much what our festival is about these days. And if anyone complains that it is called Christmas so has to be about Christ, tell 'em that Easter is about the Scandanavian Goddess Oester and is a fertility festival, not about Christ's resurrection at all.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
What I Can Tell You:
As someone who holds onto the belief of God with all my might and who celebrates Christmas and all that goes along with it, I found this book to be quite interesting. I have never met an Atheist but if I did would never judge them as I would hope they wouldn't judge me.
The stories range from Neil Pollack's Revenge of the Christmas Spirit where his son receives for Christmas a Sponge Bob, Square Pants Connect Four and he decides to play Santa and give the "already have" gift away to a shelter. To Nick Doody's How To Understand Christmas: A Scientific Overview. I was very interested in the scientific history of Christmasology.
Best section of the book, the How To sections which include titles like:
How to Have the Perfect Jewish Christmas
How to Have A Peaceful Pagan Christmas
How to Decorate the Outside of Your House with Lights and Not Have Your Neighbors Hate You: A guide to turning your home into a festive something that is so bright it can be seen from Space.
Favorite quote by Allison Kilkenny:
"It was no longer a holiday meant to worship the birth of a now dead Palestinian who once claimed to be the Son of God but who is now used as a marketing ploy by huge Corporations to sell more Xbox consoles."
While I understand the skepticism, appreciate the scientific evidence of evolution, wonder in the history of the earth, marvel at the educated, scientists knowledge in the book, I long for the magic Christmas brings. Fake, real, I don't care! While this Christmas didn't feel Chistmassy for me, (health problems and unable to move), it was still the best day of the year. Life is hard, days turn into other days, but for a short time, everyone loves each other, decorated trees are featured and movies on TV pull the family together as we enjoy our time with each other. Life is short! Whether there is something else or whether there is nothing, we need to appreciate our time here and get the most out of life we can.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2010
This volume is a compilation of essays by those who may label themselves atheist, or at least agnostic. So what do they have to say about Christmas? Actually, there are a number of entries which are very relevant to the spirit of Christmas (atheist or not) and the historical significance of the date itself. Even Christian scholars are likely to agree that Jesus was not born on December 25th. In fact, he probably was born two to four years BC. Anyhow, those subjects are broached, but others too. Many of the chapters are very good reads, but I would warn you that most are very "British." Some of the humor may be tough to get by an American. There are times when I really had to think about what was being said and then I realized the writer was being funny. There are times when some of the writers refer to things that I was completely ignorant of because I don't watch BBC 1,2,3 or 4 (or whatever). One chapter of particular interest to astronomers was contributed by American astronomer Phil Plait. He addresses the issue of the star of Christmas, if indeed that is what it was. He also reveals much about his own history, which may be of interest to his thousands of bloggers. Many of the contributions are thought provoking, whether you agree with them or not. There are a few chapters which I think, had they been left out, would have made this volume better, and shorter.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2010
I've read the first dozen stories or so, and am enjoying most of them. I wanted to shoot a quick warning, though. Although this is technically the American edition of this book, many of the essays are (I believe) the same as in the British edition released last year. So if you don't know much about British Christmas traditions, couldn't define lurgy, or identify when an author is parodying Wodehouse, be aware that you will enjoy some stories, and others may just confuse you.
(If you can do the above, have no fear, it's all good!)
Ariane Sherine writes in her "Welcome" to this 2009 book, "What you will find are forty-two brilliant contributions from the world's most entertaining atheist scientists, comedians, philosophers and writers, who have all donated their time, thought and jokes for free to help you enjoy Christmas." Here are some examples:
"One of the great joys of having your own children, of course, is sharing Christmas with them... how to do that without fundamentally accusing their teachers of lying---or, in fact, lying? And it is, after all, one of the greatest stories ever told---the little boy born in a manger, far from home. It has intrigue, small children... stars, angels, various animals and getting to sleep outdoors---all catnip to littles." (Pg. 10-11)
"Christmas has done well, to its credit. It's beaten off the competition and is the reigning champion." (Pg. 24)
"Even as an atheist, it's cool to celebrate Christmas. I like Jesus and think that there's a lot of sense in the stuff that he might have said or that has at least been ascribed to him." (Pg. 39)
"Now, after many years of celebrating this holiday, I've come to really enjoy it... So here I sit. An atheist, a skeptic, a guy raised Jewish who hated Christmas has found the meaning of the holiday, and he wasn't even searching for it." (Pg. 66)
"It may seem odd for a Jewish-born atheist to tell you how to enjoy your Christian festival, but why not? It now seems almost trite to point out that most of the trappings of Christmas have little to do with the birth of Christ... Christmas is a festival built on the very nature of picking and choosing the parts that are convenient." (Pg. 116)
"But shouldn't we, if we're going to ignore the 'Christ' part of Christmas, find something else to call it? ... all of this is pointless divisive nonsense and entirely unnecessary because ... It's just a name. That's all... 'Christmas' is the name most of the English-speaking world currently gives the winter solstice festival, and it's as good a name for it as any other it's ever had." (Pg. 139)
"To talk secularly of Christmas being a time to remember others, then, does rather anemically miss the point, but it is certainly as good a time as any other to rise to the challenge of leading a kinder, lovelier life; one that stretches far beyond the encouraged sentimentality of the holiday period." (Pg. 165-166)
"I decided I would prove to Green that atheists could enjoy a Christmas celebration as much as the devout. Rather than celebrating mythical wise men, angels, and the mythical messiah, we could celebrate rational thought and scientific thinking." (Pg. 289)
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2011
It was hard to rate, though - some entries are stellar, some I just skipped because I was falling asleep. As one would expect of any semi-random group, the comedians/philosophers/scientists/authors/etc who wrote the chapters are split about half and half between those who enjoy Christmas and those who don't.
My favorite chapter is "How To Escape From Christmas" by Andrew Mueller. People who try to opt out of Christmas dinners are usually either dismissed as Scrooges or immediately invited to the house of everyone with an extra chair, which means instead of guiltlessly staying at home by the fire with your feet up, a good book, and a cup of cocoa, you now have to delicately explain that you don't WANT to spend Christmas with your generous-but-misguided friend (in case it requires explanation, "misguided" here means they've just been told you want to spend Christmas by yourself, and assume you're angling for a dinner invitation).
I LOVE Mueller's suggestion for dealing with this - get on a plane late on December 24th that will be refueling in some conveniently non-Christian spot, and arrive in Australia on December 26th for beaches and sunshine. I think I'll try this next year.
on December 29, 2014
This book , a collection of short pieces by various atheists, goes to show that not all atheists hate all things religious. While these authors definitely do not believe in god, most all of them like, even enjoy, different parts of Christmas. These parts include family, peace and goodwill, music, decorations, entertaining, and an all around jovial attitude. The book would not be on one of my top lists of atheist books; it still entertains and informs.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2010
I've only read 6 chapters thus far (out of order...I love that feature about this book). One chapter was one of the most hilarious things I've ever read, and a couple others were pretty darn funny. Some aren't so much funny as cute stories. For a $10.00 book, I'd say you more than get your money's worth in this one - definitely a good read for any agnostic or athiest.
on July 13, 2014
Well written and helpful.