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. Muneef

    Vatican ahead of others mentioned debuting pastors to East and Middle East is one move.
    The second move was to bring the states and Allies into religious leadership?
    Preparation being made for a new Roman Empire...that soonest is becomes strong it will start treating minorities as was in the past and as Spain did to Jews and Arabs?

    Therefore some times think that the presence of atheists in the middle is a bless for things not to become as extreme as were before!? One God but many religions rather than one religion dominant on many other religions which brings nothing but extremism.. There are other solutions to be considered where the national law is above all religious laws and religious laws leaders are to accept the national laws and respect it as long as it is good for society, community,and the world.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  2. Peace

    Lets be quite clear, there are no missionaries that travel the globe spreading Atheism. If there are they would not be even close to the amount that Christians 'spread' their religion. For that matter condemn those who do not believe in God or mostly their God. As an Atheists I only get upset when Religious beliefs are brought out into the places they should not be. Religion belongs in the Houses of Worship and your own homes. I do not bring Origin of the Species into your church so please leave the Bible out of the Schools.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  3. 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.

    I would appreciate a correction or retraction issued to illuminate this incredibly deceptive error.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  4. lolita

    bunch of hypocrites!!! the truth is that x mas is all about shopping, eating, and drinking. Jesus was not born on 12-25. Even Jesus himself had told his followers that his b-day was not important, they would never care anyways. All they want is a good time. i hear now that even some muslim countries are into x-mas. Jesus death was more important than his b-day according to him.

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

      Interesting that you use "x mas." As X is the symbol for Christ and Mas is the shorten, Old English term for Mass. X-Mas have always been used in Christianity, as an abbreviation for Christ's Mass.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  5. Mathi

    A true athiest would have no decorations, will not go to any "holiday" party, and will work on Christmas Day. So I expect PZ Meyers, all supporters of the ACLU, Richard Dawkins, and members of SNAP to be working on Christmas Day, and Sunday as well. Failure to do so is hypocrisy. I know four athiest, and they live out this standard.

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

      Sorry Mathi – you don't get to dictate standards for others, or determine who is a "good" or "real" atheist. That's rude.

      My office is closed on Christmas Day; am I supposed to break in and work anyway? Thanks very much, but I would prefer not to be arrested, if it's all the same to you. Then again, you probably think that a "real" atheist would get arrested.

      Stupid argument.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  6. tamco

    I dont think of Christmas as a religious holiday at all. I think Christmas is a celebration of capitalism where everybody goes crazy shopping and spending money on things for themselves and for others. For a lot of people the "reason for the season" is only a distant memory. Everybody is talking about what they're buying for whom and kids only care about what they're going to GET for christmas. So this is not a religous holiday, at least it has not been for a very long time now and anybody can enjoy it regardless of their religion. Merry Christmas to all!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  7. holly

    I have yet to meet an open minded well educated atheist. In my experience (especially on CNN boards), atheist are full of themselves in putting down people of faith, especially Christians. You don't want to believe? fine. But why do atheists feel such an intense need to put people of faith down? I know a number of Atheists, and everyone of them are miserable haters. In the city I live in, some atheists slashed and defaced a Christmas image at a church. Oh, what a open minded educated thing to do. I am a devout Catholic, and I know most of you hate me now for just saying that... and I look forward to reading all the hateful comments (especially from atheists) regarding my faith. Unless you have read and are educated in the Catholic Catechism , and didn't get all your information from the media, you comments are rooted in sheer ignorance. bring it on, haters...

    December 23, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • Charlie

      There are foolish, bigoted atheists just as there are foolish, bigoted Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. I think problems arise in talking about our most personal beliefs because, as this board so clearly shows, everyone is extremely defensive about them.
      In regards to the church, while it certainly is a display of ignorance and hate, I just don't think that a few cases of hatred can be used to sum up an entire demographic.

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

      I am a non believer but i am not a hater so you cant really lump us all together like that .

      December 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Debbie

      I was brought up a devout Catholic for years – until I really took a close look at the Bible and began to question my religion more. Long story short – I became an atheist.
      Not all atheists are haters Holly.

      December 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
    • Scott

      ‘Unless you have read and are educated in the Catholic Catechism , and didn't get all your information from the media, you comments are rooted in sheer ignorance’. So according to you all knowledge is contained in the Catholic Catechism and everything else is “sheer ignorance”?

      December 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  8. Charlie

    As an atheist, it's disheartening to see so many fellow non-believes acting so defensive and taking the time out of their day to demean others' beliefs. I understand that being a minority often stereotyped as "lost" or amoral can lead to feelings of frustration and whatnot, but to nitpick the beliefs of others while acting outraged when your own beliefs are casually challenged is hypocrisy at its worst. While I'm well aware that this inevitably happens with people of every belief, I see a concerning number of atheists doing this in an article that celebrates harmony between beliefs.

