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. Doug

    Atheist are funny. They target Christians becuase they know Christians turn the other cheek and will forgive and pray for them. Most will do that at least like we should.

    Yet they don't target Islam for fear of getting their heads loped off.

    I really think if Atheist are really against any sort of GOD they should step up against ALL religons and not religous profile Christianity.
    Heck go to Mexico and harass the Catholic's about Christmas. Oh wait.. none of you would get out of the country alive... ya, your about harassing the meek and not the aggressive.

    You atheist are really a sorry lot of people.

    Don't worry Jesus still loves you and until your dead there IS hope for all of you.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Chris in WI

      Doug you have it all wrong. We think you are all equally deluded!

      Merry Festivus!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • not doug

      "They target Christians becuase they know Christians turn the other cheek and will forgive and pray for them."

      Clearly. That's why "good Christian" Doug here has decided to post some negative response to an article focused on including all Americans' beliefs. Keep spreading that Jesus love. I'll keep worrying about his life instead of the "next" one.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • Scott

      Yes we have an excellent example of Christians turning the other cheek in Texas where they complained so bitterly about atheists getting to advertise too that both got tossed off the bus.

      December 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  2. Bootie M. Shanks

    Once again we have these "brave"atheists going after Christian beliefs and traditions.

    If they weren't so scared, they would be just as critical and apt to belittle those of the Jewish, Islamic, and Hindu faiths. But.....they obviously aren't. So we now get stuck with this annual Christmas tradition of know-it-all atheists trying to portray Christian celebrations of Christmas as some oppressive and ignorant acts.

    PS – Logically speaking, to not believe in a God is to practice a belief yourself.

    Merry Christmas!

    December 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Yet I see you can't refute our assertions. Happy Holidays!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  3. Bob

    Wow, so many religious historians gathered in one place. So much expertise, most of which is totally incorrect. One fact shines through loud and clear however: atheists hate Jesus Christ and all that He stands for as well as those that believe in Him. No matter, Christ said that the world would hate Believers because of Him. Atheists are just playing their little role in fullfilling what the Bible says.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Nah, we don't hate Jesus; we just accept the fact that he wasn't a god. Happy Holidays!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Chris in WI

      Wow so much venom from those who are supposed to be following Christ's image.

      I think you have some of us wrong. I admire the man in the Bible stories. He was an admirable character who stood for the weak and downtrodden. He believed money corrupted and that a man should be humble. Those are incredible qualities that if you observed in your own life would make you one of the most well liked people anyone could ever hope to meet.

      There are valuable lessions in the bible but they are just that, storys and lessons. To kill someone because they believe something different (YES christians kill, crazy abortion clinic bombers, and don't get me started on christian intolerance; god hats f@gs @holes) is totally missing the point in every religion.

      Oh and remember the bible tells you to not judge so stop judging us for not believing. I don't believe so I am allowed to judge you!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  4. Mat

    Seeing a lot of activity from atheist abusing Christianity and christ/god. Good for you that you dont believe but it doesnt give you any right to abuse my belief and the GOD I believe in. I dont subcribe to "so called christians" who abuse other beliefs / non beliefs.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  5. Mic4life

    I am a Christian, believe in Christ, and Jehovah God, who sent forth the Messiah to settle the argument of the “right to rule” which was challenged in the Garden of Eden, and throughout our history. The first few chapters of the Book of Job describe Satan’s challenge with “skin on behalf of skin”, indicating the people will only worship God when it is convenient, however when things get difficult, people will abandon Him to save their own skin or given in to difficulties.

    As people mentioned earlier, Christmas is a pagan holiday, originated around the 3rd Century by the Romans. The origin of Christmas is not of Christ’s birth, which the bible provides no indication of that date, but rather the celebration of the Roman’s god of agriculture, and also the Babylonian Sun God, which occurred during the time of the winter solstice. The Christmas Tree is of pagan origin too, and so is Easter, Halloween, Mothers’ Day, birthday celebrations, etc.

