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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. Kevin R

    I am an atheist who enjoys christmas. I cannot imagine anyone having a quarrel about the ideas of peace, love, and goodwill towards others. It is just a shame that more christians don't actually live those beliefs

    December 23, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  2. James

    My view on Atheists is: If you don't want to believe in God or an afterlife then do so, but why mouth off about it and try to destroy something that gives many people a reason to live? To believe in something is to gain something, to disbelieve is to take something away. I'm fed up with you bunch of disillusioned crackpots trying to rob God's people of His gift. Go burn in Hell and kiss the devil's ass and let us believers kiss the feet of God.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  3. Guy

    The solstice was never actually Jesus' birthday... the celebration was just moved to that time to make Christianity easier to accept for the pagans...

    December 23, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  4. Chuckie

    Krystale...spoken like someone who knows nothing about Catholcism.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
  5. Dogismycopilot

    There have been so many posts on here. Nothing I say will be much different. However, after having read many of these posts, I have to shout from the rooftops – Believe whatever your want! Just don't knock at my door selling your brand. Don't preach to my child at her public school, don't use your beliefs to justify war - LEAVE ME ALONE! If you want to believe in a fairy tale because it makes you feel better, – go for it. I love the Jewish religion because it so very quiet, no one tries to convert you. Thank you! Now – enjoy your holiday however you do. I am off to make an offering to my dog.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
  6. Jim

    Whats the Problem- ??? Atheists have a holiday every year- It is written " The Fool believes in their heart there is no God" & we celibate "April Fools day" in their honor. 😉

    December 23, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  7. Josh

    Bahaha at the pastor's argument. "No, we didn't take that holiday from you freaky-deaky pagans and your winter solstice. It's called Christ-mas dummy, so it's ours."

    December 23, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  8. BeTheSolutionNotTheProblem

    I DO NOT CARE IF YOU ARE AN ATHEIST OR IF YOU BELIEVE IN A GOD OR MANY GODS. I can say that those who are insulting others based on their beliefs are ignorant and petty. Anyway....Everyone should pull their heads out of their rear ends, and think about how this time of year is a great time to spend with family and friends, and to volunteer to help those who have nothing. It is much more productive than arguing on the internet. Watching paint dry is more productive than that. I already set up an online Red Kettle to get donations for the Salvation Army, and have volunteered to help make Christmas Dinner for those who can't afford it. What have YOU done?

    December 23, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  9. jordygordy

    @wwrd thank you so much for saying that! I totally agree with you!

    I think people get to caught up in the commercialism of christmas. Not to say i dont buy gifts, but its to show my appreciation towards my family and a few good friends, bot because tradition demands it. And Its about celebrating the birth of our saviour jesus christ... Look at the his last name, and than look at the first syllable in the word christmas... Connection? Ya...

    And i dont see why aethist should have any reason to celebrate something they don't believe in, and people are always talking about stupid preachers who do bad things, but thats always in the news, have ever watched your local new channel and seen a preacher who helped a teenager through a tough time in his life on there? I havent. We all have good and evil in us and as much as there is bad things in the world, there is twice as much good at least thats what i choose to believe.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  10. lionel from Nigeria

    I Feel so sorry for those who do not believe that there is a God and that Jesus is the Reason for Christmas, one day when they die they will stand before this God that they have spent their entire life denying. Then they will really be sorry for all this rubbish and insults that they have thrown at God, but by then it will be too late. Its not a very smart move to deny the existence of God take it from a man who used to be an Atheist until I saw the folly of my ways.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  11. cs

    I never understood don't take Christ out of chirstmas and all that. Christmas was a pagan holiday first, ya know the one of HUNDREDs of religions that existed before Christian faith...it's not theres. And for them to whine it has been ruined? It was never theirs to begin with. Until of course they murdered anyone who didn't believe...lumped all the other religions to devil worship (which the devil didn't pop up till 400 years ago, so honestly all the ills of the world are "gods" doing anyway)

