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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. Geoff Fritz

    The early Christians hijacked December 25th from the Pagans worshippers so who are they to say they have exclusive rights to Dec 25th.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  2. Noel

    One word: FESTIVUS!

    December 23, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  3. WOW

    Christmas is for everyone, it is ALSO a major Christian holiday. If you are an Atheist, fine! Just be merry, celebrate and stop bad mouthing us Christians please. Some people take pride in being REAL giving Christians, ones who give all year round, not just during the Christmas season. I was so surprised to see how much anger this article sparked. REDICULOUS!!! Happy Holidays to ALL!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  4. grvol

    Hopefully christians will some day grow up and realize that just like there really is no Santa Claus there really is no God either.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:55 am |
    • richunix_2000

      It's going to take time, remeber they have had 5000 years of a belief in God(s), depending of year 1 or many. So they are not going to change anytime soon.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:59 am |
    • Dan

      There is no Christmas without Christ, the name Christmas speaks for itself. MERRY CHRISTMAS ALL CHILDREN OF GOD OUT THERE. THE BIRTH OF THE SAVOUR OF THE WORLD IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.

      December 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Dan

      Dan the bible-beater is a nut case.

      December 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  5. David Johnson

    The Doxology: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow"

    Why does Jesus give more and better presents to kids with rich parents? Doesn't god love us equally?

    Curious Atheist

    December 23, 2010 at 9:55 am |
    • Bill In STL

      David – He loves you enough to leave you alone and let you choose. If you choose him then blessings come to you .... If not ... well then why bother? I would think that an Athiest would feel the same way ... and since we choose God you would leave us alone!

      December 23, 2010 at 10:14 am |
    • David Johnson

      @Bill In STL

      Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now, back to the question: If all blessings come from god, why do rich kids get more and better presents that poor kids?

      Cheers!

      December 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • Frogist

      @David Johnson: Yeah, that's a question that has plagued parents and kids forever... I never thought it was fair that my mean cousins got that Hungry Hungry Hippos game and I, obviously being a very good girl, only got half a bowl of gruel... God loves us equally but Santa's a b@stard!

      December 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • Bill In STL

      David, and Frogist ... you don't seem to get it .... Santa and God are not the same. Presents and the goodwill at christmas are not the same.... yet you insist on putting it all together in a single bunch and then ridiculing it. Take a look at the story of Scrooge (yes it is make believe) but Tim's family is happier than any other family in that whole story, they have each other and those things are more important than gifts or other material things. People that put value on presents over good will are people that measure things in a material way ... religion not withstanding. People that equate Santa and God are just plain stupid. religion not withstanding .... read my post at the very top regarding my families belief in Santa and the meaning of christmas .... I think maybe then you will understand.

      December 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Bill In STL

      Santa and god are the same in that they both do not exist. Get it? They are a myth. Understand? God does not exist. He is made up. Are we clear? The Easter Bunny is also not real.

      Jesus, if he existed, is not the Messiah. Jesus is not the Son of God.

      Now, if you would like to tell me how god does exist, I would like to hear it. But, the Yes Virginia There Is a Santa, isn't an argument that is worth much.

      Cheers!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
    • Bill In STL

      David ... what is it about you? Your logic is pretzel logic at best. I can't prove that God exists, but you can't prove he does not so stop whipping out the prove it sword as it gets us nowhere and furthers your little game. I thought you would be glad to be left alone but that does not seem to be the case. Rather than being left alone and happy with your beliefs ... here you are stirring it up ....

      Thanks For Playing !

      Cheers

      December 24, 2010 at 9:17 am |
    • Dan

      @Bill in STL: You are the one with the logic problem.

      December 24, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
  6. Doc Vestibule

    Modern Christmas celebrations draw as much from Coca Cola and Norman Rockwell as from the Bible.
    As a child, my parents made certain that us kids knew the story of Jesus' birth was the reason for Christmas. Now that I've a family of my own, I continue that tradition though nobody in my house is as yet Christian.
    If Solstice celebrations or Saturnalia had comparable legends, I'd be telling those as well. So far I havent' found any depictions of ancient or-gies that I'd care to share with my 4 year old.
    Mythology is an important part of humanity. The stories dreamed up by our ancestors reveal much of how we have developed as a race. While modern XMas bears little resemblance to ancient Christmas, it can be fun to teach kids about why we have these customs and how they evolve over time.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  7. Judes

