home
RSS
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. Bob

    Don't beleive in God? OK Don't beleive in celebrating Christmas? OK.....Do what you want but shut up and leave the rest the 98 percent of us alone. God Bless...

    December 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  2. Dina

    People need help ! I believe those who are against God or are atheists will come to know him. When you do ?............ every knee will bow. I pray that you come to terms of understanding exactly what your doing when you are re-nouncing God. We have bigger fish to fry then listening to a uneducated moronic idiot, with no faith or hope or even common sense like David Silverman. Congratulations to all of you who even think that this guy makes any sense @ all. He is just mad and upset with God, because his life did not turn out in the slightest the way he thought it should go. David ? if you get a chance to read these comments, take a hint and a vicodin since you seem to be so inpain and hurt by all these people that stand for something and believe in something. Perhaps at Christmas you should take your ass down to Germany and have a visit @ the holocast musems and concentration camps and see for your self that God does exist ! and your wife actually couldnt be more proof then ever needed.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  3. D

    to the dude that said " I am a hard core atheist who has nothing but contempt for anyone in the religion business or and those who espouses religious dogma" you are a donkey. atheism is just as much a religion as christianity or buddism or whatever. you are just believing in no God, and live by it, which in the same sense a religion, you donkey

    December 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • Scott

      @D: Religion is about believing in some ultimate power beyond yourself, usually a god or gods, though in the case of communism and Nazism the state takes the place of god. Atheism is about not believing in an ultimate power beyond oneself

      December 23, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  4. Patrick A

    Does anyone really believe,that even if Jesus existed ,that he was born around December.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  5. Bob

    Don't beleive in God? OK Don't beleive in celebrating Christmas? OK.....Do what you want but shut up and leave the rest of us alone. God Bless...

    December 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Scott

      @ Bob: This is one of the big problems with Christians. They don’t want to shut up and they don’t want to leave the rest of us alone

      December 23, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  6. Nunya

    Who gives a crap what they think?! They don't care what I think.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  7. Isabella

    I've often wondered about the beliefs of the athiest. They claim to not believe in God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, or religion, and these days it's almost politically incorrect to say Merry Christmas, but it's ok to celebrate Halloween, 4th of July, Memorial Day, etc..... Now don't get me wrong, I celebrate all the above, but don't claim to be an athiest. We'll all agree no "mortal man" alive today was living in the days of Jesus, we get this by faith and The Bible, but by the same token, nobody alive today was here to witness the Pilgrims, the Indians, the Civil War, etc. What I'm trying to say is just because you weren't here to witness the birth of Christ, that doesn't mean He doesn't exist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I believe 100% in Jesus Christ and I believe everything written in our History books. Seems to me they are splitting hairs about The Bible?

    December 23, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • KMW

      Merry Christmas to you Isabella. I will never stop saying this as I also believe in Jesus.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Brian

      Merry Christmas to you.

      But as a non believer i have a deep believe in myself and my family and what is wrong with that .

      The only diferance between you and me is i DONT belive in god and you do and thats good for you .

      December 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  8. Will

    Look Christmas is a holiday. Like the fourth of July. We give presents despite what it is suppose to mean according to the Religious people, it is has morphed in to an American tradition not a Religious one.
    I am an Athiest. I spend the time with my family and eat like crazy. You know the American way! There is no reason to try and delcare it as something and everyone is suppsoe to follow that. That is what makes us a great country. Celebrate it how you choose. Just make sure I have the time off (paid of course) and can be with family and eat!!

    December 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  9. Name*Lisa pettrey

    Let there be PEACE ON EARTH.... Not just a statement for war torn countries but hope that you treat each & every person you encounter daily with warmth regardless of their religion, gender, or social status.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  10. jenn

    5% ? I think it's more like 10%....and, no, "I don't believe in magic"..E.I.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  11. TalkingSnake

    I absolutely love the comments byall the god-botherers who are ignorant of the history of Christmas.
    This time of year was originally a pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. Since everyone was celebrating,
    Christians co-opted the holiday for themselves.
    If Jesus did exist, most theologians/historians agree that his birthday was not on December 25th.

    This article has a number of problems.
    The author didn't bother to educate themselves on the information above.
    Also, the percentage of non-believers in the US is widely accepted as 15%. This incidentally is by far
    the fastest growing classification.

    The war on xmas is completely manufactured. No one is trying to take anything away from anyone else.
    The fact that a municipal government cannot endorse one brand of religion, even if the vast majority subscribe to it, is a
    foundational principle of our country. Most xians go apoplectic when the local courthouse is ordered to take down the ten commandments, or forced to allow a Hindu symbol next to a nativity scene. What they don't realize is that these laws
    are there to protect them.