    If it breaks someones heart that we can't be nice to each other one time of year because of the invisible man in the skies mutant baby born in un-natural means using magic and necomancy across the world and considered a savior....well to bad.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
  12. John

    Um, Katie Glaeser, I'm sorry to say that most "Christmas" holiday traditions have nothing to do with Christianity. Usurping the traditions of others is not the same as creating traditions. Evergreen trees are a pagan symbol of the strength of nature to endure the winter. All of these traditions fell on the Solstice for a reason. the renewal of the sun. Most of the nativity story comes from the ancient stories of Mitras. A "sun god" who was born on the new (read virgin) year in a cave, and who brought light to mankind. Sun god or son of God? Mithraists celebrated the solstice by giving gifts, feasting, signing songs, and decorating with silver and gold. The Romans had similar traditions associated with their celebration of Saturnalia. While the Christmas story is a nice one, there is nothing original about it, nor are many, if any, of the Christmas traditions. Decorate, give freely, sing, dance, and love your fellow man. If you claim it is because of religion, so be it.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  13. john Pappas

    There's got to be more than 5% who are atheist. I must know every person in that 5% then cause I don't really know anyone who believes in religion.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  14. LiveFreeOrDieNH

    If I get this right, Jesus might have been born... at some time of year... maybe...
    Hmmm, sounds like a reason to have another rum punch! Welcome back SUN!

    December 23, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  15. Nottabeliever_So_Back_Off

    There has been a healthy conversation about this in the Washington Post of late. Dec. 25th was not really a "Christian" date for celebration but a Pagan one originally. Same with the tree. The solstice has been happenin' way longer than 2010 years, and that's a special thing to celebrate. Christians are threatened by a small percentage of athiests, which is also pretty ridiculous (unless the Christians really don't have "faith.).

    December 23, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
  16. Jebus

    I have serious doubts about that 5%... I would love to see the source of that. That would mean around 15M Americans are Atheist and that to me does just not sound right. Should be at least 15% but I have no sources and neither thus the author of this article.

    The only time, I will be celebrating anything is when we do have equal beliefs in this country. In other words, when any religion can enter the white house, that might not be today or within my life time but when it does happen I will be laughing from the grave while maggots eat my brains out.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:00 pm |
  17. Rock God

    Jesus is coming! He's coming on Saturday! He'll be recording a duet with Beyonce. IT'S IN THE BIBLE!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
  18. John

    Jesus was actually born in July, so I don't know what that pastor's yammering about.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  19. Uberscrooge

    Atheist here, with mildly Buddhist and Stoic leanings; have always celebrated Christmas with no problem. Partly for my kids, partly for my ex and my current wife who found and find it very important, even though no one in either of my families has been or is religious. It is just a time to come together, enjoy a celebration, see out one year and prepare for the next.

    As a devout Catholic until my teens, I reveled in all of the religious traditions. Served as an altar boy at many a Midnight Mass. No regrets for any of it, despite leaving the church decades ago. Happily wish a Merry Christmas to all of you who are Christian, of whatever denomination, Happy Hanukkah to those who are Jewish, Happy Eid or the equivalent to the Muslims, and happy holidays or season's greetings to everyone else. Peace, love, and joy are universal, or should be. And we can all celebrate that.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
  20. mdonln

    My biggest problem with this time of year is the mindlessness of it all. Whenever I see people behaving like well trained monkeys or Pavlovian dogs it annoys me. I don’t get how we honor our ancestors by doing the things they did even when those things don’t fit or relate to our current lives.

    Didn’t they do many of those things we now call traditions because they had to do them in order to survive and thrive? Didn’t they endure so much so we could have better lives?

    I totally get why the retail industry and the organized religions of the world value tradition – they benefit a great deal from it. In fact, they’re usually the ones triggering the automatic responses – it‘s what keeps them in business. What I don’t understand is why so many of us allow ourselves to be so easily controlled.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:32 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.