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Ever since I can remember, two constants have been in my life:

  1. My mother was never religious.
  2. She went all out for Christmas.

Each year she attacked the holidays with an ever increasing fervor. She has lived in the same mostly white neighborhood for 23 years, where all the homes are as homogeneous and drab as their inhabitants, so it is pretty obvious around Christmastime which one is the “black house” in the neighborhood.

Instead of a Martha Stewart-like wreath, there’s a big, black-ass Santa face displayed on the door that looks as if the Notorious B.I.G. came down from the North Pole where the Junior M.A.F.I.A. makes presents to alert the white people in the subdivision: “The only St. Nick we acknowledge is St. Nicky Barnes.”

OK, that was extreme, but it’s pretty obvious there are Negros there.

My mother is an agnostic-atheist, and I grew up in a household where I learned to respect people’s beliefs that were different from ours. My mother’s atheism/agnosticism stemmed from the childhood trauma of finding out that Paul Bunyan—a man with a giant blue ox who ate giant pancakes—couldn’t be real. Therefore, how could some man who walked on water and then turned it into a turn-up juice be real?

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When people found out that a black woman didn’t buy Mary’s story that she was impregnated by a guy no one had ever seen (“Oh, who’s my baby daddy? It’s, umm ... the Holy Ghost”), they figured we must be heathens who don’t celebrate Christmas.

Au contraire, mon frère.

A few years ago, shortly after I had moved into my own house, I was approached by a man doing a survey in my neighborhood. This “survey” started off innocently enough with questions like, “Which church do you attend?” When I informed him that I was not affiliated with any religious house of worship, the real pitch set in. It then turned into him asking me if I would like to know more about his church and if I would like to know more about my savior Jesus Christ.

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Finally, he asked his last question: “Well, what do you do for Christmas?”

“Open presents,” I answered, with a “Duh, dumbass” implied in my tone. “Any person with Google at their fingertips and the desire to want to know can clearly find out that it is highly unlikely that Jesus was even born on Christmas Day, so get out of my face and my neighborhood, sir.”

I get it from my mama.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those people who get super Hotep when anyone mentions Christmas. I don’t believe that Christmas is a capitalist plot to make us give the economy a boost at the end of the year. I don’t think the Jesus story was stolen from the ancient Egyptians and we should really be celebrating Horusmas. But I also didn’t have to wake up early as hell to attend church before I’d opened my presents or played with them, or whatever sadistic shit Christian parents do to their kids. Even in her atheism, my mother always made sure I knew the true meaning of Christmas:

Presents.

I have vivid mental pictures of my brother and me sitting under the tree, crusty-eyed as fuck, smiling over the newfound fortune that Santa had bestowed upon us. How Santa got through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the 17th floor, I still don’t know, but there are some things that don’t need explanations.

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One year my mother tried to convince me that I was getting nothing ... until I sneaked into the back of her closet and found my hidden bounty awaiting the birthday of the sweet winemaking savior. Another year, she upped her savvy and rode around with my presents in her car for weeks, nervous as hell that she would be carjacked.

The one thing that has remained constant is that whether there were five or 15 gifts already under the tree, she and I would go to sleep at the same time, and we would both magically wake up to find that Santa had done a dab on ’em underneath the tree.

This woman fucking loves Christmas. The day after Thanksgiving this year, I left in the morning and came back early that afternoon to find that the Christmas tree was already up and mostly decorated. Every freaking day leading up to Christmas, she blasts black-ass Christmas music through the house. Her personal favorite, which I am sure I have heard no fewer than 343,467,523 times, is “Every Christmas,” by Luther Vandross.

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The house is a veritable Santa’s workshop with Christmas candy; pine-tree-shaped candles that she will never, ever burn; and black-ass-Santa-twirling-around-on-a-stand wrapping paper everywhere. (She was also a professional gift wrapper for Sears decades ago, not like the semipro gift wrappers or the amateur ones who never earned their gift-wrapping licenses.) And she cooks Christmas dinner (which is the exact-same thing she cooks for Thanksgiving, but it still has that magic that Thanksgiving doesn’t).

After we open our presents, there are always, inevitably, presents that don’t belong to either of us. Those are presents to grandchildren and children she has adopted along the way. My mother has even opened her home numerous times to friends of mine who weren’t able to go home for the holidays. Go figure, she’s more Christian than many Christians in that respect.

Being raised by an atheist who loves Christmas meant I got to celebrate the season without all the bullshit. I was just allowed to be a kid, in a space, with a toy and pure glee. I also didn’t have to worry about her being fake woke, either, talking about how Christmas was a pagan holiday. Who is this “Pagan” guy, anyway, and why do people hate on him so much? He makes parents buy toys to celebrate someone else’s birthday and convinced parents to give kids Easter baskets filled with candy in memory of a black guy getting killed by the authorities. This “Pagan” guy is OK by me. #ChristLivesMatter.

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Both my mother’s love for Christmas and her atheism rubbed off on me. It is my favorite holiday as well, even though I still think it’s the most obnoxious holiday of them all (Independence Day pulling a close second). She says she loves it because of all the beautiful decorations, but most important, she loves it because of the memories and how it is the happiest time of the year. She’s made me realize that the real fundamental values of Christmas are about family, love, laughter, those 5 pounds from pouring sugar directly down your throat and, most of all ...

Those motherfucking gifts!