    At the end of the day, most people celebrate xmas as a secular holiday – very few people are actually singing happy birthday to Jeebus.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • the unknown

      If by non belever you mean that you dont belevie in religion then 15% is correct. But if you mean one who doesnt beleve in god or higher power (athiest/agnostic) thenit is between 5-10% http://www.teachingaboutreligion.org/Demographics/map_demographics.htm

      December 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  12. dwighthuth

    those unwilling to make any sort of decision about what they believe in.

    Actually the sentence should have read. " those unwilling to make any sort of decision based upon what their belief says their decision should be." not "what they believe in."

    December 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  13. FlowinEddie

    And so this is Christmas? And what have you done? - John Lennon

    December 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  14. capnmike

    It'd be really nice to be able to turn on the TV or go shopping without having this horrible crap assaulting my senses for 2 months. The music is limited to the same 12 garbage tunes over and over, the decorations are tacky, and the thrust of the whole thing is to get us to buy more Chinese-made trash. Not everybody celebrates Xmas. Yeah I know, you want to call me names like "scrooge" and "grinch"...well, hey, do you celebrate Channukah, or Ramadan? And does anybody call YOU names because you don't?

    December 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  15. 21k

    thank a supreme being of your choosing for the pagans that started it all! merry xmas!

    December 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  16. Todd

    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.”

    lol, of course Christians don't own the season. I've never heard one claim they do. Stealing the holiday? Oh good grief, what holiday? Anyone is free to celebrate whatever they want around Christmas. Don't believe in god? Ok, don't celebrate the religious aspects. It's easily a secular holiday if you want it to be anyway. Moving on...

    "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."

    Correct. Rants about stealing pagan holidays or that Jesus wasn't actually born on Dec 25th are moot. It still celebrates what it celebrates, and those who want to light a menorah, celebrate Jesus' birth, dance naked around a tree in the forest, or do absolutely nothing are free to do so. It seems many atheists are fine with this fact. Perhaps the rest just need another shot of egg nog.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  17. Straight Facts

    If you choose to be angry that it's a federally recognized day, by the same nation that has "Under God" written on their currency, the same currency that is paying you to be with your family for an entire day without stepping foot into work, then go ahead. Seems like something to be happy about though, not argue about secularism. And although there is a number of theorized reasons various Christmas Traditions started here are some facts: a tree was used during the Winter Solstice for many different cultures, nearly all were religiously based; lights/candles were used as a symbol of the light of Jesus, a star on top to represent the star that guided the 3 magi, and although the abbreviation "X-mas" is commonly used as a sign of disrespect, the word Christ in Greek is Xristos. In the 16th century, Europeans started using the abbreviation of "X" in place of "Christ" knowing it stood for Christ's initial. So, at least understand, that the "X" isn't taking out Christ from the holiday.

    "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. For a child is born to us, a son will be given to us, and the government will rest on his shoulders; And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isiah 9: 2-6)

    December 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  18. Allan

    It breaks my heart to see so many people continuing to live in denial of the truth; as Christians it is our sacred duty to pray for these people that God may soften their hardened hearts and by faith embrace him and all that He has done for them, especially His death on the cross.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
    • Brian

      Allan you dont have to pray for me man my life is GREAT just because i have a differant belief than you.

      I work i have a loving family around me my life is good so dont bother praying for me its all good.

      December 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • Scott

      @ Allan: If all Christians did nor more than pray for me, I would have no problem with them

      December 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  19. scott

    Regarding the date of his birth: this from wikipedia:

    "Christmas or Christmas Day is a holiday observed mostly on December 25 to commemorate the birth of Jesus. The earliest evidence of celebration of Jesus' birth on December 25 is found in the year 354 in Rome. It was only later that the December 25 celebration was adopted in the East, with the exception of Armenia, where his birth is celebrated on January 6.[50] Indeed, there is no month of the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned his birth.[50]"

    December 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  20. IMHO

    We all know that Christmas is nowadays a fake celebration: three kings from the Middle East on camels distributing presents to everyone on January 6th? A big Ho Ho Ho guy who defies all laws of physics and aerodinamics to do the same on December 25th? If we start lying to our children since they are little, of course they will learn that everything else in life is a "pretty lie". The true Spirit of Christmas is when every day of the year we help others in need, especially the sick and homeless. Nowadays, Christmas is a disguised 4th of July six months later. At least on the 4th of July we can remember the reason of the Holiday. Now, please, Super Christians (you know who you are), start saying how wonderful you are and how wrong I am in this posting: – amen.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Advertisement
About this blog

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.