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. remarkable apathy

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!! As for the non-believers...MERRY CHRISTMAS to you too. Just because we don't agree doesn't mean we have to hate one another..."And He shall reign forever and ever..."

    December 23, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  2. Ozzi


    December 23, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  3. Ozzi

    Issac Asimov Day can be January 2!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  4. Jim970

    According to the article, atheists are (at most) 5% of the population. So why is it that the other 95% can't enjoy the holiday. Yes, I know that there are many religions besides Christianity. And nobody seems to have a big problem with Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, or whomever's holidays. So, atheists, get a grip. Don't force everyone else to kowtow to your beliefs or lack thereof.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  5. Ozzi

    Frankly, I don't understand why other religions are not allow to have days off for their holidays.

    Even Atheists could create their own holiday, like I Don't Believe Day or Issac Asimov Day. A special day to contemplate, shop or eat.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  6. @Mordrud

    Actually, Coca Cola only created an image of Santa Claus. The story actually dates back to St. Nicholas from the 3rd century. He inherited a great wealth and used it to provide help to the poor based on his Christian beliefs. The story eventually evolved into Santa Claus during the 1700-1800's.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  7. Grundoon

    In my faith we celebrate Yule. The greeting I offer in teh season is "Happy Holidays." I am not going to be arrogant and presume anyone's faith and if anyone if offended by my greeting, or pops back, "It's Merry CHRISTmas!" that's the person with the problem. Also those that harbar the FAUX news philosophy that there is an attack on Christmas, because others may say the same greeting for the same reason as I, or that stores are trying to appeal to other markets by doing the same in some of their advertising by recognizing that christians are not the only people celebrating holidays in December, that is just plain stupid. And they are calling other people racist and haters. Look in the mirror Sheesh! You all co-opted the holiday anyway and now you are expected to share the season. Get over yourselves.

    BTW, my husband is a dietist and likes to celebrate Christmas so we do that, too.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  8. Matt

    Christmas is the time of year that Christians remind me why I'm an atheist. They put up gigantic gaudy billboards saying "Jesus is the reason for the season", which is of course factually incorrect, the season and the holidays in it are derived from Winter Solstice, which has been celebrated by many different cultures under many different names before Christian conquerors stole it and stuck their god into it. Christmas reminds me that everyone is under threat from oppressive and uncompromising religious belief.

    I, as an Atheist asked myself 'Why would I celebrate Christmas if I am not a Christian?" I may as well celebrate Hanukkah, or Kwanazaa for that matter? Solstice is the root of the season, and it started with a tree, a burning Yule Log, plenty of honey mead, and food for all to fatten up for the long winters of the north. Nothing wrong there. Then the Norwegian King (who had been converted to Christianity) declared that Christmas would coincide with Winter Solstice/Yuletide so that everyone of different beliefs could celebrate together. The 25th of December therefore has NOTHING to do with Jesus' birthday, nether does the 1st of January... so to all those who wish to shove their religion down my throat... Happy Solstice!!! I love you anyway, even if you hate me for challenging your beliefs. I hope one day people can drop these silly arguments and simply celebrate what makes you happy... even if you remain blissfully ignorant, I hope at the very least you are content.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Krystal

      As a christian, I don't feel that any of you are challenging my beliefs. I believe in God. I believe that He sent His one and only Son to this earth to die on a cross so that my sins can be forgiven, and I don't have to spend an eternity separated from Him. That is my belief. I also believe that God gives us free will. That means that we can accept or reject Him. It is our choice. I figure that if I am wrong, I have nothing to lose. I die and that is it. If my beliefs are true (and I am confident that they are), I get to spend eternity in heaven. How am I confident in my beliefs? Because, God has revealed Himself to me too many times for me to deny His existence. I believe He reveals Himself to all of us. We just have to be willing and open to seeing. I don't get all upset about this whole "what is Christmas" debate. To me, it is a time to celebrate the birth of my Savior. It is also a time for presents, food, and fun. It is okay to merge the religious and the secular parts of Christmas. Secular isn't a bad word. It is just another word for nonreligious activities which are okay to partake in if you are religious. So Merry Christmas, whatever it may mean to you!

      December 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  9. Life

    Here is some logic for Mr. Earth is 6000 years old. I am supposed to quit believing in a higher power, having faith in Jesus, and going to church because your belief (science) tells me so. Were you and your team of scientists around 6000 years ago to witness life in the beginning stages? If we evolved from single cell organisms, then the ability of those organisms to multiply and grow would be considered life based on your logic. When a human egg is fertilized, cells begin to grow and consume energy. Using your same logic. I would consider an abortion the murder of a human life.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  10. Elbonian

    People who assert that Jesus "was born during this time" are just ignorant of the true history of December 25 as a holiday celebration, as well as the historical development of the dogmas of the Christian religion. It is frankly sad to see so many Christians actually embracing ignorance as a virtue! The internal evidence in the Gospel stories is that Jesus was born in Spring, a fact which was reflected in the Old Style calendar, where the first day of the year was in late March. December 25th wasn't celebrated as the birthday of Jesus until the 4th century, at which time Christianity adopted several traditions of Mithras worshippers, something seemingly done to ease the conversion to Christianity of the Roman Emperor Constantine and his Mithras-worshipping soldiers.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  11. Raul

    Theists, atheists, agnostics ... can't we all just live and let live, just get along without being contentiously "My X is better than your Y?"