    The Nativity story, which most people are familiar with, does not agree with the account spoken of in the Book of Matthew Chapter 2. In fact, the Nativity, Christmas and what most people believe in, is a perpetual lie. The actual account of Christ’ birth has been modified to fit man made traditions, and unfortunately most people do not know this. Have a read and you maybe surprised of the differences between the account given and what people actually believe.

    To summarize the account given in Matthew Chapter 2. Astrologers from the East, followed a star that signified the birth of the King of the Jews. The star led these astrologers (the actual number of people is not given) to Jerusalem, where they met King Herod and discussed the significance of the star and that how prophesy indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Herod asked the astrologers to find the baby and to report back to him so that Herod could do him obeisance. The astrologers went and followed the star, and found Mary with a young child at a house. Later the astrologers were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and inform him about Jesus’ location. Furthermore, Joseph also had a dream to flee to Egypt with his family as Herod was about to search for the young boy and kill him. Herod found out that the astrologers did not return to him with Jesus’ whereabouts. Having being outwitted, Herod fell into a great rage and had all the boys less than 2 yrs of age, in Bethlehem and surrounding districts, executed. This prophesy was spoken through Jeremiah about the morning and outcry of the women because their boys were executed.

    As Christians, we are to worship one God (not pagan, not a triune. The Trinity philosphy is also of pagan origin). So by celebrating Christmas or most other holidays, are we truly worshiping one God? I think not. And for us, who take a stand and discuss what is really indicated in the bible, we often get pushed back, or frowned upon. However, taking a stand we state that Satan is a liar when he stated that people will disregard God when times get difficult. Taking comfort in Proverbs 27:11 “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.”

    December 23, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Mat

      I agree with. I believe every day should be a christmas and good friday. We should celebrate the joyous occasion of being delivered from evil and getting the opportunity to be one with God. Unfortunately ignorance is bliss for a lot of people.

      December 23, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      "Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me." Great quote, mic; this is the same philosophy I use when some religious zealot attacks my atheism! Thanks for sharing! Happy Holidays!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  6. Richxx

    Christmas is a holiday celebrated by many for varied reasons. No one has a lock on it. Christians got it from the pagans who took it over from some group before them. We all have our own ways of cerebrating. For some it is strictly religious. Most Americans it is a mixture of religious and secular. No one can claim it is theirs originally and no one else is allowed to celebrate. Lets all have some peace and relax.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  7. Heinz M

    If he existed at all, Jesus was supposedly born in the summer. Previous 'pagan' beliefs had a holiday for the solstice. Thus sucking those people in made it necessary (or a convenient giving in to that) to place a Christian holiday in that spot. Just like having 13 gods made it necessary to make 13 an unlucky number.
    There was, and still is a lot of skulduggery going on to make things fit. Meanwhile everyone can (and probably should) enjoy a time of the year that many deem special, and that has the propensity of making everyone feel better about themselves and those around them.
    For Christians to claim sole rights to that season, is at best a joke to anyone that understands and has read about the past.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  8. allornothing

    Atheism is not a religion! Christians only answer each question by inserting "God" as the answer! So many facts that denounce Christianity! So many facts that have turned those who denounced into believers! So many that claim they have no argument on this issue! So many that write a comment on here and find someone else denounced there comment then wrote a book defending thier beliefs! Everyone wants to be right but we all have to accept that we will never agree! Just have a good holiday filled with Joy and that takes no religion to do. Let it go folks, besides, we'll all find out the answers one day now won't we. Then one side or the other will be able to say as loud as we want "NA NA NA NA NA".

    December 23, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  9. Phil

    Sorry, but I believe in magic. I've seen Criss Angel perform. Next you'll be telling me Harry Potter is make-believe, you doubter. I just choose to not believe a 4th-century dead Turkish priest is able to defy the laws of physics to deliver multiple items to approximately 1/3 of the earth's population in one night by using his morbidly obese frame to go down chimneys, existent or not, to do so. But Harry Potter is real!!

