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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. Abed

    The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning – Abed from Community

    December 23, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
  2. C.O.M.

    I think it is ironic that Atheists are giving moral guidelines for people who believe there is no standard for universal moral belief.

    Merry Christmas

    December 23, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
  3. Mattias

    MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY !!

    I cannot believe CNN let them put something like this against Christians and Christmas season!

    God Bless all Christians and happy Birthday Jesus Christ – We love you forever!

    December 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  4. Larry Q. Griswald

    After I die, if I find myself in a place where there are nothing but book-thump Christians or hard-core Mormons or fundamentalist Muslims, and I have to spend eternity with them worshiping the wonderfulness of whatever diety actually happens to be there, well, that's pretty much my definition of Hell.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  5. kmandew

    I will take the day off anyways. I think we should get off for all the gods' holidays. Zeus day, shiva day, etc...
    If the morons want to pay me to not work, I'll take it. We could even take off for Joe Smith, Mohamamed, budda, krishna, david koresh, etc.
    Maybe I would only have to work 2 weeks a year at my crappy government job.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  6. Murray

    What a bunch of self-absorbed idiots...

    December 23, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
  7. Clare

    I'm an American living in Singapore and here the "Federal Holidays" are a mix of Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and National. Everyone seems happy to have a day off and to acknowledge the holidays of the other cultures. It is 9am on Christmas eve and I have been wished "Merry Christmas" by 5 Hindus already. (NOT "Happy Holidays") A good bit of tolerance would go a long way in America.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  8. justaschmuck

    I don't know why anyone would be offended by celebrations of faith. As an atheist I couldn't care less about the religious underpinnings of Christimas and while I do not believe in Jesus I enjoy Christmas and all it's trappings. Likewise I do not believe in demons or the occult, nonetheless I love celebrating Halloween. These special occasions are days to celebrate and I look forward to all of them with vigor. Enjoy life while you can...Peace on earth.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  9. Jim Bob

    Christmas was a major pagan holiday long before Jesus. It was a seasonal festival with many names which the Christians co-opted for their god. Every religion has its own version such as Chanukkah, Diwali, Saturnalia etc.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  10. I am YOUR Samurai Cowboy

    Jesus is NOT the Reason for The Season. Come on. You know it's a myth. Cast off the bond of Christian Slavery and think for yourself

    This meesage brought to you by YOUR neighbohood Samurai Cowboy. Looking out for you because the police can't.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  11. amber

    I find this kind of strange. I don't celebrate Christmas, because it's a religious holiday and I'm not religious. I am not judgmental about the holiday though, as it's a pretty normal thing. I will attend my friend's Christmas parties, and about every other year spend the holiday with my parents, as they are Christian. I certainly don't decorate my house, or buy Christmas presents or any such thing. The way Americans celebrate Christmas is rather harmless in my eyes (with the exception of the gross consumerism). I appreciate the want for people to be extra kind to each other and do more of the "right" things because of a specific time of year. I say roll with it Christians, but don't take offense that I don't ... as I mean no harm. =)

    December 23, 2010 at 8:44 pm |
  12. Danny Hilbert

    There really is a Santa Clause but there is NO Jesus. Most everyone believes in Santa, not Jesus. They tell their children to be good or otherwise they will not get anything from Santa. They put up decorations of Santa with his reindeer and tell stories of the little elves. Of course, this is exactly what advertisers and the media want. They want to sell more products. More products mean more money.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  13. JC

    This was an utterly stupid article. Why even produce this non-story? Didn't Jefferson say "In matters of fashion, swim with the current..." ? People do that. And it doesn't hurt to have a break at the end of the year where lots of money can be made. Making money; now that's the true spirit of Christmas. But to be a complete troll, I have to say that I'm curious just how many virgins were left in Israel after the Roman legions hammered through the immediate area at least twice to put down rebellions by people with messiah complexes.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
  14. Jenn

    Seriously, Jesus was NOT born in December. Shepards would not have been out in the fields tending flocks at night in the middle of a cold Jerusalem winter.

    http://www.herealittletherealittle.net/index.cfm?page_name=Jesus-Birthday

    December 23, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • Mike

      Of course you are correct. The entire Christian mythology was written to coincide with many existing festivals. Christmas is the Pagen Yule Tide.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule

      December 23, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  15. Mike

    I loved this post. I am an atheist but totally have similar feelings.
    American Jew
    As a Jew, I am not offended by Christmas. I appreciate the beauty of it and I am glad my gentile friends have something to celebrate. Do I personally celebrate Christmas? No, obviously not. But that does not mean that I will try to take away from others' joys.

    In Judaism we have our own joys all year round, from our holiest holiday of Shabbat which occurs every Friday at sundown through nightfall Saturday, to the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; Sukkot; Pesach (passover); Shavuot; to our minor holidays of Chanukkah (most gentiles don't know it is actually a very minor holiday for us), Tu B'Shevat, and Purim among other holidays and occasions.

    As a Jew, I would not want others to lesson my joy during my sacred times, so why would I do that to Christians on their holiday?

    May all of you Christians be blessed with a happy Christmas season!

    December 23, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  16. standingwave

    Why shouldn't athiests celebrate Christmas?Plenty of Christians celebrate New Years Eve just a week later.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
  17. Mike

    Virtually all aspects of the Christmas celebrations, excepting the actual Jesus element. predate Christianity and were part of the celtic and pagan festivals. As an atheist myself I am happy to share this time of goodwill and friendship with all.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
  18. Donovan

    Christmas is just another pagan holiday that was taken over by the Christians. They did that with almost EVERY holiday. Most of these are PAGAN in their roots. The Christians, in order to try to "convert" the pagans .... superimposed a "Christian" celebration over an already existing pagan one ... that way they could say that they were celebration something like "Jesus' birth" instead of the original.

    December 23, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  19. SwtSthrnMiss

    That was meant for Charlie. Very nice reply.

    December 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  20. Child of Christ

    I feel nothing but pity for all of you who do not believe in the Father or His Son Jesus, whom is God Himself in human form. It is written that all who deny the Son also deny the Father and believe me.....Hell isn't going to be a very fun place for any of you who do deny Christ. Sit back and say you don't believe it...but one day...when Jesus comes back you will all know it...just try putting your hand on a burning flame...you can take it away now...but one day you won't be able to. God doesn't want this for anyone...but it is your choice and you'll have to live with the consequences for eternity. In Christ's love....MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!! PRAISE BE TO MY GOD!!!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
    • Scott

      Grow up. Threats of the boogey man are not very effective

      "If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If his is infinitely
      wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, shy warn him of
      our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect
      temples to him? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has
      filled with weakness? . . .If he is reasonable how can he be angry at the blind, to whom
      he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? If he is inconceivable why occupy ourselves
      with him?

      December 23, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
    • Child of Christ

      Its not a threat...its a promise.

      December 23, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
    • Donovan

      I could NEVER believe in a "god" that was so arrogant ... so self-centered ... as to DEMAND worship. There may be a god out there somewhere, but it's DEFINATELY NOT the "christian" one.

      December 23, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
    • Jenn

      DEUTERONOMY 12:28 "Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God. 29 When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, 30 take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' 31 "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. 32 Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (NKJV)

      We all know it is the Christians who have both ADDED and TAKEN AWAY FROM the original words of God, and Jesus. It is they who shall be punished, not us.

      December 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
    • Child of Christ

      My last comment on this thread is this.....We are each only one heartbeat away from eternity...where do you want to spend yours. I pray you make the right choice.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:20 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.