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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. Pawn

    Every thing has a reason and a season. I must say some of you made my day and I liked the lighter side of the comments. May everyone have a Happy and Safe Holiday season. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good nite!

    December 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  2. Dee

    While I do not feel I need to post my religious beliefs, I do feel the need to state that the "spirit" is alive for everyone. You can label your "spirit" whatever you feel you need to. But, don't belittle or put others down because others do not believe in what you do.

    December 23, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  3. Random Poster

    Well, as a non-Christian let me say:

    Happy HannaRamaQuanzaaSolstiMas to everyone!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • Dee

      LOVE that!

      December 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  4. ChristianSoldier

    People can believe what they want too. Though, my belief is that there are no Atheists in the world. Just people that have been convinced to a belief that they are Atheists. Case-In-Point: "They are no Atheists in a Foxhole". Atheists will drop their religion in a mil-second when there own life is line. I have seen it many times over. The so-called Atheists, find religion very quickly.
    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

    December 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Scott

      @ ChristianSoldier: Every christian who tries to escape the path of a speeding bullet with fear in his
      eye is an example of a "foxhole conversion" to atheism and proves they don't
      really believe in a heavenly paradise in the hereafter. There are a hell of a lot
      more of those conversions than there are of atheists to christians.

      Next time you get really sick, go to church instead of a hospital

      December 23, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  5. Steve

    Celebrations are used by societies shapers and manipulaters like illusionists use slight of hand. They distract people from who they can be and what they can do by giving them other things to become dependant on that have no value to them or society itself. Bah Humbug!! Don't you hate people like me?

    December 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  6. question

    How come atheists don't just make up their own holiday traditions, instead of laying claim to someone elses' traditions and demanding the right to appropriate – and CHANGE – those traditions?

    What gives atheists the right to seek to eliminate Christians from their own holiday?

    I don't get how selling coloring books saying that atheists ought to "give Jesus back and keep the good parts" – or billboards saying "You KNOW it's a myth, this season celebrate REASON" – contribute anything positive to the "holiday cheer" atheists claim to want so badly.

    Some people build, others tear down.

    Those who are jealous of what Christians have could just make some better rituals to go with a genuinely secular holiday, such as New Year's. Instead, they choose to try to take what someone else has built up – out of pure envy and, let's be honest, malice.

    December 23, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • Scott

      No, it’s because now more than any other time of the year Christians try to rub their religion in my face and so I resist

      December 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  7. Rida Creations

    I'm a christian and i will say this plainly....Jesus was not born on december 25! he was not born anytime near december!
    it's a pagan holiday!

    December 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  8. Dave

    I think it's terrible to have somebody speaking for atheists who doesn't even know the definition of the word. Then there's Tatum, who presents his beliefs as fact and other people's beliefs simply as dissent from fact. What a smug idiot! Finally, we have people telling us whether it's "acceptable" to have a Christmas tree?

    I say get a better article writer!

    December 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  9. Chris

    gott ist tot; gott bleibt tot

    December 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  10. Marco

    Too bad "Christ-mas" was just "SATURNALIA" when the Romans celebrated it, BEFORE the retarded Christians decided to invent a day their savior was born on. Astrologically speaking, if the "3 wise men" were following the North Star, he would have been born in...dun dun dunnn – APRIL of that year, not in December. But since the Romans adopted Christianity, and had to convert pagan worshippers, they took over the pagan holidays and renamed them for Christian themed ones.

    If your religious wackadoos don't know your history, shut the heck up and enjoy your hijacked holiday.

    December 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  11. CalgarySandy

    There is far more to Christmas than the Christian elements. It is much more a Germanic and some Roman Solstice celebration. The sun will come back and we decorate with greenery to celebrate that. Most cultures have a mid-winter festival. It breaks up the misery and darkness of winter. The Christians co-opted this along with the artifacts that are pure pagan. Very typical of the early Church to do this. Many saints days are on the pagan god or goddess day. Churches were even built on pagan sites as part of the con job to make the pagans think that is was an extension of their beliefs. Christianity is nearly as manufactured as Mormonism and Festivus.

    December 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  12. john

    I am a Christian and am one who understands how "Free Will" given by God works. "Choose this day whom you will serve". If God has given us this freedom to choose then who am I to try to take that from someone? SO today I see the "COEXIST" bumber stickers, I hear about "DIVERSIFICATION" Live and let live, "all roads lead to heven" and so on. I read hrough this post and all the varied ideas, most of which I do not accept. I don't set hear and condemn you, I will leave that for God to do or not do. I just don't understand even amoung non Christians you too cannot practice what you say, just as you accuse Christians. If you trully are telling us to coexist then you do that also.

    December 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  13. Descarado

    No wonder CNN is losing market share. Catering to Muslims, gays, blacks, 24/7 Sarah Palin haters and evangelical atheists is a rather thin business model.

    December 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  14. damassa

    We don't throw a hissy fit when atheists celebrate their day...whenever that is?!

    December 23, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  15. JimboJenkins

    I think christians conveniently forget that they adopted the holiday from pagans.

    December 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  16. Grace

    I don't care WHEN Jesus was born... just that he was. Who cares when we decide to celebrate it?
    This is a nice time to celebrate our blessings. Period.
    I don't quite understand the anger coming across from atheists. You believe (or don't believe) what you'd like and I'll believe what I'd like. There is no reason for name calling. Or putting a crucified Jesus on your front lawn with glowing eyes (like one commentator suggested). Why so angry?
    May God bless you anyway!

    December 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  17. decarlooliver

    I,am christian but I plan on celebrating your Atheist Holiday (April-Fools day)and love it,thank u from a student of the Prince of peace!Peace

    December 23, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  18. Not Christian

    Not a Christian, not an Atheist. There are worse things in life than to have others believe there is a holiday which spurs them to be nice and help others. I do, however, take issue with my taxes paying the wages of government employees to take off of work for a religious holiday, and for students to not be learning in the classroom for 2 weeks in December and another week in April for religious reasons. Lastly, I take offense that I am forced to not shop or eat out on someone else's holiday.

    December 23, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  19. Mike in NY

    100 million people were killed during the Crusades? Really? Did folks die of anything else than being killed by Crusaders back in the day? Because that sounds like it would exceed the given population of Europe for much of the period.

    Between the wild claims, mean-spiritedness, arrogance, and yes, intolerance of many of the atheist posters here, I can't help but wonder if this is the best that atheism has to offer. Would the world really be a better place if it were filled with people like this? I have a hard time believing it would.

    On another note, regardless of whether atheism meets the textbook definition of a religion, it meets the "spirit" of the definition (if I can use that term!). I don't think it would be inappropriate for a public school teacher to say "there are no unicorns or elves". But it would be just as inappropriate for him or her to teach students "there is no God", as it would be to teach them "Jesus is God".

    To all you who celebrate Christmas – Merry Christmas! To those of who do not, I hope you enjoy the season no matter how (or if) you celebrate it...

    December 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  20. vebjorn

    yule (pagan holiday celebrating the winter solstice) = jul (christmas in norwegian). god jul = merry christmas in norsk!

    December 23, 2010 at 3:13 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.