    December 23, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  10. chance baker


    December 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Especially when we repeat that we refuse to be the "miserable Scrooges" the Christians SO desperately wish we were! LOL! Happy HOLIDAYS, Chance!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  11. chance baker

    you "atheists" sure like to repear yourselves...

    December 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  12. JoeT

    Just *so* angry that despite all the Christian and atheist banter, there heas been no mention of Boxing Day.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  13. Jay

    The reality is that religions have been borrowing and building upon each other, while the origin of these theologies almost always comes back to mans fascination with the sun and stars. Take for example, the death and three day resurrection. This same story line is shared by ancient gods like Osiris, Horus, and Attis of Phrygia.. all born of the virgins on or about December 25th, were all “crucified,” placed in a tombs and after three days, were resurrected. Which is based on the astrological movement of the sun and the winter solstice.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  14. The earth is 6000 years old, stupid.

    wait, after re reading im not sure I read your comment correctly, nm

    December 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  15. Peace


    Are you suggesting that we want to have a war? I believe you are missing the point if you feel Atheists are upset because there haven't been Wars in the name of No God. And if you combine all the Wars up to the Revolutionary Wars wouldn't that be most Wars? Whether we started it or not , I believe the War of Terror is based upon religion, is it not?

    December 23, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  16. Mary

    So, you don't like the Christian's monopoly on Christmas, do you? Just wait a few years and you won't have to worry. There will be no Christmas in Hell.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      No problem, hon; there IS no hell! Happy Holidays!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • Tina

      Mary, this rings false for a Christian statement. None of the Christians I know would gloat happily over the possibility of people burning in eternal fire and say, essentially, "oh, you just wait!"

      December 24, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  17. Michael Sawyer

    I am a pagan. Christ was born in April. The majority of Christmas customs are pagan. This is MY holiday.

    And yet... I could care less that Christians stole it. I do not care if i get a Christmas card, I rather like them. I like the Christmas trees, he lights, the decorations, and yes, the menorahs. I love the food and cookies and the festive, usually jovial atmosphere. I like how politicians can stop being terrible people to each other and to the country with their behavior long enough to say Merry Christmas to each other. I love peace on earth, good will to all humans. I HATE the rampant consumerism, but LOVE the joy of receiving a thoughtful gift.

    Who CARES about the origin, the practices, the beliefs. Christmas has a little bit of something for everyone.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  18. Brian Macker

    It's OK if Christians share in our pagan traditions on X-mas. I don't have a problem with that.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • nodack

      There are a ton of religions and every one thinks their religion is "The true Religion". They are all man made cults to me. In the US Christians dominate so Christmas is the flavor of choice. In Israel it would be Hanakuh. In the Mideast it would be Ramadan. In India it's Hinduism. Depending on where you were born they have a different man made religion that you are supposed to follow to fit in.

      I live in the US so Christmas it is. Let's all buy a bunch of expensive gifts for each other because that's what Jesus would have wanted.

      December 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  19. Bryan

    if god created everyone, shouldn't everyone be excepted for who they are and not ridiculed and prosecuted? just a thought from an insignificant man.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Mat

      Right on.

      December 23, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • Scott

      "If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If his is infinitely
      wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, shy warn him of
      our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect
      temples to him? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has
      filled with weakness? . . .If he is reasonable how can he be angry at the blind, to whom
      he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? If he is inconceivable why occupy ourselves
      with him?

      December 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  20. AveMedea

    @David Johnson

    I chuckled at your comparison of the Santa myth to the Jesus myth.

    I think people forget that these people actually exist(ed). There was a Nicholas, and there was a Jesus. Both seemed to be good people when they were alive and are believed (by children / Christians) to be still alive and doing good today.

    More people need to just accept that there are many things in the world to believe in, magic, mysteries, Messiahs, and all, and enjoy it. People get so caught up in 'the facts.' Let's just have faith in whatever we choose to have faith in and let others do the same. I've never understood all of this 'holy war' BS or why Religious and Atheists bother to fight about it.

    Love and let love.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:07 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.