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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. Krystale

    Dear Katie,

    So what's you're problem with Christians again? You do realize its 2010? I'm pretty sure Columbus wouldn't like this article...or the POPE...or um...Abraham. Did you speak with the Queen of England. Or wait, you think Santa is for Atheist but against Christians who celebrate Christmas and followers of the joyful fun in the season? I know I'm being a jerk... but so are you. Tell the president of Atheism to add itself to the circle of religions. At least you will be the newest of the group.There's much catching up to do with Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Good Luck!

    December 23, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  2. ohnoooo!

    atheist are like dogs in heat. When they get stuck together they yap a lot!

    December 23, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
  3. Bill

    christmas is already mostly pagan

    December 23, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
  4. another atheist

    haveing been raised in a christian household the one thing i cant seem to give up from christianity is saying 'god damn it'

    December 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  5. AtheistFamilyMan

    I consider myself an Atheist (meaning that I don't believe in any god or gods) and I love this time of year. We do Christmas with the stockings and the tree and everything because we consider it a relatively secular holiday for family friends and fun! It's true that it's often a time for enhanced attempts at proselytizing from many Christian sects, but that doesn't bother me. Let them preach, let them display their nativity scenes wherever they will. I find it fascinating.

    But most of all, I can't thank the American culture enough for the myth of Santa Claus. I mean, it's really like a training exercise in throwing off religious faith designed for children. First we lie to them about the existence of a magical being, then they later find out that we were lying or tell us that they suspect we were...eventually the little tikes learn that anyone can lie, even those in authority, even those they trust.. and they learn to trust their own ability to reason things out... It's just great! I couldn't ask for anything better. I just don't get why so many atheist families reject the whole shebang, they're really missing the out on an excellent teaching experience IMO.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  6. Krystale

    oh my. life can never be peaceful even for an atheist to rant on Christmas and to those who celebrate it with their own meanings and understanding of it. Whether a believer of Christ or not...why must one go way out of their way to disrupt the Joy of the season? What a sad lonely person. Btw...Atheist do believe in something...its called their own ideology and theories compiled of everyone else's world view and their world view on life. I suppose picking and choosing what you believe starts with a little faith of something. You can't really avoid it as a human being...unless there is something you have to say...maybe that you're not human. lol. I'm just sayn.What a narrow little mind it can be for atheist to deny their own world view as a faith. After all you will die believing the same thing for the rest of your life? What great faith you have in your belief(world view). Make it a religion like everyone else who has a faith to believe in something. I don't think my Atheist friends have it figured out like they leave the world to believe.

    Merry Christmas friends. Please keep JOY in the holidays. Forgive those who try to take it too.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
    • Scott

      @Krystale: Atheism is not a religion in the same way that bald is not a hair color

      December 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
  7. Jake

    I'm surprised that the author didn't mention (or maybe doesn't know) that most "Christmas traditions" are actually Pagan in origin and have nothing to do with Christianity. If one wonders why athiests celebrate what have become family traditions passed down over the years, he must also wonder why Christians celebrate these Pagan-based traditions.

    In fact, I would suggest it is much stranger for Christians to celebrate these Pagan rituals than Athiests. For Christians, they are performing the ritual of a conflicting theology. For Athiests, it's simply about tradition, family, friends, giving, cheer, celebration, etc. – no conflict of interest as we don't believe in either theology in the first place.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  8. ohnoooo!

    Atheist poor atheist, you will find the truth soon enough. Feels bad that everyone looks down on you in society, doesn't it?

    December 23, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • Jake

      Hate to break it to you, but you're actually looking up (you've got to be upside down to be religious)!

      And to be serious:
      1) I don't believe for a second that "most" of the world really believes in a god. We already know that the most intelligent people do not.
      2) Yes, it does feel bad that there are people in the world who are so delusional that they actually believe in these things. The world is much worse off as a result of the atrocities and ignorance caused by religion.

      December 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  9. shamgar50

    People have always celebrated this time of year. Long before Jesus, there were winter solstice celebrations. That's why Christmas is celebrated this time of the year, not because Jesus was born on December 25 (which he wasn't).