    December 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  12. Dirck

    Jesus and his followers never celebrated birthdays that also was a pagan custom. Those who say that they understand that Christmas has pagan roots but it is OK to celebrate because it is how we choose to honor the birth of Christ miss the point completely. HE would detest anyone celebrating his birth at any time of the year because it smacks of false religion.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  13. Brett

    I hate this time of year if only because everyone is so distracted. They walk into stores and stop dead, push their carts in one direction while looking in another, stop and take up the entire aisle in the store and ignore the people around them. They drive 15 mph below the speed limit in the left lane, they fall asleep at lights, they roll through parking lots at slower than walking speeds.

    All because they're too busy thinking about what to get little Timmy, or what time they have to be somewhere, or what days they're having parties.

    I don't care what religion you are. Wake up and pay attention.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  14. Duke

    to the atheist haters out there who still put up a Christmas tree yet don't think it's a Christian symbol: that tree has been a Christian tradition since the year 700 or so.


    December 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
    • Scott

      @Duke: It’s been a pagan symbol for a lot longer than that

      December 23, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  15. Bert in UT

    The great thing about America is that the religious get to believe their holy books and anointed preachers, I get to believe what is repeatably verifiable by measurement and logic, and we each get to decide what morals to live by.

    If Christians and others want to join in celebrating the solstice and the beginning of the return of light, which has been celebrated from the beginning of human history, that's great! And they can name it whatever they want to. Happy holidays everyone.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  16. Todd

    “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."

    lol, yeah, no bitterness there...
    Oh, and the only people I ever come across who have problems with Christmas and who get bitter about it are atheists. Every muslim/jew/etc I know is always tolerant and festive about it, wishing others Merry Christmas. Pro-tip: butthurt about Christmas? Ignore it and keep working. I'm sure your company will be grateful. To everyone else, have a Merry Christmas!

    December 23, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  17. Fan of that Christmas guy they call Jesus

    Hey Everybody,

    First of all a special shot out to the American Jew, I appreciate your comments about Christmas, It's nice to see people who may not celebrate the Christian holiday of Christmas or believe that Jesus was and is the messiah still respect my religious traditions and choose not to ignorantly bad mouth another person based on their faith (wait a minute….isn’t that discrimination?). I’m not a Jew or Muslim or Buddhist and I don’t believe in their theology but I won’t disrespect their religious traditions or bad mouth them based upon their belief systems. Faith is incredibly important to people, even the those faithful Atheist. I hope everyone enjoys this time of year regardless their faith and choose to let us crazy Christians celebrate our traditions in peace , Merry Christmas and happy New Year

    December 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  18. Goddog

    I am an Atheist who believes that personal faith can be positive but that organized religion is dangerous and pathetic. I celebrate Christmas because it's fun... period. I usually keep my disgust for OR (Organized Religion) to myself bet there are always those people who think it's perfectly OK to proselytize in the most offensive and inappropriate ways. And when I say I am an Atheist it never fails that I get that "I will pray for you" or " I feel sorry for you" response. Don't, please. I don't feel like I am incomplete in any way like you do. I'm not the one who believes in magic like you do. If people of religious faith would just practice there faith without trying to push it on others that would be great. And you can see all those Christains salivaiting over Islam and the control that their religion has over the people. Darn those pesky American Atheists! No response needed from the faithful. I've heard it all before and you make no sense at all. Keep it to yourself where it belongs.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  19. HistoricalFactNotFiction

    Christmas is ironic in that it is a pagan winter solstice festival rebranded as 'Jesus's" birthday. I'm not convinced Jesus was a real person, as there is no tangible archeological evidence that he was. It's more likely 'he' is an amalgamation of the day's prophets and holy men who claimed they had some special affiliation with a god or gods being worshiped at the time.

    The Roman Empire coopted this legend of Jesus and made it its own to control the unwieldy masses of peasants via a claim of a direct channel of communication with him and god (see Papacy and Holy Roman Emporer). Modern day Jews and Muslims prop up these stories as well, knowing that legitimicizing the history of Christianity (the world's dominant cultural influencer and religion) indirectly helps legitimicize their own beliefs–which are just as preposterous.

    The political leverage the orchestraters of this triforce of ignorance wields is astronomical...this bs affects our everyday lives. Education, freedom of speech/expression, the Internet, and time will help alleviate much of the ignorance and intolerance propegated by supernatural, diety-based religions. Their influence will wane to manageable levels.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  20. Joan

    People have been celebrating at this time of year for millenia – since well before Jesus was born – because of the winter solstice. Historically, there is little to no evidence that Jesus was born on or around Dec 25, and plenty of evidence that the church placed Christmas at this time of year because the pagans weren't going to give up their winter solstice celebrations.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:33 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.