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TRENDING: An atheist view of December
December 23rd, 2010
07:00 AM ET

TRENDING: An atheist view of December

By Katie Glaeser, CNN

“Christians don’t deserve a monopoly on holiday cheer," reads a simple yet loaded statement on the American Atheists’ website.

But how could Christians monopolize a holiday that is based on their beliefs?

It turns out that traditions associated with Christmas have morphed into social norms adopted even among nonbelievers.

Everywhere you turn there are decorations, cookies, and music. But for many of the 5% of Americans who say they don’t believe in God, December is not that different from what it’s like for those affiliated with a Christian religion. Those who don’t believe in the reason behind the holiday still celebrate the season’s concentration on values, family, and kindness.

Liz Turcotte from Kentucky grew up Catholic, but her views on religion changed during college. “I feel like a lot of people associate atheism with a lack of tradition and bitterness towards religious holidays when this is far from the truth, at least for me,” she tells CNN in an interview.

Atheism is a very broad term. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, says it can be the lack of belief in God, or never giving much thought to God, and can also include those unwilling to make any sort of decision about what they believe in.

Turcotte says the holiday festivities feel more secular than religious and she’ll be celebrating like many others on Christmas Day.

“We celebrate the end of a long year, whether it was difficult or fruitful, and the start of a new year to come,” Turcotte says. “For me, it is about being appreciative of the people in my life who have helped me through the past year.”

Silverman, with the American Atheists, says many nonbelievers celebrate December milestones like Christmas and the winter solstice.

“Me personally,” Silverman jokes, “I do nothing. I roll in a ball and hide in the corner until it’s over.” But his wife, who is a practicing Jew, puts up a menorah in their house and celebrates Hanukkah with the couple’s daughter.

Silverman says it’s a problem that Christmas is a religious holiday that’s also a U.S. federal holiday. “If you’re going to force Jews, atheists, Hindus to observe Christmas by shutting down the country, what we’re going to observe is the most secular parts of the holiday,” he explains.

Christmas has been a federal holiday since 1870. The explanation offered on the government website America.gov is that the holiday “began to honor universal values such as home, children and family life, and to incorporate secular customs like exchanging gifts and cards, and the decoration of evergreen trees.”

So, Silverman says, “A tree with tinsel and chestnuts roasting on an open fire … it’s perfectly acceptable for an atheist to celebrate these.”

Atlanta resident Adam Olansky says he doesn’t believe in the existence of God, but he and his family still have traditions around the Christmas holiday. They celebrate it by focusing on family and food. The tree was recently trimmed and on December 25 they’ll have brunch and exchange presents.

To Olansky, it’s not the customs that are the problem with Christmas. “I think the most overwhelming part of the holiday season is the way people behave, not the way the stores are dressed up or the music.” He says it comes down to the crazy holiday shoppers - “the person who has allowed a season that’s presumably about peace and joy to drive them off the deep end.”

Silverman says some atheists are upset with Christmas because “Christians do not own the season.” In fact, he accuses Christians of stealing the holiday. “Christianity is one of over a dozen religions that named the winter solstice as their god’s birthday. This is not original,” Silverman says. “It’s not about being out against Christmas, it’s about Christmas being a monopoly.”

Kyev Tatum, pastor of Friendship Rock Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, disputes Silverman’s assertion. “For him to make that kind of claim is just flat out untrue," he says. "It’s Christ-mas.”

“Christ was born during this time. While there is a debate about whether the 25th was the actual date, no one debates it was called Christ-mas to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” says Tatum, president of the Fort Worth chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

As for atheists celebrating Christmas, Tatum says that’s their right. “We want them to embrace it,” he says. “Christmas is about peace on Earth and goodwill towards men. Whether you believe it or not that’s the reason Jesus came.”

Liz Turcotte will be spreading goodwill this Christmas but says it will be on her own terms, “Exchanging gifts and donating to charity are not religious statements but more of a chance to stop and show people you care.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Charity • Christianity • Church and state • United States

soundoff (1,186 Responses)
  1. Moe

    Life sure sucks for{ Non Believers} Live your sad live while the rest of us enjoy this wonderful time of the year.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Life sucks for us non-believers? First I've heard of it! My family and I are having a great holiday! So sorry if our refusal to be the "miserable Scrooges" you so desperately want us to be irritates you! LOL!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
    • Brian

      As a non – believer my life is great i have 3 kids , 4grandchildern a loving wife my holidays will be awesome.

