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. Laura

    I pray for all of you that spend so much time trying to disprove the only thing in life that is TRUE. And, I pray that God touches your life in a way that you someday realize he is REAL. We exist because of HIM... he made us in his own image, and loves you more than you could ever imagine. I pray that someone comes into your life and helps you see what you've been missing. You have so many blessings waiting for you, and I am hopeful for the day you receive them. Jesus is REAL, and he changes everything – you will never be the same. He will fill your life with a joy you could never find anywhere else. God bless.... and Merry Christmas everyone! Enjoy this season with your wonderful family and friends! 🙂

    December 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • Brian

      Laura i am so happy for you and what you believe in that is great.

      But i will bet my life is as fullfilling for me as yours is to you without believing in god.

      December 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  2. The_Mick

    The basis of the holiday centers around the birth of Jesus, but it borrows from many pagan beliefs. It's date of celebration is based on the Roman Saturnalia – Jesus was born in the Spring, the only time shepherds "watched their flocks by night." The Christmas tree is a salute to the Nordic God Oden. Singing was banned in early Christianity (the clergy succeeded in destroying ALL the early Greek and Roman song literature except for ONE complete Greek tune). So Christmas Carols are an imported from other religions tradition.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  3. LennyD

    Who cares...? Stop being such curmudgeons and jsut enjoy the season. Why do negative people always want to bring down everyone around them? Go away and sulk somewhere by yourself, you old codgers...dang.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  4. MAT


    December 23, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • Scott

      @MAT: Your right they were atheists but they didn’t kill people in the name of not-god. They killed in the name of communism which is just another type of dogmatic religion

      December 23, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  5. MAT


    December 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  6. NetgirlLA

    I love Christmas just because it is pretty. People are nicer and not to mention, you get to give an receive presents. I think it's just fun. I lived in Singapore where every year, they decorate the roads and shopping mall with lights and song. I am born Buddhist and went to Christian school. Now I live in Los Angeles, I decorate the house with Christmas just because it is pretty.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  7. thunderbolt_lightning

    Last post on this article. From many comments I see little proof of research. I see arguments, but no explanations for the truths found, and the results of such truths, that we see play out everyday, in our lives, as well as others. For so many, so called scientific minds, I see little to disprove the possibility of God.It also bewilders me that you use science to defend your pointy of view, and again, ignore it when it disproves your account. You talk about closed minds, brainwashed, fairies, etc. For some reason that doesn't sound like a scientific analogy of a solution for a great mind. Considering what was considered impossible, magical, and impossible just in latter times. There will be more scientific solutions to things we face, but on that note, there will also be things that we can't explain or understand. I see some trying to judge gods actions,reasoning, and being, without the understanding that it icould be beyond mans comprehension. But yet admit to eagerly that there might be an alien race with technology advances beyond our understanding. There will still be things that seem like magic, that will be answered, and there will still be breakthroughs in riddles we face. I just hope that there will be some scientist, scholars, and educated people that don't give in to the mindset that the world is flat just because they can't understand,or explain that in which they don't , or can't understand. There have, and always will be those that dismiss that in which they don't understand, can't prove,or can't touch. But as history has shown us, they got it wrong, yes, even using science as their proof. I just find it intriguing, that the argument turns scientific, when mans understanding, can't except the fact, it might be beyond our reach. Show me proof that god can't exist.After all, science keeps trying to prove aliens do. Whats the difference except in understanding and proof. I see more proof to gods being than little greem men but its the open mind that will find the answers, if they are to be found ,not the closed ones...................Merry Christmas, and God Bless Everyone.................

    December 23, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
    • Scott

      @thunderbolt_lightning: “It also bewilders me that you use science to defend your pointy of view, and again, ignore it when it disproves your account”. Please post sources where science disproves atheism. I think your just blowing smoke!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  8. KTLu

    I used to be a Methodist for around 11 years and then had a change of beliefs in middle school / high school and determined myself to be more agnostic. Then recently while in college, I found myself to be more pantheistic and spiritual with nature and karma, etc. I celebrate the changing of seasons with Winter Solstice on the 21st and I also celebrate Christmas where I see it as a family tradition with family values where everyone comes together, eats good food, opens some presents, and just enjoys the warm atmosphere as one. For the Christmas tree, I see it was a very ancient tradition that is actually Pagan and as for the values of Christianity in the holiday, I don't really view it so much as all for Jesus (since I think he was born in the spring time anyway), but mainly for the family values and a spiritual point-of-view. Just my take on it.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  9. Joe

    Christmas is a time were people of all faiths celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. By celebrating Christmas, it does not necessarily mean that you are a devote Christian. Your are just recognizing the birth of Jesus Christ who is a very important part of our history. Without Jesus and Christianity, you would not have the right to be Aethiest. Try being an Aethiest in a Muslim Country. You will be killed in the name of Allah.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  10. Bootie M. Shanks

    God is science. Science is God.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Scott

      At last something both Christians and atheists can agree on

      December 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  11. Al

    Religion is for the weak and the ignorant.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  12. Idiocrat

    Lots of cognitive dissonance in these comments. The most common refrain is that anyone can celebrate however they like, as long as they leave Christmas alone. So what about non-believers who choose to celebrate with family on December 25 without actually recognizing Christmas?