    As a devote CHRIST follower I laughed when I read this article. Claybigsby and others were right when they said JESUS was not born on December 25. There is strong reason to believe a Sept/Oct birth OR and April birth. It all comes down to Zachariah the Father of John the Baptist and when he was High Priest in the temple. Most of the symbols used in Christmas were borrowed from the pagans. When Constantine the Roman Emperor became a Christian around 300 AD - HE decided to celebrate the birth of our LORD as well establish where most pertinent places in JESUS life were and build a cathedral. Constantine decided his whole kingdom should be Christian and thus told them they now were. So, when looking for times in which to do feasts and celebrations - instead of looking at the Hebrew Traditions which would have aligned with what JESUS actually celebrated - Constantine took the celebrations that the people already had and renamed them. In England around the 1600's Christmas was BANNED by the church as it was just a drunken party time. The puritans banned it in this country too! It did not catch on in this country again until the early 1800's. Heck Washington did the famous Delaware river Crossing to fight the Hessian soldiers on Christmas Eve because he knew the soldiers would be drunk and even passed out due to their excessive partying with Christmas. My family barely celebrates Christmas anymore. We do honor the birth of our Saviour in biblical readings and reflection/worship/prayer but that does not need to be on December 25. I, personally, adore most of the Christian Carols and love doing a candle light service on Christmas Eve but that is more tradition than need. Let the unbelievers celebrate with lights, family and food. It is a great time to get together! (Oh and as for gifts...with the deals out there in the stores you would be silly not to shop...no matter what you believe in!)

    December 23, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  8. ex-mas present

    Christmas, just like any of your other fabricated holidays, is just another smoke screen set up by the establishment to keep you all blind to the truth. We teach our kids to believe in Santa Claus and we've fooled the adults to believe in god. The zombie apocalypse is already upon us and the zombies all have imaginary friends named god.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  9. Kate

    How hypocritical – Athiests do not believe in the existence of God or the birth of Jesus Christ YET celebrate Christmas, where Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ? Atheists are complete idiots and lack the respect of, well, everyone. They cannot even stand behind their own belief / lack of belief.

    At least atheists are "flexible" in their morality and ethos (i.e., they don't have any) – "I don't believe in Jesus Christ but I'm going to celebrate his birth." And then for atheists to criticize Christians for believing in God makes atheists the lowest life form on earth.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:50 am |
    • allanhowls

      Kate, you need to learn the history of your own faith.

      "Christmas" is simply the name given to a holiday celebration made up of several different religious traditions all mashed together and co-opted by Christianity in order to make their faith more palatable to others, in order to convert them.

      As stated in the article itself (you did read the article, right?), A dozen different religions mark the Winter Solstice as the birth of their God. Christianity is neither original nor first in doing so; it's one of the other relgious traditions grafted onto the Nativity story. In fact, amongst most scholars who believed Jesus actually lived, they place his birth in the early months of the year, usually March or April.

      But thank your for reinforcing the thrust of the article, which is that Christians seem to think that they either invented this holdiay, or have a monopoly on how you're supposed to act or celebrate. Nothing like a persecuted majority, I guess. Also nothing like an adherent who can't follow the tenets of their faith.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:10 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Kate, Kate, Kate... You are beating your fists against the wind. atheism is not an organization. atheism does not even exist anymore than asantaism or awizardy. Not believing in something is hardly a basis for make life decisions or anything else. It merely means that a person does not have a belief in a god that influences his or her decisions. That's it, nothing more.

      You seem all frazzled by people that do not believe the same as you. Just relax a little and enjoy the season. Smile and go hug someone you love.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • empiricist

      Kate-

      I think its just a little judgemental to say that ALL "atheists" are immoral. Its like a person who is of any other religion or atheist for that matter saying that ALL Christians are narrow-minded, rude, and complete morons for believing in a silly thing. Really it comes down to in every "sect" of religion ( and most any organization) there are extremists.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:37 am |
    • The earth is 6000 years old, stupid.

      Fake, ignorant, Christian alert!