    Also, please don't try convincing others that there is/isn't a god in these chat forums. There are millions of well articulated and well thought out arguments- going both ways- online and in religious philosophy books. No one's going to have their mind blown from a wall post.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  9. Atheist in a Foxhole

    As for the Baptist minister who was quoted in the article about Christ's birth being "around this time" it's completely false, the Roman Catholic church moved the reported date of the event to coincide with the winter solstice to ease the transition of the Roman people between polytheism and Christianity. But I don't blame him, he's from Texas... and probably got his seminary degree online.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • Fricsaid

      There are those that do things with style. You are obviously not one of them.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  10. franklin

    as a true atheist i don't really care how people waste their time. family, values, morals, god: these are all myths created by someone seeking control of a community. people who hold on to family and friends are greedy, mentally dependent people who need mental health care.
    a dog feeds its pups and then turns them out. humans should be no different. a gorilla will kill the mother of its offspring when upset. humans should be no different.
    this year, cut loose your traditions. the only reason you have emotion is because you have subjected yourself to a myth.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:25 am |
    • Charlie

      This is perhaps the most snarky comment I've seen on here. Why you think an atheist's moral compass would be vastly different than that of a religious person is beyond me. Just because I don't believe in a reward or punishment after my death doesn't mean I'm incapable of caring for others. You have butchered the shallow end of a belief you clearly don't have any investment in and have shown just how ignorant and arrogant you are.

      December 23, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Tina

      I somehow doubt he is really an atheist.

      December 24, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  11. God

    We are all one. In time we will all remember this.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  12. Fricsaid

    Personally, I don't care what you believe in or don't believe in. Just please, be kind, selfless, forgiving and always try to find a reason to smile. Hopefully, some day we can all drop all this petty stuff and share a hug. Wishing you all peace and happiness. 🙂

    December 23, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  13. Matrix

    People really should try to actually look up the history of their holidays before blindly following them. Look up the history of Christmas and Easter, you Christians. You'll be very surprised. 1st and 2nd Century Christians celebrated Passover. The head of the Church in Rome decided to celebrate Easter and excommunicated those who dared question this. Look up Polycarp and Polyacretes! As far as Christmas, look up Origen or Tertullian!
    If you want to celebrate Christmas, that's fine and dandy. I don't care. But this holier-than-thou crap about "Jesus is the reason for the season" is bogus! Study your own religion, Christians! I'm not even a Christian, and I know more about your religion and history than many of you do.
    The real reason for the season is drunken revelry, debauchery, and exchanging gifts.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  14. SterlingSliver

    Why dont all of you "high and mighty" people just shut up and enjoy the holidays. Stop digging so deep into everything and just embrace the "warmth" of the season. Dont feel like you need to voice your beliefs just to make yourselves sound intelligent, because all it does is make you come off as snotty, and arrogant. What ever you believe in, we are all humans, and we all are capable of understanding and reason. Its what separates us from the animals. When is Jesus's exact birthday, who knows. Dont treat Christmas as a celebration of his birthday, treat it as a celebration of his wisdom and his teachings. You may not believe in him, but you cannot go wrong following his example. I wanna wish all of you, Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Agnostics, Buddhists, Indians (foreign and domestic), Hindu, and Christians, and very merry CHRISTmas. And remember, no matter what, he is the reason for the season.

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

      "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
      For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two
      against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father;
      the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law
      against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law." (Luke 12:51-53)

      December 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  15. Dennis

    On the winter solstice Odin would fly across the sky in a chariot pulled by two goats. He judged which farmers had been good and which had been bad and would survive the winter.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  16. thunderbolt_lightning

    After reading most comments, I feel sad for those that, for whatever reason, seem only content to attack, and defame others. I don't care if you celebrate Christmas. I don't care if you spend Christmas Day worshiping yourself in the mirror. It doesn't bother me if you celebrate, or don't . What does however bother me, is the fact that you can't do your thing, and be ok with others doing theirs as well. Why does it set you off so? If I want to celebrate Jesus's coming, or the stars alignment, or just the right to feel thankful for what I have, why can't you find something in your miserable existence, to be happy about ,or thankful for, and let others do so , as well. I don't care what the pagans did, I know why my family celebrates Christmas, and that's enough for me.Here again, mind your own business, and leave others, to mind their own.So I say to all, with no inhibitions,( MERRY CHRISTMAS, GOD BLESS,AND PEACE TO YOU.) If that offends you, then maybe you need to learn to love others besides yourself.Or at least, except the fact that they have the same rights as you, even tho they see things differently.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • Scott

      @ thunderbolt_lightning: “Or at least, except the fact that they have the same rights as you, even tho they see things differently”. Yes just like the Christians in Texas accepted the fact that the atheists have the same right to advertise on buses as the Christians do.

      December 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  17. God

    To both sides of the issue: Read the b00k Conversations with God and you will get a lot of answers. In the end it doesn't matter anyways, you will get all the answers you need at the time of your "death". So please continue on with who you are and who you declare to be today.. . its all part of the process. Thank you to everyone for the viewpoints.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  18. seadream

    There isn't even anything to actually "share" as no one owns any of the celebrations or traditions that come a long with any of the holidays. Just celebrate and do whatever you want to do and stop worrying about how everyone else feels. It seems like people just always want to complain. If someone doesn't celebrate the same holiday as you or doesn't celebrate anything at all or feels upset about Christmas etc., life still goes on. Just live your life and enjoy it!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  19. ColdInCO

    Generally, religion in western countries like the U.S. is fairly harmless, unlike in places like Iran or Saudi Arabia. It did seriously freak a lot of people out when the former president said:

    "God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq .' And I did. "

    Now, that sounds like those guys you see on NYC subways conversing with demons and fairies and dragons. Can you understand why that makes many Americans extremely nervous?

    December 23, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  20. Eric

    Christmas! The holiday invented when a big fat man in a red fur coat rode reindeers up to where baby Jesus lay in the desert heat surrounded by pine trees! That's how it happened right?

    December 23, 2010 at 11:20 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.