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. sw6blues

    'Seth wrote:'
    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice for a list of all the various solstice holidays around the world.

    I'd tread carefully with citing wikipedia as a source. It is user generated and can be edited by anyone, even any of the special folks that regularly comment on CNN or other online news stories...Wikipedia does not facilitate the burden of proof

    December 23, 2010 at 9:39 am |
    • MarkinFL

      True about Wikipedia. But in this instance it is probably close enough. This time of year has been celebrated for thousands of years.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  2. Pam

    So athiests do celebrate Christmas. What hypocrites!

    December 23, 2010 at 9:38 am |
    • mickey

      don't worry pam, they won't be showing up at your house on a sunday afternoon when the game is on to convert you.
      merry christmas!

      December 23, 2010 at 9:47 am |
    • MarkinFL

      And Christians follow Pagan traditions on their religious holiday. What does that make them? We are all sharing the day, why call each other names? Or is that the "Christian" thing to do?

      December 23, 2010 at 10:07 am |
    • BD70

      Atheists celebrate the pagan part of christmas. Not the christian part.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:07 am |
    • Tina

      Oh my goodness, that made me laugh. Pam...SURELY this is not an amazing newfound revelation to you...?

      December 24, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  3. Heather

    I like hearing that non Christians celebrate the holiday. You don't have to believe in Jesus to enjoy the lights, the music, the food, the parties, and you don't have to be Christian to be sweet to people, friends, family, or strangers. As a Christian, I know Jesus wasn't born in December, but hot chocolate just wouldn't be as good in April (at least not here in Houston).

    December 23, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  4. Jim

    American Jew,

    I made my last post before seeing your post, thank you my friend. Celebrate YHWH's faithfulness to you and your people as you should. God has blessed the children of Abraham, Issac and Jacob and His covental faithfulness should be celebrated! Shalom,

    December 23, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  5. mightyfudge

    No one knows what happens when we die and anyone claiming such knowledge is lair who probably wants your money. Furthermore, the winter solstice has been celebrated by humans since before civilization began, so any claim to it by Christians is purely specious.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  6. mickey

    I have faith but no use for religion. I can't figure out how those two terms became interchangeable.
    I believe in God, but have no idea of his/her gender, address, religious allifiation or if God has or needs any physical appearance at all.
    But I sure do love Christmas.
    Just sayin'.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  7. Jim

    Atheists now trying to redefine what atheist means – "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." – one who makes no claim to God being real or not is called an agnostic (one who is not sure for whatever reason).

    Of course anyone can have "holiday cheer" but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to forget or hide the reason for the holiday of Christmas or Easter or Yom Kippur or whatever holiday. If you are secure in your belief of whatever you believe, you don't run around trying to change the holiday to your liking. One shouldn't run around on Yom Kippur extolling the virtues of Jesus in order to get into observant Jewish faces and this childish need to abscond Christmas is ridiculous.

    Celebrate in your own way and leave the other 95% alone please.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:34 am |
    • MarkinFL

      No one is trying to "abscond" Christmas. But some Christians decided to place their celebration at the same time as older, more established traditions and then claim it all for only themselves. So if ANYONE is doing some "absconding" it is the Christians. I do not believe many atheists care one way or another if you use this holiday season to celebrate your religion, just don't try to take it away from those that do not.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:04 am |
    • IceT

      MarkinFL ... You're singin' to the choir, a little mutual respect goes a long way.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:10 am |
    • jaykow

      Thanks for the post Jim. I am an atheist, and this whole Christmas war is absurd to me. In my opinion, any Atheist that tries to impose their beliefs on non atheists is no better than the Christians of my youth that would tirelessly try to convert me. Two wrongs don't make a right. If you are an atheist, be a better person and keep it to yourself.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  8. American Jew

    (I accidentally posted this as a reply to somebody else's comment, sorry, this is what I get for not drinking my coffee today...!)

    As a Jew, I am not offended by Christmas. I appreciate the beauty of it and I am glad my gentile friends have something to celebrate. Do I personally celebrate Christmas? No, obviously not. But that does not mean that I will try to take away from others' joys.

    In Judaism we have our own joys all year round, from our holiest holiday of Shabbat which occurs every Friday at sundown through nightfall Saturday, to the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; Sukkot; Pesach (passover); Shavuot; to our minor holidays of Chanukkah (most gentiles don't know it is actually a very minor holiday for us), Tu B'Shevat, and Purim among other holidays and occasions.