      December 23, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • MrJTP

      Excuse me. I am an atheist. Unlike other folks of many faiths I do not cram my beliefs down other people's throats. I try to help everyone enjoy their life and faith in their own manner. A majority of my family is Christian. I enjoy helping them enjoy their holiday season in many ways. I participate in gift giving, tree decoration, etc. I, however, know where those traditions originated as does my family and we each allow each other to enjoy their own parts of the season. I don't preach to them and they don't preach to me and we all have a wonderful holiday season. Having read the Bible twice I think that should be the "take home" message from the book. If every one, in their own way, would just acknowledge and respect those around them we would all be happier.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • KMW

      Kate,

      You are right on! The hypocracy of athiests to celebrate OUR holiday. That is just ridiculous and sacrilegious. I will pray for them as I am a Christian and believe in turning the other cheek.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • gifted

      Kate, i am supprised at your intolerant view being Christian and all. As a matter of fact, I with my lack of faith am more tolerant of others than you. I was raised Catholic but have lost my faith in the church and in God. Every time I hear of a child mistreated or killed, I cannot help wondering where the almighty hand of God is and why he or his son would allow a child to die in fear and pain.
      I have decided to believe in Santa Clause instead. No one has ever died or comitted murder based on his or her belief in Santa. So I lift my glass of egg nog to Santa and wish you all a Merry What Every you Beleive In.

      December 23, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • Tina

      @ KMW "That is just ridiculous and sacrilegious. I will pray for them as I am a Christian and believe in turning the other cheek."

      O, never have I seen such pious and Christian turning of a cheek. I can only pray one day to be grace-filled enough to be able to call people names as I "cheek" them.

      December 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  10. Tim

    Many are aware that Christmas is not a Christian observance, but originated as a pagan Roman observance of Saturnalia on December 17-24, and culminated on December 25 with the celebration of the birthday of Mithra, ancient Medo-Persian god of light. Regarding the date for Christmas celebrations, the Enciclopedia de la Religión Católica frankly states: “The reason that the Roman Church decided to assign this date to the festival seems to be its tendency to replace pagan festivals with Christian ones. . . . We know that in Rome at that time, the pagans consecrated December 25 as the celebration of natalis invicti, the birth of the ‘invincible sun.’”

    December 23, 2010 at 9:48 am |
    • richunix_2000

      It seems to me they (Christians) just replaced the Roman pagen festival with there own pagen festival

      December 23, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  11. Bill In STL

    It seems that if Christians celebrated the birth of Christ on the correct day, then they would be guilty of monopolizing the holiday, and the 5% of non believers would all gather on this forum and run them down.....

    December 23, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  12. David Johnson

    Something for the atheists to think about:

    Jesus died so we can have Christmas!

    Happy Holidays!

    December 23, 2010 at 9:46 am |
    • mickey

      actually i believe that's easter.
      the one with the bunny.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • Geoff Fritz

      Jesus died so we could have Christmas? Don't let basic facts get in the way of a good argument. Plus Jesus wasn't born anywhere near 25th December, the early Christians "borrowed" that day from the early Pagans.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:01 am |
    • CaleinLanett

      I thought it was Easter

      December 23, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • noteabags

      I thought he was born at Christmas, died on Good Friday, and rose on Easter.

      None the less... I find that people claiming to be "Christian" don't typically act that way. I believe in being a good person and not hating anyone. It's simple.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:03 am |
    • David Johnson

      See, it just doesn't make a difference. LOL

      Cheers!

      December 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  13. BBQueen

    What always amazes me about atheists is how hard they argue their point, but then celebrate Christmas. Don't they know where that wish for peace and goodwill comes from?

    December 23, 2010 at 9:45 am |
    • richunix_2000

      yes we do and it does not come in the way of a the fairy tale.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:48 am |
    • BBQueen

      On that we agree.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • MarkinFL

      The wish for peace and goodwill has existed for thousands of years, however poorly reality treats it.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  14. Pagan Me

    I don't care if Christians celebrate Christmas, but could you all please tone it down a bit? It does not have to be a gawdy, annoying, shopaholics nightmare that it is today.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  15. BAN ALL PUBLIC DISPLAYS

    All religions and beliefs need to be banned from public display. This includes christianity, atheism, paganism, catholicism, islam, and judaism. Someone will always be offended and banning all public forms of religion and beliefs is the only way to appease everyone. I should not be forced to look at Christian, Jewish, or Atheist displays even if it is in someones front yard or a billboard.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:41 am |
    • Terry

      Try banning what I put in my front yard and I'll use one of my other first amendment rights on you.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:45 am |
    • BBQueen

      Why are you so offended??? I don't believe in ghosts, but am not offended by seeing them on people's lawns during Halloween. You guys protest WAY too much for something you claim NOT to believe in.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:48 am |
    • BAN ALL PUBLIC DISPLAYS

      It is called Sarcasm. Look it up.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:55 am |
    • CaleinLanett

