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. Phil

    Whine and complain about Christmas-vs-Saturnalia all you like; complain about trees being pagan or trees being the symbol of the Sacred Fir of Germany if you like; complain about Santa or mangers or goodwill or atheistic goodwill until you bleed.. all you like.. in Iraq right now, Iraqi Christians live in fear and cannot even have public displays of any kind because of threats from Al-Qaeda to bomb them and all things Christmas. Have a wonderful holiday, everyone.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  2. Walter Thomas

    Everyone has a right to their beliefs as long as those beliefs don't hurt anyone and are not forced upon anyone.

    Other than that, there is more history to the Christmas season that just the Christian traditions: http://bit.ly/gFAkls

    December 23, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  3. TrueBlue42

    LOL@ Rev. Tatum! Typical Christian "dodge, distract, and deflect" tactics! Tatum's accusation of Silverman lying about the proven fact that Christmas was interjected into pre-existing rituals shows Tatum, not Silverman, as the liar here. Tatum knows very well that this season is about MORE than merely Christmas, yet he tries to imply exclusive Christian ownership of the season while dodging Silverman's factual statement. Not even a good try, Tatum. Happy HOLIDAYS to all!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  4. Pitty

    Last I checked, atheists were up to 15% in America, not 5. Don't try to belittle us!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  5. Phil

    In the spirit of the season I offer you this wonderful Christmas lyric:

    You better watch out
    You better not cry
    You better not pout
    I'm tellin' you why:
    Santa Claus is Dead

    December 23, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  6. Ed

    That's the best laugh I've had all day. Atheist celebrating Christmas. Let's see....oh we'll give gifts and spread cheer and take off for the holidays.......we just don't do the baby Jesus thingeee. Hypocrites.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • Charlie

      You don't need to celebrate Jesus to celebrate everything else that this day represents as well.

      December 23, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  7. Tim Holiday

    I'm happy Christmas here. Joy to all and to all a good night!!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  8. AB

    Main reason every body hate the truth about the Lord Jesus is because His message is the only true message and they hate the truth, they rather have the Big fat lye tought to them as long long it makes them feels good about themselves. The Truth hurt, isn't it. Every other non-sense relion seem to be fine with the rest pof the world but when it comes to Jesus Christ and Chritianity, everyone is mad.

    At the end we will see who win. Jesus already wins this battle. Jesus will come back soon and every eyes will see Him. Every knees will bow whether they like it or not and all those so called atheist and other non-sense relions will have to give an account of their false teaching of their little gods. At the end we will see who win.

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

      Learn how to speak the language you are commenting in please? Thank you, have a nice day.

      December 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
  9. Andy O

    What is with Silverman expanding the definition of an atheist? What about agnostic, Humanist, etc? Talk about trynig to expand your business. Merry Christmas everyone and Happy New Year!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  10. gladi8tor96


    Hinduism, 1000's of years before Christianity, doesn't mention Jesus.
    Buddhism, older than Christianity, doesn't mention Jesus.
    Jainism, older than Christianity, doesn't mention Jesus.
    Multi-Theism (greek/roman gods)/Paganism/Naturalism, older than Christianity, doesn't mention Jesus.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:41 am |

      Your right, that's why I said almost every major religion, not that it matters. Also Christ existed before Christianity and time itself that’s why He is the great I AM. No words can completely describe God. Science is forever changing, omitting, and back tracking their findings, but God never changes. The fact that so many people deny Christ as their LORD and savior is another proof positive that Christ is God. No other name in history has been so hated or loved. Either you believe in Him or you don't there is no in-between. It amazes me how some of us try to define God by the world that surrounds us, instead of defining the world by God and his word. That's like me trying to know how to recognize a counterfeit bill by studying counterfeit bills. One would need to study what a real dollar bill looks like first to be able to spot a fake one. If the entire world loved Christ I would be worried as Jesus would then be a liar because He said that “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22...Merry Christmas

      December 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  11. NJreader

    Re: "Americans who don't believe in God"

    This is silly; it is the equivalent of saying: yes, God exists, but those five percent don't believe in him.

    I am an atheist. I believe in no god, gods, devils, etc. I never say I "don't believe in God," because that makes no sense. If I thought there were a deity, of course I would believe. But I think there is no such thing. I believe in no supernatural beings.

    I enjoy the Christmas season very much, by the way. And I think "Kris Kringle" as in the old "Miracle on 34th" is a beautiful example of how to live. When I think of him, I can believe in Santa Claus.

