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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. joe Macul

    "When it comes to their god, the child must be properly brainwashed. " BRILLIANT!!!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  2. Aaron

    Just one note about the article. An Atheist is someone who professes there is no God. A person who, according to the article: "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" is an Agnostic- defined as uncommitted to the existence or non-existence of God.

    Wether you deny Him, don't think about Him, or ignore Him, He still loves you. Merry Christmas!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  3. Allison

    I am always sad when Christians are astonished that athiests like to celebrate peace, love, and goodwill. You don't have to have a diety to want to be a part of charity and holiday spirit. We are good people- absence of faith in a god does not mean belief in evil, to me my faith resides in other people and thier ability to be better and help other people. That is my reason to celebrate the holidays- everyone seems to come together and help each other more and consider thier true happinesses- friends and family. Happy holidays to all and to all a good night!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:03 am |
  4. Hakim

    Jesus did not celebrate his birthday. I look in bible nowhere says christmas in there

    December 23, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  5. LOL at Atheists

    It must suck to be one and not believe in anything.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:01 am |
    • SarahN

      It doesn't suck to lack belief at all. The world is just as amazing, and for me it became far more amazing when I accepted my non-belief.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:16 am |
    • Brian

      Nope not at all. But it must suck to have such a believe that you cant see anything else as maybe being right but each to their own.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Zeuss

      The religionists have you lock, stock, and barrel and THAT must really suck!

      December 24, 2010 at 4:25 am |
  6. Kelly

    I first want to say that pic above the story is beautiful!! Second. I am Pagan, husband is christian. I celebrate BOTH Christmas and Yule/Winter Solstice. Many Christmas traditions are old Pagan customs by the way.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  7. grvol

    I'm an athiest but I believe in Santa Claus! I should be able to celebrate x-mas.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  8. DDRM

    Americans have the right to celebrate any day as they like. However, Dec 25 is Christmas and is a beautiful time of year for Christians that wish Christ's peace to all (faithful and atheists alike). On Thanksgiving, you say Happy Thanksgiving, on 4th of July you wish people a Happy 4th and on Dec 25th, you wish people a Merry Christmas. During early days of December, I wished my Jewish friends a Happy Chanakuh because it's an important time of year for them as well. I have even celebrated the holidays with them at times and wished each other Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas. Let's not be mean-spirited to the millions of Christians. Let's not be petty and cruel.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • Scott

      @DDRM: So what was “mean-spirited” or “petty and Cruel” about that add?

      December 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  9. ColdInCO

    It's obviously silly for adults to believe that a man walked on water, magically brought dead people back to life, and himself spent some time as a zombie. No question. The christians that I know are not schizophrenics, though – they don't take this magical stuff literally. I'm not sure what they believe, actually, beyond that Jesus had some solid advice for people and that the universe is a mysterious place. You can find folks who believe literally in the bible, of course. Kansas is full of them. But I doubt that most people who call themselves christians actually believe that the earth is 7000 years old or that Noah actually took 2 of every species on a Mediterranean cruise.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  10. Mike T

    I don't see the purpose of an Atheist's rally against Christmas. What other people do or think is a purely personal thing and there is no rule that an atheist cannot enjoy the core message of Christmas whether one is a Christian or not. Charity, love, hope,family and joy are not religious icons. A Christmas tree has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian holiday. Santa Claus and reindeer appear nowhere in the Bible. And TRUST ME...Macy's doesn't care whether a Mastercard is wielded by a Atheist or Christian as long as the purchase is approved at checkout!

    I'm an Agnostic (which means that I'm sure that man's stupidity precludes him from understanding anything about a God) and I enjoy the warmth and spirit that the holiday season brings even though I am strongly anti-religion – but pro-God. Being an Atheist doesn't mean being miserable and whining about other people's beliefs. I'd say, if you are an Atheist and Christmas bother's you then simply pack up and move to North Korea where it is outlawed. Problem solved.

    Otherwise, simply shut up and stop whining.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:57 am |
    • DDRM

      Well said. This is a country where people came and felt they can openly express their faith without others treating them cruelly. And yes, anyone can get into the spirit of the season whether you're religious or not. But, I have a problem with those mean-spirited atheists that put up a billboard stating that Christmas story is a myth. It is cruel and not a good way of getting along with each other.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:01 am |
    • Scott

      @Mike, DDRM: The article wasn’t about “Atheist's rally against Christmas” or a billboard about Christmas being a myth. It’s an article about an avenue of public advertising being closed to both Christians and atheists because Christians complained too much about the atheists getting to have their fair say.

