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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. KBYH

    As a Christian, I am very bothered with this article/blog. If Christmas bothers these Atheist so much, why bother with Christmas? We Christians have our own religion to celebrate, and that is the birth of Christ. So what if nobody knows the exact date of when Jesus was born. All that matters is that Jesus was born, lived, and died for us. So respect us as we respect you. I haven't read any comments about any Christians bashing Atheist. So if Atheist are celebrating it with a good heart for December, then why not respect what other people are celebrating too.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:27 am |
    • Ruth

      Christams is a Pagan holiday adopted by Christians to entice Pagans to convert. It has as much to do with Jesus as Voodoo does.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  2. Kris L.

    What frustrates me most about calling what I believe "Atheism" is that the term speaks to the absence of God, that I am "a non believer" which is completly false. Its As if there is something missing because I believe in other things that are not related to an unknown, un seen, magical male diety. I believe in many things, particularly the power of the human spirit and how it can truly transform the world. Religion and only religion is what causes humanity to behave in horrific ways toward oneanother. If we honored humanity the way we say we honor "God" our world would be a different place. Every nation in this world today that is at war, is doing so in the name of religion. This has always been so. Even within our country, all hate activity is in the name of religion. So being a non believer is completely inaccurate. My beliefs are not the mirror image of "believers" There is more than one way to view this universe. It's not just believe or not believe. That leaves little room for other very important ways to see the world.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  3. wowlfie

    What a crock of newscasting and outright lies. The number of Americans who do not believe in god is about 23% not the 5% reported here. This is absolutely untrue and biased reporting! CNN get your facts right before spouting off!

    December 23, 2010 at 10:26 am |
    • Theresa

      They don't believe in God when they are having fun until one day when something happens to them and the only hope they have is God mercy, I remember the man who was stuck in the cave in chili he never cared or believed in God until he was fighting for his life burined alive in a cave then all the sudden the only hope he had was God, one day many people who don't believe in God now well turn to God and beg like children for his mercy.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:05 am |
    • Noocrat

      5% is such an inaccurate number.

      It's possible that 5% outwardly claim to be atheists but it's well known that American's who claim not to be religious ranges between 15 and 25% depending on study. The authors misunderstanding is due to the fact that like religious groups, secular people identify with a whole host of terms.

      Moreover, we're not really "united in our disbelief." If the secular people in this country were united, we would be the most powerful minority in the United States.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • Scott

      @ Theresa : Every christian who tries to escape the path of a speeding bullet with fear in his
      eye is an example of a "foxhole conversion" to atheism and proves they don't
      really believe in a heavenly paradise in the hereafter. There are a hell of a lot
      more of those conversions than there are of atheists to christians.

      December 23, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  4. JDalco

    Sorry, but Christmas may have a Christian name but the holiday is a mix of many religions. The Catholic church took over many pagan holidays as it grew and this is one of them. Just about everything dealing with Christmas, from birth, the tree, ornaments and even the Yule Log are all from Pagan roots. . .

    December 23, 2010 at 10:26 am |
    • Kris L.

      Exactly right!

      December 23, 2010 at 10:33 am |
    • Theresa

      Christmas no matter what you is simple, its about the birth of Jesus end of story, it doesn't matter when he was born, the fact is he was born and we believe in christ and will celebrate Gods gift to the world, you could dispise it all you want..

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

      @Theresa: Who exactly is despising you or your holiday? Facts are being pointed out to you. If you choose to stick your fingers in your ears and ignore them, whose fault is it when you look like a poor sport? Only yours.

      December 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  5. Ruth

    Christmas is a Pagan holiday adopted by Christians to entice the Pagans to convert. It has as much to do with Jesus as Voodoo does.

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

    I am moslem and I celebrate the xmas and new years season. The christians celebrate their religion PLUS what the rest of the world celebrates viz family, thankfulness, joyfullness and some time off from lifes crazy rush to get everything done in no time flat. It's a time when everyone seems happy and there is nothing wrong with that. Best wishes to all!!