    December 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  10. CDMH

    I've never understood why atheists are so offended by those that embrace Christianity. What do atheists care if Christians are "deluded"? What harm does it really do if there are people walking around that have accepted a faith that preaches God's love and forgiveness? Christians aren't perfect of course (because they're human), and hypocrisy is easy to find if you look for it. We Christians preach our message because we believe it and we believe it is important. Others do not have to accept the message–we can't make anyone DO anything. But please let us know if you change your mind! 🙂 And if Christians didn't have a "monopoly" on the December celebration, we'd just have it at another time of year because we choose to celebrate Christ's birth and the hope that it brings. Peace and love this season. Merry Christmas!

    December 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
    • Scott

      @ I’m not offended by people embracing Christianity. I’m offended by people trying to cram their religion down my throat. I’m offended that Christians whined so loudly about atheists getting their fair say on the Texas buses that both got tossed off. I’m offended that so many Christians think freedom of speech should only apply to them…

      December 23, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  11. oak poop

    as a god fearing american, christmas is a time of horror for me because the world is going to end on christmas this year.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  12. an atheist

    I remember getting into trouble with an atheist who called me a closet theist because I chose to celebrate Christmas with family. I draw the line at attending religious services but otherwise, I see it as a great excuse to PARTY!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  13. bumlord

    as a sadist, christmas is not celebrated for me

    December 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  14. Norm G

    Atheists view, the snow was white, the Christmas lights were kinda bright and ole St. Nick was a jolly sight. But something, yes, something was missing and it wasn't just the kisshin'. Oh I know, the real reason, for the season. Aw I'm just teasin', atheists must have their reason, for celebrating this Holy Day.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  15. rev richard

    Arguing Christian vs Pagan misses the point, What could be more Pagan than belief in blood sacrice of humans; and sarifice of your son; and characterizing it as love?

    December 23, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  16. Ken Anderson

    It all boils down to time. It takes billions of years for the light of the most distant detectable stars to reach our planet. the Bible indicates that our planet is only 10,000 years or less old. therefore, the bible is wrong and therefore not the perfect work of any perfect God. Since the foundation of the Bible is the creation of everything 6010 years ago and is obviously wrong, then the Bible is mythology and not worth anymore than any other myth. Christians refuse to acknowledge the truth and discriminate against those that are able to discern reality. I celebrate the holidays because it's a nice thing. It's not a nice thing to mislead and lie to people in order to suck up power and gold. I celebrate the departure of days growing shorter and colder and the legenthtening of days and the promise of Spring. like all people have since we became aware of the changing seasons. Seasons Greetings to all.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  17. Separist

    More power to all to celebrate their religious beliefs if it makes them happy, their lives easier to live, + there is no violence attached.
    I am a happy nonbeliever, but I am occasionally curious about others beliefs.
    Really what makes me angy + offends me is not separating religious belefs etc from our government policies + cramming other's religious beliefs down the nonbelivers throats!
    I would like to be able to discuss openly, in public, that nonbelief is OK! Just as believers discuss their religion.
    Instead so many of us, I think, do not openly discuss this. I think there must be many more closet nonbelievers out there!
    Maybe 2011 will bring out the non believers!
    This has been a great forum for discussion. And for the most part, quite civil!
    Happy holidays to all!

    December 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  18. Anna

    This is RIDICULOUS!!! Christmas is about the birth of Christ. End of story. Celebrating the season?? What season do you think you are celebrating??? The CHRISTMAS season. You can go on and on about how you put lights up and put a tree up, but those things are only a part of this time of year because it is CHRISTMAS-time. This nonsense about people putting up a "holiday tree" is plainly that... NONSENSE. And the idea that I'm told to say Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas to you because it might be offensive since you don't believe what I believe is again, nonsense. You are doing the very thing you are asking me not to! Hypocrites.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!!!!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  19. runawayuniverse

    We are all atheists about most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further

    Richard Dawkins

    December 23, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  20. Swordteacher

    Who said anyone who is not a christian is an athiest?

    December 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • lacoaster

      Ditto!

      December 24, 2010 at 2:29 am |
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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.