    As a Jew, I would not want others to lesson my joy during my sacred times, so why would I do that to Christians on their holiday?

    May all of you Christians be blessed with a happy Christmas season!

    December 23, 2010 at 9:33 am |
    • jibarito

      We christians are rooted on jewish lifestyle. Jeus the Christ was a Jew. Came from God to teach you jewish brothers how to live. Can you bring a better teacher than Jesus in the past times or to the present times? . christian faith comes from the jew. Our faith goes with jewish lifestyle but we are free in a new covenant that you do not accerpt yet. Because out faith is jewish roots that's the reason why we love Israel and all jews, can you understand that brother jew? My whole name is Jew (it whorships our God, your God) We do not celebrate everything you do because we are not all jewish, unless someone is a jew converted to christianity. But something I see is that you are boasting yourself so much saying about all your holly festivities which I respect so much because they are truly holy form me. everything you do is for God only. Now, i see you eat the whole cake when you don't even share that joy you say you have all year round, that's great? No. Do you have good news of salvation for the human kind right now? I don't see you people preaching your good news to the world that is going to hell if they do not turn their ways to God. Only christians and jewish people who accepted Jesus as the Messiah are preching it, not you orthodox jewish. You are too proud and too busy to reach the dying souls. Happy Hanukah

      December 23, 2010 at 10:08 am |
    • raw70

      May you and you family be blessed on your holidays as well.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  9. Boka, Springfield, PA

    I don't believe in a god but I enjoy all of celebrating around the holidays. It's all the holidays minus the silly religious stuff.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  10. IceT

    I personally don't care whether people celebrate with or without religious beliefs. I'm an Atheist that loves Christmas, no matter what it's called or why and I am not the least bit insulted by others' religious practices. I love christmas and everything that goes with it, trees, christian songs, gifts, family and yes even the beauty of many churches.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:32 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Exactly! I'll never apologize for celebrating Christmas! I even plan to light a candle in St. Patrick's Cathedral on Christmas day for my mom. She wasn't Catholic and I'm not Christian but I think it is a nice remembrance, so I do it!
      All sorts of people make Christmastime beautiful and I intend to enjoy ALL of it!

      December 23, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  11. Nino

    Hey, I'm not busting your chops here. I found this article interesting in helping me understand.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  12. Liz

    Whiny, defensive people can be found on all sides of the religious spectrum. Was Jesus's birthday in August or December? Did Christians steal it from pagans, making atheists (and not pagans) mad? Oh come on. WHO CARES? Atheist or Christian, most everyone thinks Jesus was a pretty nice guy who did a lot to bring attention to the poor and to encourage people to be kind and loving to one another. We can all celebrate Christ's impact on the world, regardless of your religion or lack of it.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • MrJTP

      I agree completely. It just doesn't matter when Christ was born. Why then did a large group of 'Christians' demonstrate in my city to demand the removal of the "Happy Holidays" display and replace it with a "Merry Christmas" display? Why does it matter so much to them? Are they afraid to notice a small crack in the foundation of their belief?

      December 23, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  13. maggie

    I am a christian and i do not celebrate the birth of Christ. Why because I do not know when he was born and because there is no place in the bible where it tells me to celebrate his birth. On the other hand, there is date and a command to comemorate his death and this is the occasion true christians should observe. I do not mean that Jesus birth was not important, however, his ministry, his teachings, and his death, are what true christians need to uphold not a mistery date of when he was or was not born.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:25 am |
    • WWRRD

      Good Friday and Easter are clearly more important than Christmas. I do celebrate Christmas , but I totally agree the historical and biblical empahsis is on honoring Good Friday and Easter. Holy Week is very impotant week in our household.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:47 am |
    • jibarito

      you are not a christian. shut up.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  14. Religious Sects

    "But for many of the 5% of Americans who say they don’t believe in God..."
    That statement says soo much more than it's face value. Only 5% may "admit" they don't bellieve, but I'd say 90% of the rest just "say" they DO believe in God and keep telling themselves that over and over in an effort to convince themselves it's true. There's a big difference between actually believing and just wishing it's true.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:25 am |
    • capnmike

      It's not 5%, it's 16%, and a lot of the rest of them are just sheep who have been brainwashed to believe the Big Lie of Religion and really have no idea what it is...a scam.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:30 am |
    • Jim

      And 5%-16% of the people are no different from the 84%-95% – people who wish that there is no God just telling themselves there is no God. Your sword is two-edged and cuts both ways my friend. I have found just as much wishful thinking and ignorance of those who are atheists (and have to add agnostics as a rule as well) as within those who believe in God in one way shape, manner of orm.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:43 am |
    • Jack

      See what I mean Malkin and Elizabeth? "...the rest of them are just sheep" A standard atheistic approach to debate. So much for tolerance and sharing.........