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

      Thank you ismeal, and happy holidays to you as well, for your Muslim holidays, you said it better then many of the athiest racist here, if they don't believe in God, no one os forcing them to believe, they shouldn't get in the way of does who believe in God with their hate and racism.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  7. Keep Christ in Christmas

    I have news for all of the people whose Christmas traditions include a Christmas tree, lights, and the exchanging of gifts yet proclaim they are not associated with Christmas. They are! Christmas trees are traditionally EVERgreen trees with the EVER part representing the everlasting life Jesus gives to humanity. Christmas lights represent Jesus Christ as the light of the world. And the exchanging of gifts represents the gifts the magi brought to the baby Jesus upon their visitation to his manger. I realize America is a country where citizens are free to peacefully practice the religion of their choice or to not practice a religion at all. But like it or not, the founding fathers of this country based our laws in Judeo-Christian principles. And over the hundreds of years our nation has evolved, those principles and other Christian practices and holidays have become engrained in our culture. We are indeed one nation under God. Merry CHRISTmas!

    December 23, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Keep Christ
      Actually, the Bible doesn't look too kindly on Christmas trees.
      Jeremiah 10:1-4
      "Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
      For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
      They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."

      December 23, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • Gorilla Guerilla

      Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

      Thanks, I needed that laugh.

      Now to tear your argument apart bit by bit to show you the true origins of the symbols.

      "Christmas trees are traditionally EVERgreen trees with the EVER part representing the everlasting life Jesus gives to humanity." Actually the evergreen is used because it is the only tree that looks "alive" in the dead of winter. The solstice is a celebration of the gradual return of "life" to the world, represented by the gradually increasing amounts of sunlight, and the eventual return of spring.

      "Christmas lights represent Jesus Christ as the light of the world." Actually they represent the returning light to the world and a way to banish the darkness of death from the world.

      "...the exchanging of gifts represents the gifts the magi brought to the baby Jesus upon their visitation to his manger." Actually the exchange of gifts originated in the ancient northern european religions. During the long winters craftsman stuck inside by the harsh weather would ply their craft to create a gift to be giving to a friend or loved one during the solstice feast. This served two purposes: It kept them busy and their mind off of being stuck inside all the time, and it kept them in practice for later in the year when they would ply their craft for trade or barter.

      "But like it or not, the founding fathers of this country based our laws in Judeo-Christian principles." Actually they based them on the roman system of a republic with more stringent counterbalances to conteract what they saw as the cause of the colapse of the roman empire. The pledge of allegiance was written during the Civil War Era, and many of the statements that people use as "proof" that the founding fathers intended this to be a christian nation were added after that. Don't you find it kind of hypocratic that the very people who created a nation to be free from the yoke of monarichal and religious oppression would create a government that simple replaces one yoke with another?

      "And over the hundreds of years our nation has evolved, those principles and other Christian practices and holidays have become engrained in our culture." This is the only statement that cannot be disputed in your whole rant.

      "We are indeed one nation under God." If this were true, we wouldn't have athiests, muslims, hindu's, pagans, or any of the other religions out there in this country. The more accurate statement would be "One nation, free to choose our God."

      So have a merry X-mas, happy holiday, or whatever it is you celebrate and stop trying to cram your dogma down my throat.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  8. Bandit

    I have to say, I enjoyed Christmas a lot more when I was still a believer. No matter you belief, Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. You're into that or your not. It's a hollow holiday otherwise.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  9. locdvegan

    exactly, as others have stated 'don't steal my joy'...i do believe in God and Jesus and celebrate Christmas but if you don't, let me be...

    @Jack, nicely said..."it would just be nice if we could all just get along and simply let others have their beliefs, or non-beliefs....whatever....and stop trying to convince the "other side" that they are wrong."