    No clue where the author got his stats. The last Pew Forum survey put the religiously "Unaffiliated" category at 16.1% of the population. Granted, that includes the "Nothing in particular" category, but atheism and agnosticism are so stigmatized that many nonbelievers fit the bill without quite realizing it.

    Happy Festivus!

    December 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  13. Shawn

    I'm agnostic and Mr. Silverman is mistaken by redefining the definition of atheism. Never giving much thought to God or unwilling to make any sort of decision about what you believe in would make you agnostic, NOT atheist as he mentions above. Atheism and agnosticism are actually two different beliefs. Atheism is simply you do not believe in god, period. Agnosticism is the belief that the question of whether there is or isn't a god cannot be answered. I'm not a big fan of his organization and it's clear to me he's trying to make atheism a "broad" term to gain more support and "followers." I'm curious as to what Mr. Silverman's salary is. Yes, American Atheists may be a non-profit but often non-profit presidents are VERY well compensated, and you more or less get to choose how much you want your salary to be. And look at all this free publicity they get this time of year...

    December 23, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  14. bucky

    the shepard herding the flock – hey sheep – merry merry. i rather from my own beliefs

    December 23, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Scott

      Shepherds don't look after sheep because they love them — although I do think some
      shepherds like their sheep too much. They look after their sheep so they can, first,
      fleece them and second, turn them into meat. That’s much more like the priesthood as
      I know it.

      December 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  15. LouAz

    Can we please just get back to the drinking, revelry, debauchery of the original celebration of the Winter Solstice ? There are just too many christians and not enough lions.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  16. dcn8v

    Clearly Tatum doesn't get it. Holidays were celebrated on the winter solstice LONG before Christians claimed it for the birth of Jesus.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  17. Kevin

    who cares about someones beliefs......if christmas means a day off, ill take it!

    December 23, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  18. Preacherman

    A patient in our hospital was referred for pastoral care. I entered his room and introduced myself as the chaplain. He immediately dismissed me and said that he was an atheist and that I should not try to convert him to my Christian lie. I thanked him and said that we did not convert people but try to offer emotional and spiritual support to all our patients. Then I added that I was delighted to meet him because I had never met a real living atheist before. To this he replied, "I swear to God I'm an atheist." Then, as if recognizing the impact of what he had just said, he retorted "I guess atheists should not swear by God." I replied: "Dear friend, what do atheists swear by?" He did not respond and our conversation moved on to another topic.

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

      So, what is your point? That you argued down a bed-ridden, medicated hospital patient? Oooh, BIG victory, "preacher"! LOL!
      BTW, we swear by truth, logic, and reason. If you ever decide to include those in your sermon, please let me know! Happy Holidays!

      December 23, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • Scott

      @ TrueBlue42: No, No, No! Truth logic and reason does not belong in religion just like religion does not belong in school

      December 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  19. Larry Q. Griswald

    To the Athiets and Agnostics: why are you trying to support your points and positions with science and fact when you are arguing with people who believe in all-powerful invisible friends who will punish those they don't agree with – God is like their own invisible fantasy hit-man. These people believe they are supernaturally superior than the rest of us because they conform and obey to weird views that fail to explain the world as it really is.

    Why are you using facts and realities with such people?

    Religion is a delusional reconstruction of reality. Do you actually believe that reason and truth has any influence on them?

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

      Well we could try supporting our point with delusion too; but, that seems even more counter productive

      December 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
  20. Muneef

    Jesus the son of Mariam,the Messiah,Prophet and Messenger of God. Creation of Jesus was as creation of Adam God says it to become and it becomes...
    Jesus is not Christ because he was not crucified but other one wearing his cloth but God latter had him die and raised him to heavens to lower him down back to earth on certain date that no one knows of other than God Allah,Ell-ahem,him he has all the Holy names known and unknown to mankind...
    The day you say that you certify that there is no God but Allah One and Only and that Jesus was his Messenger as we Muslims say for our Messenger Peace be upon them souls all, you will certainly be back to the right path...as it is not right to either worship the Messenger or kill him? God has shown you a miracle to convince you to believe in him but not to become to worship his Miracle to you rather than him only "No Partners,No Woman,No Son" No intercession for some one with out his permission. It might be those up there few of the reasons that might contribute to finding more peace on earth for many of the Abrahamic Faiths on earth !? At the moment Abrahamic Faiths in undeclared wars between them while the numbers of non God believing nations and faiths are growing in numbers and strength...
    The natural disasters and wars today are because of the God Faith unbalanced by believers and there are more sins and wrongs than good deeds, pure love and compassions between believers,standing as one against all evils for a better communities,societies and nations which will bring straight people to guide us to the straight path of peace and good deeds...?! Amen

    December 23, 2010 at 12:25 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.