      December 23, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  11. HempLover

    Five percent? Ha! I put the number at closer to 50 percent. "Faith" is an affectation at best, a delusion at worst.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:57 am |
    • Johnny

      Smoke up, Johnny.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  12. mom of 2

    Celebrating a religious holiday you don't really believe in? Why? So you can be like most Americans? That doesn't make sense to me. If you don't believe in something then own that. I respect people more for saying I'm a ..... therefore I celebrate (or don't) ..... But to conform just because you want to fit in makes you look like a sell out. I celebrate Christmas. I put up a tree, I have an advent wreath, I go to church. When my Jewish friends invite me to their religious events I go and celebrate because I do believe in the reason for the celebration, however, I would NEVER celebrate or participate in something I didn't believe it.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:56 am |
    • Jenna

      I used to think, back in my angsty teen years, that celebrating Christmas made me a sell-out and a conformist . I've grown up a bit since then and I celebrate Christmas because it's a family tradition. I love my family, my friends and I try to keep a positive outlook on the rest of my fellow man (even though it can be hard). My family celebrated Christmas without going to church – the only time we mentioned Jesus was when singing carols. I loved Christmas and my love for spending time with people I care about and being kind and generous to people is not going to go away simply because of the fact that I don't believe in God.

      Besides, Christmas is not the only winter holiday. Pagans celebrated the winter solstice event with the same fervor.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • mom of 2

      With all due respect, I don't know what your are celebrating but it's not Christmas. You can come up with a name for a holiday that gathers with family and friends, puts up lights outside, puts a big tree, and spends a ton of money unnecessarily then that will be what you celebrate. If you want to call it Winter Solstice then so be it. Without celebrating the birth of Christ you are not celebrating Christmas. I think the key word it respect. I respect the holidays my friends and family celebrate even if it's not Christmas. I also respect them if they don't celebrate. But if you don't believe in God then you don't believe in the birth of his son and therefore you don't celebrate it.

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

      @mom of 2: Christmas is a man-made holiday which is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Early Christians did not celebrate it. Jesus certainly did not promote or celebrate it. This holiday is also based on pagan rituals. True Christians do not celebrate it.

      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 3:37 pm |
  13. Oskar

    We, atheists, are just reclaiming the pagan celebration that was stolen by Christians: the winter solstice. But Christians are invited to join with their myths. 😀

    December 23, 2010 at 10:54 am |
    • Bill In STL

      How do you steal a celebration.. .that implies that no Pagans today celebrate Solstice... which is not true. Now to Athesim... as I understand it there are 2 types of atheism ... the more common is implicit atheism or not believing in any gods... there are no claims or denails made ..... the least common is explicit atheism which explicitly denies the existance of any gods. This makes for some confusion as some people don't believe in and others deny the existance of God.

      All this to prove that solstice is not stolen from ahteists... but pagans....

      December 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  14. Jenna

    I'm an atheist and I love Christmas. I grew up in a family of non-practicing Catholics in the suburbs of Boston. My parents didn't go to church and didn't make me go to church. In fact, I thought that Jesus was a figure that very few people believed in anymore – until I got to high school and found that was not the case.

    I don't celebrate the birth of Christ because I don't believe in Jesus, but I do celebrate the core concepts of peace, love, generosity and being joyful. I'm not going to say Christians shouldn't have a holiday to worship their god. It's their country, too. I'll get over stores being closed for the day, the traffic being terrible and seeing God stuff everywhere as long as people are still keeping the 'Christmas spirit' alive.

    I mean, if I were Jesus, I would be telling my worshippers to act that was so that people would WANT to believe.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • DDRM

      Thank you. As a Catholic, I wish you a peaceful and joyous season and a wonderful New Year!