    December 23, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  10. The Doctor

    Please consider this: If the Atheists are correct, absolutely nothing negative whatsoever happens to the Christians, ever; but if the Christians are correct, the Atheists will spend all of eternity suffering the torment of Hell. If you're an Atheist, you REALLY, REALLY better be right...

    December 23, 2010 at 10:22 am |
    • Linda

      Athiest will never be able to say I told you so, if there is nothing then we'll never know, but if God is real then they lost everything,

      athiest make bets they could never win, heads they lose tails they lose, either way they lose..

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

      Dear The Doctor : That is a typical cop out Christian statement. Heaven and Hell? Really? Get a grib on reality and put your fairytale to rest.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • Frogist

      @Linda: That depends on what you consider losing. You see, if the atheists are right, that means Christians who want to undermine scientific pursuits, or repress gay people, or shun their neighbour of a different religion, has done so for no reason. And it won't mean anything to them cuz they will be dead. But the rest of us will have to live with their tyrannical legacy. It's a lose, lose for Christians.

      December 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
    • Tina

      I can say with complete certainty that I would be miserable in the heaven of any god who gleefully set people on fire if they didn't believe in him. What precisely do you expect to do??? Sit in heaven and giggle fatly to yourself as millions burn in mortal agony below you? Anyone with a conscience would spend all their days in your heaven being miserable and guilty and horrified.

      December 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  11. JDB

    Can someone explain to me why all of the Athiest haters out there like to bash the Christians, but leave the Jews alone? Athiests seem to hate Christian beliefs and the Cross, but have no problem with Menorahs.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:22 am |
    • Nancy

      Because some atheist would like Christians to be miserable as they are, they can't stand to see people happy and believing in God, Jesus said and foretold that Christians will be despised because they believe in him, and you right you don't see the leftist haters and atheist saying a thing about Muslim or Jews or Hindus its always and only Christ that are attacked,
      .

      which means good news and don't worry all their hate only workers to make us stronger,

      Merry Christmas and much love and peace to all believers and people of good will..

      December 23, 2010 at 10:47 am |
    • mickey

      because jews never show up at your front door while you are trying to watch the playoffs to convert you.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • slavicdiva

      Here's a list:

      – Because no Jew has ever tried to convert me;

      – Because no Jew has ever told me I'm going to hell for not being a Jew;

      – Because no Jew has ever pestered me at my house about not being a Jew;

      – Because when Jews have asked me about my beliefs, their questions are genuine and respectful, and not smokescreens for telling me I'm going to burn in hell for not being a Jew;

      – Because no Jew has ever told me how much god loves me and will burn me in hell if I don't believe in him.

      And that's just a start. Too many so-called Christians have no respect for other people or their beliefs, and insist on trying to push Christianity on everyone. Some of us don't want it. We want to be respected; if you can't do that, leave us alone!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  12. festivus

    you guys are still fighting about the exact birthdate of jesus? lets just celebrate it on Feb 30th

    December 23, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • locdvegan

      i almost agreed except Feb 30th looked real alien and then i thought about it...i really need to go make some coffee...

      December 23, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  13. Quang

    I'm an atheist but I think we went too far in this case just to prove our points.... My reaction is "WHO CARES"
    Why can't we just see Christmas as the time of year where our families get together, share the festive and foods. Heck I go to Church on Xmas eve sometimes to watch the midnight mass; I love the atmosphere of Christmas, it has a sense of calm in everyone.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  14. Jeannette

    'm Atheist, and I want my presents too. 🙂
    My family celebrates Christmas as a time to get together, enjoy each others company, exchange presents, eat, and have a big poker game. If the gov't wants to force the country to close for a "Christian" holiday that really isn't theirs, then I might as well make the best of it. Whatever happened to seperation of Church and State anyway??

    December 23, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  15. Mike

    As an atheist (or agnostic-i say atheist because it sounds more intellectually intimidating : )), I celebrate Christmas, not as a Christian, but as a Capitalist (not hard-core industrialist-like, just a general believer in the free-market)! Forget Jesus, and buy Jesus memorabilia! Help thy neighbor by helping the economy! Love your family too, and cover them with crap they don't need! It's that special time of year to spread joy through materialism. Hooray for stuff!

