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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. Lia Therese

    I've been an atheist for about two years, and I still celebrate Christmas. I celebrate it because of the messages of love and family and friends, and also because I'm a 15 year old girl who still enjoys getting presents! I don't see anything wrong with an atheist celebrating it, even though we don't believe in God. Christmas can be for anyone, no matter what they think.

    December 25, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  2. Lars

    Aren't most europeans atheists? OK, I live in Scandinavia, so maybe we are a bit more enlightened here 🙂 , but when I think about people talking about "God", I think about Americans. A person talking about invisible beings in the sky which they call God, Allah, or the pink monster on the backside of the moon would not stand a chance to become, say, head of state in my country, while in the U.S., the opposite seems to hold true. U.S. presidential candidates as well as presidents often make referenses to "God" which is funny at best, and scary when done Bush-style. In that particular way, the U.S. is eerily similar to Iran or other nations where supernatural beings has a saying in how the nation is run.

    December 25, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  3. Ben Mohammed

    Christians man your in samsara. I'm just glad i have this life which shows me my coalesant energy is so far evolved then you and i wont be subject to your ignorant thinking ever again. Dont get me wrong i'm still very ignorant animal but christians arent even human thinking there scared and weak.

    December 25, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  4. NotASucker

    Yeah, Atheism is a religion... as much as NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.

    December 25, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  5. stevie68a

    Sorry, folks, it's all a myth. Most christians were brainwashed as children to believe in nonsense. There is some good in religion,
    but that doesn't make it true. Even the "peace on earth" is a scam because it's only a diffuser to people who want to strike back at all the injustices they endured all year,(Gays, for instance). Why doesn't the church call for peace at easter? Because it's a
    time to celebrate murder! Yep, just a racket. People should be taught ethics, and not be promised an afterlife. There is only the
    here and now. There is no yesterday or tomorrow. Not a speck of proof for heaven and hell. Grow up already.

    December 25, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  6. Lars

    Aren't most europeans atheists? OK, I live in Scandinavia, so maybe we are a bit more enlightened here 🙂 , but when I think about people talking about "God", I think about Americans. A person talking about invisible beings in the sky which they call God, Allah, or the pink monster on the backside of the moon would not stand a chance to become, say, head of state in my country, while in the U.S., the opposite seems to hold true. U.S. presidential candidates as well as presidents often make referenses to "God" which is funny at best, and scary when done Bush-style. In that particular way, the U.S. is eerily similar to Iran or other nations where made-up, supernatural beings has a saying in how the nation is run.

    December 25, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  7. Phil

    I was raised catholic but years ago became an atheist. It doesn't make me bitter toward other people because they believe in religion. I still put up a christmas tree and put thousands of lights outside the house because it looks pretty...not because I'm celebrating the holiday. People seem to think atheists are bitter, mean people. Most of us aren't. We just don't subscribe to the beliefs that those who follow religion do.

    December 25, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  8. guestwhite

    There is no reason to be up n arms about this Holiday; you grow up and come to realize "Jesus" is a codeword for 'justifiable homicide' and that's how He exacts His Revenge.

    December 25, 2010 at 7:57 am |
  9. Bill

    So I have a question for you that are atheists. Why do you call not only my God mythical, but other peoples as well. You are supposed to be the people of knowledge and reason, but wiht all your knowledge and reason you still don't see how that could make people mad as hell? There are 2 choices I see here... either your knowledge and reason is a smoke screen or you are doing it on purpose. AND that makes you exactly like the people you are complaining about.... and isn't it funny that cnn files a story about ahtesim under belief

    December 25, 2010 at 6:23 am |
  10. The solution

    Merry Christmas One And All

    The previous 24 hours have been brought to you by intolerance. For being intollerant of religion is only one step away from the posts provided. Being intollerant of a sincel religion is exactly what the posts provided imply.. be carefull on this day of good will and peace that you provide each other with the kindness and love that each of you want and none of you are willing to give.

    December 25, 2010 at 6:16 am |
  11. Robert Meek

    “ '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 Kyev Tatum, pastor of Friendship Rock Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, & president of the Fort Worth chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference."

    This preacher is dead wrong, saying "Christ was born during this time"! I get so tired of people saying what they do NOT know. Read below....

    http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/was-jesus-born-on-december-25-faq.htm

    "Was Jesus born on December 25? There is no evidence for this date. So then, who decided that Jesus' birth would be celebrated on that date? The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus' birth. It wasn't until A.D. 440 that the church officially proclaimed December 25 as the birth of Christ. This was not based on any religious evidence but on a pagan feast. Saturnalia was a tradition inherited by the Roman pagans from an earlier Babylonian priesthood. December 25 was used as a celebration of the birthday of the sun god. It was observed near the winter solstice."

    "The Bible itself tells us that December 25 is an unlikely date for His birth. Palestine is very cold in December. It was much too cold to ask everyone to travel to the city of their fathers to register for taxes. Also the shepherds were in the fields (Luke 2:8-12). Shepherds were not in the fields in the winter time. They are in the fields early in March until early October. This would place Jesus' birth in the spring or early fall. It is also known that Jesus lived for 33.5 years and died at the feast of the Passover, which is at Easter time. He must therefore have been born six months the other side of Easter – making the date around the September/October time frames. "

    December 25, 2010 at 4:18 am |
    • Muneef

      Robert Meek.