      December 23, 2010 at 11:03 am |
    • KMW

      Jenna,

      I also grew up in Boston (Belmont to be exact) and I came from an Irish-Catholic family who celebrated Christmas and the Birth of Christ. I have wonderful memories but also thank my parents for giving me a deep Catholic faith. Jesus has helped me through the good and bad times. I do not know where I would be today if I didn't believe. I am not a crazy Cathoic (and neither were my parents) just one who believes in God and the afterlife. I feel sorry for you that you and your family are non-practicing Catholics. You are missing so much!! I will pray that you all return to the FAITH and MERRY CHRISTMAS

      December 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • Tina

      KMW, I'm sorry, but pitying others is not exactly a sentiment that would make me WANT to believe. I do think your sentiment is well-meaning, but the very fact that you feel the need to say you are sorry for Jenna after her very well-reasoned and thoughtful statement doesn't give me a shred of longing to share your religion.

      December 24, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  15. Satan

    I'm an atheist and still do the Christmas thing because it's the festive thing to do. In no way am I "believer", it's still a fun holiday to celebrate. Just because you don't believe doesn't make you a bad person, it actually makes you a better person IMO.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • The Doctor

      Dear Satan – Please see my comment posted at 10:23 am.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  16. Eric

    I disagree with David Silverman. I'm an agnostic, and I do not accept the term athiest.

    Professing that one knows God does not exist is no more coherent than professing that God does exist, or that there are specific configurations of the "things we cannot see."

    Suggesting that athiesm includes agnostics and unenthusiastic believers is just a way to try and inflate the numbers that his organization claims to represent. If we met face to face, I might agree with him about several things, but he does not represent me.

    I'm not opposed to having an organization that expresses a typical viewpoint of athiests, or agnostics, etc. (might be useful given the many public faces for various religious franchises). But, anyone who has given much thought to these questions undoubtedly understands that there are significant differences between athiests and agnostics. If you must find an umbrella term, use "non-believers" instead.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Actually, I would never claim a god does not exist. You cannot prove something like a god does not exist. On the other hand, I see absolutely no reason to believe one does exist. I'll believe when I believe. And I believe I'll need a better reason than I have yet to hear see or experience.
      I also agree that "atheistic organization" seems like a oxymoron. There are as many points of view as there atheists, agnostics, doubters or whatever. Not believing in something seems a very thin common thread.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  17. JonathanL

    Anyone can celebrate within the law. I am just glad we don't have a religous governed state and we can all celebrate differently, different ideologies, at the same time. No sectarian inspectors. Keep Religion and State separate always and forever. I am an atheist and so is half my family but we carry forward some of our ethnicity with a tree, presents, and good food and desserts at this time of year just because it is fun and is an excuse to get the family together. Do we believe in the Judeo – Christian gospels? No But I can celebrate freedom of thought, family and many other things that are based on reality and not mythology etc. BTW – The label 'atheist' has little meaning to me actually. Why should I be pegged for not believing in something someone else believes in?

    December 23, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  18. Phillip

    When I read articles like this I can't help but wonder, does CNN run articles during Ramadan about atheists complaining that muslims are ruining Ramadan for everyone else? Somehow I doubt it.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  19. batgirl

    Merry Christmas and God bless you all! You can deny the existence of God or worship the Deity in a different fashion but you are created in His/Her image and loved as well.

    Celebrate how you like. It won't change the existence of a Higher Creative Loving Power, whose existence no one can prove but which MOST will not deny.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • JonathanL

      Most people won't deny? Beacuse most would be ostracized socially or have their heads chopped off if they did (depending on where they live and whom they live with). I am free to deny it because I live in a big city in the USA and can post anonomously on the internet.For example I have to go to a Christmas Church service with my in laws on Friday. I have been told to be nice and keep my trap shut about my own beliefs.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:32 am |
    • Brian

      Oh it is easy to deny a believe in god batgirl.

      I have no problem with people having a believe in god to try and better themselfs but to try and tell me there is a god when i KNOW for me he does not exist is where i have the problem.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  20. jt

    What a bunch of miserable jerks. It's Christmas in a country that is STILL predominantly Christian. Get over it and let people enjoy the time with their families.

    By the way, many non-Christian countries(I'm thinking Asia here) are closed most of the next week in observance of Christmas. If they have the holiday spirit, why do Americans have to be such asshats about it? Oh, right, egotism.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • SuzNC

      Asia is a continent not a country.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:47 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.