    I am not against religion per se. I am against taking part in one. So I don't. That's all. I'm not "selling" anything.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:40 am |
  12. Mark

    When are people going to realize there is no god and this world just might be in a better place without believing in some deity
    Happy winter solstice. .

    December 23, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  13. May

    To the 5% Atheists:


    December 23, 2010 at 11:39 am |
    • Scott

      Fine by me; but, I’m not going to believe it until he comes by and tells me in person

      December 23, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
  14. Muneef

    Yunus sura 10:
    They say "Allah hath begotten a son!―" Glory be to Him! He is self-sufficient! His are all things in the heavens and on earth! No warrant have ye for this! Say ye about Allah what ye know not? (68) Say: "Those who invent a lie against Allah will never prosper." (69) A little enjoyment in this world! and then to Us will be their return. Then shall We make them taste the severest Penalty for their blasphemies. (70).

    Ghafir sura 40:
    Those who dispute about the Signs of Allah without any authority bestowed on them― there is nothing in their breasts but (the quest of) greatness, which they shall never attain to: seek refuge, then, in Allah: it is He Who hears and sees (all things). (56) Assuredly the creation of the heavens and the earth is a greater (matter) than the creation of men: Yet most men understand not. (57) Not equal are the blind and those who (clearly) see: nor are (equal) those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and those who do evil. Little do ye learn by admonition! (58) The Hour will certainly come: therein is no doubt: yet most men believe not. (59) And your Lord says: "Call on Me; I will answer your (Prayer): But those who are too arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell in humiliation!" (60).

    December 23, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  15. SoTired

    Psalm 41:1 & Psalm 53:1 "a fool says in his heart that there is no God." To all athiests, Merry Christmas and God Bless. Clearly you need all the help you can get.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:38 am |
    • Scott

      God is Love, but he created hell, Satan, hate, anger. Also, the first War ever fought, was not by man, but was fought in HIS lands, Heaven. Then he sent HIS problem down to us for his amusement. On top of all that, after you do all this suffering, he forgives you for HIS mistake, brings you to heaven, but now, because you are supposedly perfect, if you ever sin again, you will be damned for eternity. It would happen to, because demons and Satan were angels that sinned, so for all eternity, you will have an axe over your neck going, don't mess up, don't mess up, don't mess up! Good luck with that by the way, eternity is a long time to not mess up

      December 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  16. debbie

    Christmas is the biirth of our Lord and Savior – period. You can also call the color purple red...all day long, but that doesn't actually make it red. Merry Christmas everyone!!!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  17. Muneef

    Al-Anaam sura 06:
    "It is those who believe and mix not their beliefs with wrong― that are (truly) in security, for they are on (right) guidance." (82).

    Al-Araf sura 07:
    Say: The things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to Allah, for which he hath given no authority; and saying things about Allah of which ye have no knowledge. (33) To every people is a term appointed: when their term is reached not an hour can they cause delay, nor (an hour) can they advance (it in anticipation). (34).

    December 23, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  18. Greg

    Today’s Christians have made a total mockery of their own religion. I think that with the advancement of communication (internet, TV etc) there is an actual lessening of folks that are mystified by the old parlor tricks used to convert folks. I think that people are looking for example’s of “Christianity”. Instead, we get folks like Thomas Kinkade, Larry Craig, Terry Jones (Koran burner), Fred Phelps (military funeral protesters and general haters of America), and even Sarah Palin (stating that America’s laws should be based on the 10 Commandments). Is this what god’s true love stands for? Evangelicals that have thrown themselves behind political players/parties have shot themselves in both feet if they even think that perpetuating conflict persuades folks to convert. I personally believe that “Christians” should use the same dogmatic principals that they have adopted towards others on their own faith. Don’t tell others who they can marry and not go after idiots that disrupt a soldiers final laying to rest. . Christmas should not be a time to “celebrate” this craziness. When I hear, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, I cringe. Yes, he is….unfortunately.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  19. Muneef

    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful (1) 
    Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds (2) Most Gracious, Most Merciful (3) Master of the, Day of Judgment. (4) Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek. (5) Show us the straight way. (6) The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, Those whose (portion) is not wrath and who go not astray. (7).
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    Say: He is Allah the One and Only; (1) Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; (2) He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; (3) And there is none like unto Him. (4).

    December 23, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  20. allornothing

    Directed @ gladi8tor96

    December 23, 2010 at 11:33 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.