      So why oh why would you attack us nonbelievers like that ?

      What are you lacking in your life to do that ?

      December 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • Debbie

      The day I decided to turn away from being a Catholic to become an atheist was the most liberating day of my life.
      I've never been happier or healthier.

      December 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
    • Scott

      @ Moe: My life really sucked when I was a Christian and has been continually been getting better ever since I left the faith

      December 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
    • Larry Q. Griswald

      Actually, life has been quite nice for this secular-agnostic-athiest. Sorry to disappoint you, and I know it disappoints you and all to many other religious nutters that those who disagree with you are not miserable.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  2. ybs

    I celebrate everyday and don't need sheep to pontificate about whether god exists or horoscopes works. Peace!

    December 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  3. Steven

    Officially, the atheist community celebrates their special time of year on April Fools Day.

    It is amazing how many people form their own opinions (to satisfy their world view) while neither reading the Bible, nor researching historical or logical arguments that do, in fact, point to the accuracy of the orginal Scriptures and the existance of God. I feel sorry for them. In professing to be wise, they, in fact, render themselves as fools.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Then by all means, Steven, please show us "fools" how much knowledge you have of atheist writings and those of religions different to your own. Do take your time... 😀

      December 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • Brian

      Steve just because i DONT believe in god i am a fool why is that ?

      December 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • Scott

      @ Steven: You don’t have the original scripture, you don’t have copies, you don’t even have copies of copies. The oldest surviving scriptures are hundreds and hundreds of years younger than the originals and some of us think some of the details might have gotten lost or mixed up in all of the copying

      December 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  4. Michael

    Why is everyone beating this dead horse again? Who cares really? Why does everything have to be a damned debate? Just SHUT UP and enjoy the season while it lasts!

    December 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  5. David

    Jesus came to earth to nring the sword not peace

    December 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  6. Bob

    What is that Pastor smoking? Assuming arguendo that there was a Jesus born 2010 years ago, the Gregorian calendar would not come into existence for almost 1600 years. In that time, the number of days AND months per year has changed. December was the 10th and final month of the year of the Roman calendar ("Decem" being latin for ten), followed by "monthless" days that were fudged into the beginning of the next year to get things back on track. No matter what rationale, Jesus' birthday WAS moved to Dec 25 of the Greg. calendar. By coincidence or design, it was moved extremely close to the Winter Solstice. Given how much christianity borrows from pagan traditions ("Hey Pagans, come celebrate Christ-mas! You can keep your wintergreen trees, decorations of candles and stars, your mistletoe, holly bush, gift giving, and general merriment, just add Jesus to the mix, k?"), what is more likely?

    December 23, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  7. Joseph

    Wow, Kyev Tatum is genuinely unintelligent about his own faith. That's by far the silliest quote Iv'e ever read. I've known hyperconservative Christians who are aware that the Christmas celebration began more than 300 years after the supposed birth and death of Jesus. If only "Thou shalt not be willfully ignorant" had made the big ten, we wouldn't have these problems dealing with these people.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  8. ListenToReason

    Rev. Tatum shows just how uneducated he is by insisting that Christmas is the reason for the season. Open a book, Reverend. Pagans have celebrated the winter solstice long before Christ was even born. December 25 was selected for Christ's birthday because Constantine wanted to appear that he supported the Christians' beliefs while still holding to his elitist beliefs in the ancient deity, Mithras, whose birthday is December 25. He appeased the two for political gain, and the Christian church leaders were so filled with their own pride that they went along with it. Christians need to get over themselves and realize the truth behind their beliefs. But, my observations telll me that they prefer to live in the dark.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  9. Josie

    Here is what I think. Santa is the spirit of giving, he's not a real person, nor is he just for Christians! Christmas is a time to remember and think about peace and hope for all. If a Christian wants to celebrate the birth of Christ let him. They should allow all to celebrate how or what they want. Christmas Trees, the wreaths, the Yule log are not originally Christian anyway, they were Pagan. I celebrate both Yule and Christmas, have for almost a decade now, and thankfully my family has no problems with it. Yule to me is when I do my reflections for the year, and Christmas is when I spend time with my family. Anyway last I checked (at least in our family) Christmas is more for the kids.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  10. Ken from FL

    Does CNN deliberately publish this kind of drivel at Christmas just to irritate those of who believe there's truly a "reason for the season?"