      About being exact time of Jesus I think it could be worked out from the sura above named as Maryem where it says;

      But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; (24) "And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: it will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee. (25) "So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man say `I have vowed a fast to (Allah) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being.' " (26).

      So guess if where he was born and at what time period the Palm Trees has ripe dates ready for eating there only then we can have an approximate time unless fruiting times do change due whether changes? Well then we might not figure it out...!?

      December 25, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • Muneef

      Robert Meek.
      Type of the palm tree plays a role as well but not much difference.

      December 25, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  12. Pastafarian

    YBP: Wow! I didn't know any of that. Thanks for the informative post.

    December 25, 2010 at 3:31 am |
  13. Ted Marino

    as robert service said I lost my belif in santa clause whe iwas barely seven, at 21 alack a day i lost my hope in heaven, yet not in either lies the curse the hell of its because, i don't know which loss was the worst, my god or santa clause

    December 25, 2010 at 2:49 am |
  14. Pastafarian

    Religious people are creepy. I mean, look at the pope. What a freakshow the whole thing is. Future generations will get a good laugh out of how stupid and ignorant we are today.

    December 25, 2010 at 2:36 am |
  15. Ted Marino

    Yes Xmas is pagan in context but the atheist has to admit, the pagans believed in numerous gods. Whats wrong with having a belief in something tangible or intangible?

    December 25, 2010 at 2:28 am |
  16. GFreas

    Silly atheists. Still haven't figured out that the only reason they have the freedom to not believe in God is because of all of the religious people who founded and grew this country.

    Atheists fail to realize that Christianity is the basis for our moral beliefs and laws. On what moral basis would our laws be based but for Christianity? Without god, without religion, and the morals that flow therefrom, what would stop us from exercising our aggressive human nature and killing one another for personal gain? Certainly not atheism.

    December 25, 2010 at 1:46 am |
  17. Tanya

    Jesus will remain forever the greatest man on Earth, and he deserves that his birthday be celebrated together with the New Year regardless of the actual date of his birth.

    December 24, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  18. Muneef

    Al-Baqara sura 02:
    They say: "Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (to salvation)." Say thou: "Nay! (I would rather) the Religion of Abraham is True, and he joined not gods with Allah." (135) Say ye: "We believe, in Allah and the revelation given to us and to Abraham Isma`il Isaac Jacob and the Tribes and that given to Moses and Jesus and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord we make no difference between one and another of them and we bow to Allah (in Islam)." (136) So if they believe as ye believe they are indeed on the right path; but if they turn back, it is they who are in schism; but Allah will suffice thee as against them, and He is the All-Hearing the All- Knowing. (137) (Our religion is) the Baptism of Allah; and who can baptize better than Allah? and it is He whom we worship. (138) Say: Will ye dispute with us about Allah, seeing that He is our Lord and your Lord; that we are responsible for our doings and ye for yours; and that we are sincere (in our faith) in Him? (139) Or do ye say that Abraham Isma`il Isaac Jacob and the Tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Do ye know better than Allah? Ah! who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah? But Allah is not unmindful of what ye do! (140).

    Al-E-Imran sura 03:
    It is not (possible) that a man to whom is given the Book, and Wisdom, and the prophetic, office should say to people: "Be ye my worshippers rather than Allah's; on the contrary (he would say): "Be ye worshippers of Him (Who is truly the Cherisher of all) for ye have taught the Book and ye have studied it earnestly." (79) Nor would he instruct you to take angels and prophets for Lords and Patrons. What! Would he bid you to unbelief after ye have bowed your will (to Allah in Islam)? (80).

    December 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
  19. Muneef

    Az-Zukhruf sura 43:
    When Jesus came with Clear Signs, he said: "Now have I come to you with Wisdom, and in order to make clear to you some of the (points) on which ye dispute: therefore fear Allah and obey me. (63) "For Allah; He is my Lord and your Lord: so worship ye Him: this is a Straight Way." (64) But sects from among themselves fell into disagreement: then woe to the wrongdoers, from the Penalty of a Grievous Day! (65).

    As-Saff sura 61:
    And remember Jesus, the son of Mary, said: "O Children of Israel! I am the Messenger of Allah (sent) to you confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving glad Tidings of an Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad." But when he came to them with Clear Signs they said "This is evident sorcery!" (6) Who doth greater wrong than one who invents falsehood against Allah, even as he is being invited to Islam? And Allah guides not those who do wrong. (7) Their intention is to extinguish Allah's Light (by blowing) with their mouths: but Allah will complete (the revelation of) His Light, even though the Unbelievers may detest (it). (8) It is He Who has sent His Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth, that he may proclaim it over all religion, even though the Pagans may detest (it). (9).

    December 24, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  20. Muneef

    Maryam sura 19:
    Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. (16) She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them: then We sent to her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. (17) She said: "I seek refuge from thee to (Allah) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah." (18) He said: "Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son." (19) She said: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?" (20) He said: "So (it will be): thy Lord saith `That is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us': it is a matter (so) decreed." (21) So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place. (22) And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: she cried (in her anguish): "Ah! would that I had died before this! Would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!" (23) But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; (24) "And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: it will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee. (25) "So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man say `I have vowed a fast to (Allah) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being.' " (26).

    December 24, 2010 at 8:53 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.