My copy of The Atheist's Guide to Christmas arrived unexpectedly early, and I opened it with interest. Would atheists really have anything to say about Christmas? It turns out: yes, so very much, yes. This is a book full of treasure, and I found myself continually delighted.
The book's 42 contributions are divided into six sections, which cover a lot of ground. `Stories' is full of charming anecdotes, memorably including Simon Le Bon (Simon Le Bon!) on his love of church music, Catie Wilkins on sending Christmas cards to biblical characters, and (I'm certainly unlikely to forget this one) Richard Herring on his Christmas with a cat. `Science' follows with some surprisingly moving odes to wonder - including how to hear the echoes of the Big Bang on Christmas Day - and a completely unexpected comedy sketch from Richard Dawkins (I won't spoil the surprise, but trust me). `How To' and `Arts' are full of genuinely practical suggestions for films, games, music, jokes, and even making Christmas environmentally friendly, while `Events' goes behind-the-scenes on the highlights of the secular community. But I think my favourite is `Philosophy', with Derren Brown, AC Grayling et al. wonderfully making the case for a humanistic Christmas, full of light, compassion and, above all, a simple joy.
Indeed, I was happy to find that the whole book is a uplifting, happy read, as the assembled atheists' enthusiasm for Christmas is surprising and infectious. Josie Long is particularly endearing in this regard, and her recommended party games had me in fits of giggles on the Tube, as did Anna Pickard's alternative carols. I'm certainly going to give both of these an outing come December.
As you'd expect, it isn't 100% in favour of the festive season, as Andrew Mueller and Jon Holmes are apparently allergic (tinselitis?), but even there the tone is jovial and light-hearted. In fact, I'd say the book is almost guaranteed to put you in a festive mood, so it's worth recommending as one to read before the big day. Put it this way - I'm writing in September, and am already yearning for fairy lights and mince pies. Even Slade. I don't know what's happening to me.
But the really special part is that placing this under someone's tree is a double gift: Terrence Higgins Trust benefits from every sale (the editor and contributors all did it for free), and I'm more than happy for my money to go to such an important cause. Getting so much entertainment as part of the deal is the marzipan on the Christmas cake.
Ariane Sherine has put together a beautiful thing, and I really can't recommend it enough: it's touching, it's personal, it's funny, it's educational, and buying it helps people who need help. Whether atheist or not, that's got to be what Christmas is about.