    December 23, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • TrueBlue42

      I'm sure CNN does NOT write these articles to irritate you. However, you might want to consider the fact that there is more than one reason for the season. Happy Hoildays, Ken!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  11. Jimbo

    Wise guys = wise men?

    Improbable does not equal divine. To truly be divine (probability = 0) it must be accept as a faith, not a fact. Here is why. A fact is something reproducible or natural. Which naturally leads to the conclusion that there are no miracles that are provable (because the proof itself would require adherence to natural law, unbendable but a supernatural force). That being said, if you believe the creation itself and its natural laws ARE the miracle (turning the anthropic principle on its head), then both the mundane and the unlikely are both miracles. Hence proving that the only mumbo jumbo involve with the miracle/just lucky debate is the debate itself, since faith in either divinity or the lack of divinity must be assumed before presenting ones case (insert pompous laughter, and a toast).

    So whether you believe Christ was born Dec 25 to save all of humanity from sin, or if you believe the cold of winter is a great time to hope for humanity to just be a little more humane in 2011, MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  12. Doug

    I think your offended about Christmas as much as you choose to be offended about Christmas.
    There is so may things in the world that needs help and yet here we are QQing over this and that.
    Do your own thing and stop QQing...gah..

    December 23, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  13. mom2homer

    I'm Jewish, and I work for a Christian church. I am grateful for a workplace where Christmas begins in the evening on Dec. 24, not immediately after Hallowe'en, nor immediately after Thanksgiving. I suppose Christians can't do much about stores pushing sales, but folks could choose not to buy (literally) into the materialist frenzy. At the same time, it makes sense that folks want to put up lots of lights and party hard during the darkest time of the year; that's just not what my church defines as the "Christmas spirit."

    December 23, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  14. David

    That pastor has it wrong. Jesus did not come to earth to bring peace on earth, he came to bring the sword.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  15. Lyle

    And also little history im a pegan and pegan belief goes back to soo long there no date when it started soo really xmas and everything really came from the wiccan,pegan,beliefs and celebrations. 🙂

    December 23, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  16. John

    I am an atheist. i do not believe in religions, thinking they are all man made ways to control people, but i respect people in having faith in their god. all i ask is don't push your beliefs into my life, wether it be personally or through the government. if believeing in a faith makes you a better person that is great, i personally do not need it and have a good moral base and know what is wrong or right. believing in a faith does not make someone better than someone who doesn't.

    i believe jesus was a real person who story has gotten exaggerated like so many stories do. i believe saint nicholas was a real person in the 3rd or 4th century and he did give presents to children and helped women with doweries to get married. then his story got exaggerated and comercialized, but it is a fun tradition to have with your kids.
    i do like christmas, christmas eve is my favorite day of the year. i put a tree up and decorate it with fun ornaments like snowmen and festive things. i think it is just a great time to bring family together and enjoy the time we get to have together.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  17. allornothing

    Tim: What always really irritates me is everyone thinks that all Christians rely that the bible has all the answers. Some of us just believe that the Bible is just a guide and alot of things are just completely unexplainable. The one thing however that I will always believe (even though this will get attacked by just about everybody here) and cannot be explained away is that there has to be a creator and there is no way around that. Big Bang theory, okay, matter had to be created, space had to be created, everything HAD to be created so there has to be a Supreme being. Whether any of us have it right, I can't say, but we all think we do, maybe we'll all be surprised in the end. But, we will all answer to a supreme being.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  18. nwi

    christians have never had a monopoly on celebrating around the time of the winter solstace. the practice is as old as civilization and stretches across many cultures and religions.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  19. Tim/Colorado

    When you don't celebrate Christmas, you tend to think of atheists as people you can relate to. But so many of them celebrate the day, they are actually your biggest nightmare. Their children think your children are naughty if they don't have a visit from Santa, which turns into childhood racism.

    Open minded Atheists would not celebrate Christmas. And they would definitely not tell their kids Santa has a "Naughty and Nice" list, for the sake of all Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, JWs, and other "True" Atheists' childrens.

    Racist Atheists would celebrate Christmas though.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  20. joe

    since it really can't be proven one way or another the aethists should cautious..God could bite them in the end..

    December 23, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • Brian

      Since it really can't be proven one way or another the believers should cautious..Their could be nobody to bite them in the end..

      See what i did there .

      December 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • Tina

      Wow, I have to say it never occurred to me that it's possible to get bitten by God. I can only hope He isn't venomous.

      December 24, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.