      December 23, 2010 at 9:43 am |
    • Religious Sects

      Jim & Jack,
      You "choose" not to attempt to capture the deeper point being made. A true Christian would agree with me that "most" so called Christians don't actually believe, they just go through the motions. The chip on your shoulder is obstructing your view.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  15. Peter

    I am a Christian and believe Jesus to the the son of God and my savior. However, I am also aware that whille Christmas is thought of as a Christian Holiday, it is in reality a mixture of non-christian religious traditions. It is unclear when Christ was born in scripture, and from a Christian perspective it doesn"t really matter WHEN he was born, it matters WHERE and HOW because these things were foretold in the Torah. I believe Christ would look unapprovingly upon Christmas as we Americans celebrate it as it has become the high point of materialism for the year. Don't get me wrong, I like the tree traditions and Santa and all that jazz, but that stuff has nothing to do with Christ. If an athiest says that Christmas is really a pagan holiday you should say you are right, because that does not deminish who Jesus is or what he did. I think if a Christian chooses to celebrate Christmas as Americans traditionally do, that is OK and it is within their Christian freedom to do so. However, I believe that making our faith ABOUT Christmas does our faith a disservice and is inconsistant with Christs teaching. For a Christian everyday is Christmas, because every day we should celebrate the eternal gift we were given on the cross... i-pads and flat screens will get old and lose their novelty...Salvation will not. Merry Christmas!!!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 9:23 am |
    • Elizabeth

      I wish more Christians were true followers of Christ. Even as an atheist, I respect the teachings of the historical and actual Jesus (the man, not the legend). If people would open their eyes, they'd learn that most atheists and humanists more closely follow the actual teachings of Jesus than his supposed 'followers'. I wish you a very happy holiday and year to come 🙂

      December 23, 2010 at 9:30 am |
    • Jack

      Elizabeth.....it has been in my experiences that most atheists do not believe that Jesus the man ever existed (despite historical evidence). And that they (and humanists) do not "follow" his teachings, rather they criticize them as nonsense.

      Again, in my experiences.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:40 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Which teachings do you hear called nonsense? Probably not the ones that involve people going around being nice to each other. Belief in a god, on the other hand, is probably not well received by atheists. The story of Jesus is quite compelling whether real or imagined and anyone can recognize the positive message. I don't believe in Santa Clause, but I like the idea!

      December 23, 2010 at 9:51 am |
    • Mehalko

      I couldn't agree with you more Peter! Have a wonderful CHRISTmas and a happy new year!

      December 23, 2010 at 10:42 am |
    • Joe

      Elizabeth, I appreciate that you respect the teachings of Jesus. I am curious, though, how one can respect some teachings and not others. For example, Jesus taught that He was the Son of God, that He would die and on the third day be resurrected, that He would ascend to the right hand of God the Father, and so forth. He also said that He said nothing but that it was the Father Who spoke through Him. Are we simply to remove God the Father from the equation and count Jesus as a raving lunatic who happened to have some really good things to say about treating others?

      December 23, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  16. HappyBirthdayJesus

    It's CHRISTmas! Not Treemas, not Lightsmas, not Giftsmas! CHRISTmas! I celebrate the birth of my savior on CHRISTmas day. If that isn't the day he was born, WHO CARES! That is the day we choose to celebrate. I know several people whos birthdays fall near CHRISTmas who choose to celebrate half-birthdays in June simply because there is much less going on at that time of year. Time to God means absolutly nothing. Our lives are a flash in the pan when looked at from an eternal perspective. Who cares what day it is celebrated? The fact is this is the day Christians choose and Atheists would find something negative about the day no matter what day we chose to celebrate it. So I say HAPPY BRITHDAY JESUS!!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 9:21 am |
    • nonbeliever

      you are the kind of christians everyone laughs at. saying happy birthday to your so called savior on a website. talking to your god through todays technology for everyone to see. what happened to the humble christian who didnt need anyone to notice whether they had a relationship or not. im so sure your jesus is just staring down from "heaven" anxiously waiting to see if anyone will give him a shoutout on facebook. hilarious.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:51 am |
    • jibarito