    December 23, 2010 at 10:16 am |
    • Jeannette

      Haha I agree! It's the one time of the year when I can mention that I want something and someone (out of kindness and a little guilt) will go a purchase it for me.
      I'm not completely selfish though, there are people that the only thing they care about is getting the most presents and give nothing back. I always put money in the Salvation Army kettles, and as an Atheist it makes me mad to see people in "Jesus is the reason for the season" t-shirts walk right by the bell ringers with a big screen tv in their arms and not bother to give anything. Makes me SMH.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • Jen in the Lou

      Borders is/was selling glitter Jesus and Mary statues....that's the holiday crap everyone needs right there.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:32 am |
    • Frogist

      @Jen in the Lou: Yes, I saw those... I was gonna get one for my mother-in-law. She's one of those hypocrite catholics. It would have been farking hilarious... But I opted for being nice instead... Darn morals.

      @Mike, Jeneatte: I like how you guys think.

      December 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  16. l

    I'm not against any religeon, but I am against honoring a "god". Why should the Christian god be classed any differant than a budda, or a sun god etc, etc? I have no idea how we actually were created, and will probably not know in my life time, I'm just not convinced that it was by a god!!

    December 23, 2010 at 10:16 am |
    • Tina

      Much less a god who happens to be a big European guy with a beard. From an agnostic's perspective, it seems so patently obvious that each group of people in the world has made their Gods in their own image, both culturally and physically. I am still pretty upset that there don't seem to be any small American female goddesses with freckles out there for me to latch onto, though.

      December 24, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  17. Otto Palindrome

    The christians, as so many have pointed out, absconded with the pagan holiday (and slaughtered those who refused to convert). The tree, yule log, santa claus (no, Turkish bishops named nicholas did not wear buckskin clothing and raise reindeer) gift giving, etc. are all prechristian pagan traditions that had nothing, zero, zip, nada, bupkus to do with christanity. This is fine except for hypocrites who say their christian holiday is being debased by heathens. If you say we use these earlier traditions to celebrate our christian beliefs, that's fine. If you claim sole rights to traditions you had absolutely nothing to do with creating abnd had a completely different religious basis, you both a hypocrite and a thief.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  18. GeorgeBos95

    "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."

    Ummm...nope. Atheism is a specific term, and means the denying the existence of any God.

    Silverman is grasping at straws when he tries to extend atheism to those who either don't have an opinion, or those who don't think about a God.

    Maybe they should call themselves The American Kinda-But-Not-Sure-Atheists.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:15 am |
    • Ruth

      "I'm not sure" is called Agnostic. Since neither side can prove their point Agnosticism is the only logical choice.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  19. IceT

    This holiday is a beautiful blend of traditions both secular and religious and every year its seems to blend even more with the growing awareness of other traditions. I expect one day for this season to be a well blended fruit punch shared by all. Too bad some take insult by other methods of celebration.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:15 am |
    • Frogist

      @IceT: Can we make it a rum punch? After all this I could use a drink...

      December 23, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  20. Billy

    Frankly, all of the other so-called "holidays" are, in essence, fake. Just like every other aspect of Liberalism. You are free to believe what you wish, yes, but don't malign the "true" church. Please. It the same atheist who maligns the "real" Christmas, who turns around and believes in Obama. This is a fact. And no, I don't hate you in the way you hate God and the "real" America. But I see you for what you are, and you are silly, petty, and hiding from reality. The truth will prevail, despite your beliefs. Embrace truth, deny evil!

    December 23, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Scott

      Your ‘”real” Christmas’ reminds me of the “real” IRA in Ireland. When the IRA gave up violence some of their more dedicated followers formed the “real” IRA so they could continue to kill people

      December 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • Tina

      Thanks Billy, I am so creeped out now.

      December 24, 2010 at 2:30 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.