      No they don't. People just need to grow up and learn how to either respect other peoples beliefs and ideas or keep their stupid mouths shut around them to avoid offending them. As for the ones that get offended. The sames applies to them and they need to grow thicker skin. Banning public displays is pretty much same as any zero tolerance law. It is saying hey I want to avoid all personal responsibility and making a rational decision makes my head hurt, hey lets just ban it all.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  16. IceT

    I'm an Atheist and I will attend church services occasionally. If my mother in law asks us to go, I will happily go. I attend because it makes her happy & she wishes it. I attend as a respectfull observer and find many of the rituals, ceremonies and songs to be very enjoyable, especially at christmas. It's simply part of our culture like many other things that I may not believe in or agree with. Attending a church will not make me a believer and I don't fear it, but I can see the beauty of some of it's wrappings.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:39 am |
  17. Robin

    Christmas is a time for all people to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior. It's not a time of year that is limited to just Christians, but for every nation, kindred tribe and tongue. Christ came for all of mankind, and all that are part of the human race are welcome to rejoice and celebrate. Anyone that chooses not to partake misses out on the fellowship of the season. Santa Claus is not the real reason behind the holiday, but try and see past all of the commericalization and honestly concentrate on the spirit of the season and perhaps you will enjoy it.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:39 am |
  18. BobbyBrick

    1) Why does it seem that most atheists are so full of hate? While I fall into the more agnostic category, you folks just seem like you have a compulsion to attack others just to try and make yourselves feel better....very sad.

    2) This land is a democracy and in a democracy the majority rules. That's the way it works. Once you become the majority you can all get together and start beating the "believers" until you arms fall off...until then just live and let live.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:39 am |
    • steve

      Why do religious folk have to go around "converting" people to their beliefs? That's what missionaries do, and have done, for centuries. Interfering with other individuals and their belief systems, some of which have been in place for thousands of years (native Americans for example). And I see a lot more hate between the different religions than I do from athiests. If you perceive "hate" from an athiest, it might be because he/she is rebelling against centuries of brainwashing. Why must anyone care what someone else believes?

      December 23, 2010 at 10:04 am |
    • Pagan Worshipper

      1) Why does it seem that most atheists are so full of hate? While I fall into the more agnostic category, you folks just seem like you have a compulsion to attack others just to try and make yourselves feel better....very sad.

      -It's most likely more of a defensive stance. They've had Christianity stuffed down their throats so often, and so violently, they have no choice but to react strongly to get their message of "live and let live" through.

      2) This land is a democracy and in a democracy the majority rules. That's the way it works. Once you become the majority you can all get together and start beating the "believers" until you arms fall off...until then just live and let live.

      -Majority rules? Such as with slavery, black oppression, etc? Should the Muslims in Iraq have free reign to kill Christians because the Muslims are a majority? Majority rule = might-is-right = WRONG!
      -You want to "Live and let live" then quit trying to convert people from their religion to yours. If they wanted to be Christian, they'd have made that choice themselves.

      i don't care if a Christian wishes me "Merry Christmas" because I know it's a blessing of goodwill. But when a Christian says "our way is the only reason for this Holiday", that is an attack on MY beliefs, and I will react as such.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • Mandi

      ggod point about the democracy. You are right.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  19. Jack Paulden

    Happy Holidays to all. I'm not religious...but I'm not an atheist either...Just tell me who on the planet can make a simple blade of grass without starting with some element of grass! We can clone but we can't create..so it's an open book...it's a level playing field...no chosen...this world is for each.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:39 am |
  20. Terry

    Talk about hypocrisy at its best. Atheist all over the world are telling Christians to read their bible, that Christ was not born this time of the year. Even going as far to say there is "EVIDENCE" in the bible that he was born in August, or September. Funny how they believe that Christ was born another time of the year, even using the bible to prove they are right, but yet they don't believe in Christ.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:39 am |
    • Pam

      Spot On!

      December 23, 2010 at 9:41 am |
    • Geoff Fritz

      You miss the point entirely. There is little evidence to support a birth date of Dec 25th if you care to read the bible. One does not have to believe in this Jesus fellow to see the evidence for a birth date in late Dec is very flawed.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:04 am |
    • MarkinFL

      They merely seem to be pointing out that the text YOU believe to be "gospel" does not support the late December date. They are just speaking the local language. Also, keep in mind, atheism is not a belief system. Ever single individual had their own personal ideas. Many athiests believe in a historical Jesus that is at least similar to the one told of in the Bible. Nothing unusual at all about their comments.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:12 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.