      God bless you. Preach the word of God, do not argue with the fools, because fools do not understand the things from God.
      Meery Christmas and Happy New Year... Feliz Navidad with Jesus.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:14 am |
    • mb

      Spent 4 years at a Catholic University and 2 years of theology classes. Christianity needed to supplant the winter festival of pagan Rome so they merged it with their own celebrations. Easter is a spring festival. Still enjoy both even as a agnostic.

      December 24, 2010 at 4:51 am |
  17. O2BinCLT

    FESTIVUS for the rest of us.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:19 am |
    • Jen in the Lou


      December 23, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  18. richunix_2000

    Sometimes I wish people would leave well enough alone. Atheism is not a religion nor is a sect, as per Webster: A disbelief in the existences of a deity. Religion however is “faith based” on a deity without any physical evidence of his/her/it’s existence and like “conradshull” stated: both religious and secular can find something to enjoy about it. So for those who find happiness with this time of year, I wish you a Happy Holiday’s and may you glide into next year with eyes wide open.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:18 am |
    • Jim

      Websters-Merriam dictionary definition #4 –
      ": a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith "

      atheism is a religion when held with dogmatic and deep conviction. Your claim that Webster's says otherwise is incorrect.

      Buddhism is a non-theistic religion (no god) but has a belief system that is based on lifestyle – it is still a religion.

      Just because one holds dogmatically that there is no God doesn't mean that that person isn't religious. It means the object of his or her religion is not theistic.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  19. Louie

    Seems to me the most squawking is that from the Christian Zealots and Fox News who want to rebuild the US as a Jesus State. No thanks and Happy Holidays.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:14 am |

      Right now as we type Christians are murdering and raping Muslims in Africa. The Muslim Africans are murdering the Christian Africans. Wonderful, Jesus in his true form. Millions murdered in his name in the last 2000 years. More people murdered for Jesus than anything else. Hmmm, I guess all the Christians did get their prayers answered after all. They would be happy with everyone murdered or converted if they are not Christians. This is their true mission.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:31 am |
    • Mehalko


      Would a Jesus state REALLY be that bad of a thing? I mean, if you ever have ACTUALLY read what Jesus taught people and people actually lived by his teachings, then you wouldn't have all the crime and problems that run rampant in EVERY single city in this country! You can keep your state just how it is, but PLEASE turn mine into a Jesus state!

      December 23, 2010 at 10:38 am |
    • Frogist

      @MajorMakeBelieve: While I think it is certainly true that some Christians are violent and use their religious stance to justify that, I don't think it is true of all of them. I believe that most people who call themselves Christians are really just like other people going about their mundane lives. They don't actually care about conversion and they certainly don't condone murder.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:50 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 1:31 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Mehalko: Yes, it would really be a bad thing for those of use who are not Christians.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Scott

      There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as The Dark Ages.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      See Scott's reply. If the police were the church, who'd arrest child molestors?

      December 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  20. Tom

    Christmas has nothing to do with true Christianity. It is a pagan holiday with a "Christian" label. Look up the encyclopedia.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:14 am |
    • Steve

      Christmas is a mass commemorating the birth of Christ. Pagan converts have muddled it up over the years with nonreligious traditions like tree-trimming, but it's all in good fun. Obviously it's a great holiday or it wouldn't be celebrated the world over even by non-Christians.

      December 23, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Tom, Steve, the early church was closely associated with Mithraism, which was a pretty decent thing as pagan faiths go. Mithras was the son of God and general of his army, and Mithraists were prepared to fight against an army of darkness at the end of the world. They recruited mostly soldiers and tradesmen, and not women, and saw Christians as allies. They celebrated their God's birth on Dec 25, and the Church began holding the Mass for Christ on that day. Before long, the Mithraists became scarce Christians numerous, and we took over their holiday- hey, this might be the most on-topic post yet!

      December 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
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About this blog

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.