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. Master_Kush

    It really depends on how you see Christians or any religion for that matter. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all based on the old testament, and if one reads the old testament, you wont have to read far before your very being is disgusted and dismayed at what God and those under him do.. All morals are based on the old testament.. So for me, i cannot feel "holiday spirit" because when i see a cross or a christmas tree, i think of the religion it represents and it revulses me.
    I think most Christians have not read the old testament and understand what it contains, or they too would denounce their god...

    December 23, 2010 at 7:08 pm |
  2. Li Tai Fang

    Pleast, Pastor Kyev Tatum. Don't be such a dick. Christ wasn't even born on Christmas.

    December 23, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
  3. NM

    please check out http://www.islamicsolutions.com/mary-mother-of-jesus-god-bless-them-both-quote-of-the-day-245/

    December 23, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
  4. grimmigefuchs

    Most of the traditions practiced on "christmas" are all taken from traditional Pagan celebrations, so if anything christians shouldn't be celebrating on December 25.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  5. World Without End - Scientific Pantheism

    And the child had many many many ancestors, who contributed to both his understanding and lack thereof,

    followed by many, many, many descendents who did the same, for and to their children.

    And what are the greatest commandments:

    1) "Love the Lord thy God...

    (no matter what your perception of moral order is, whether you include psychology and comfort... or just the conceit of what think you know, physical science;... but not a limited God, for such perception is the product of your limited mind, atheist or non-atheist...not the mind of God...don't confuse them )....

    with all thy HEART (show a little respect and hope for others, all of who exist in God as well as yourself; and the rest will come in time)...

    and all thy MIND.
    (no matter how limited it might currently be, make an effort to learn more for the benefit of you, others and your descendents – to close your mind is a sin in itself, based on this commandment);

    2) Love your neighbor as yourself
    (but love yourself or you miss the point – allowing others to make you suffer in ignorance or even chosing on your own to do so, does not make it right to expect the same of others)

    When you were a child you thought as a child...grow up now... but don't lose the wonder...there will always be more beyond your current understanding to marvel).

    Take heart. The dying Sun/Son is returning/reborn. God is reborn. Life moves on, with or without us.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  6. Malcolm Wrathmoore

    Guess what? CHRISTmas is a CHRISTian holiday. If you don't like it, tough.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  7. LV Angela

    It sounds ike some people are a little confused about what celebrating Christmas is. Putting up a tree, giving gifts and Santa Claus is a celebration of a very rel person, St Nicholas, he has different names beacause of translations in many different languages. He was a Christian Priest that gave to the poor. This isn't particularly a religious celebration, more like celebrating the good works of someone in history. Now, Christmas Mass, on the other hand is very religious of course, celebrating the birth of Jesus. And these things all happened a very long time ago and a lot of religions had a reason to celebrate in December, especially around the winter solstice, so thimgs kind of overlap. Christian or not, this is a great time to get together with the people you care about, reminisce about things past and talk about the new year to come. Everyone should be able to celebrate that. And it's a lot easier to say "Merry Christmas" to get this point across then "Happy end of the year, enjoy time with your friends and family!"

    December 23, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  8. BigWorm

    What? Christmas a Christian holiday?? Yea right, should be called GifT-MAS. Thats what its really about right, spending money on stupid gifts.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  9. Alex

    I'm an Atheist and I love Christmas

    December 23, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  10. MS

    I'm an agnostic who celebrates Christmas.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  11. John D lamb

    Comments please.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  12. Muneef

    Imagin how many there are Public Holidays and Religious Holidays and weekends round the world and if to fall for secular as a whole seems our time will become working time just as slaves...so guess you should be happy with the mercy you are enjoying now a days with your families and relatives.
    When seeing your brothers happy join them and be happy and when are sad stand by them and feel as sad...surely they will return the favor but do not spoil the happiness seen in the eyes of kids playing or in the eyes of fathers,mothers or grand fathers,mothers when seeing family members surrounding them happily and lovingly. But you know who rejects same they are the people who lack those ties or left them behind out of memory! Only those do not appriciate any thing because they rather live like devils alone and lonely or make up that in becoming workaholic to avoid those family and social holiday gatherings.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  13. Crysee

    I'm an atheist and I love Christmas!!! I have 2 months of vacation from college and get a whole bunch of presents!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  14. LEB

    The majority of Christmas icons have either pagan or folkloric origins - Santa, the Christmas tree, the yule log, etc. Also, holiday celebrations around this time are ANCIENT (as in, pre-Christian), and most cultures have celebrations this time of year regardless of what religion is dominant. My feeling is that because it's the darkest time of year, with the 21st or 22nd being the shortest day of the year, humans started inventing celebrations because, frankly, we needed to cheer ourselves up! What better way to combat S.A.D. than to throw a big holiday party?

    December 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  15. Cyrcee

    AND KANDY......DO NOT .......I repeat DO NOT reference my man Carl, odds are you have NO IDEA what that man accomplished in his life!!!! I was born 11/09/1966, I share the same birthdat DAY, not year & the same beliefs......you can go drown !!!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  16. jeffbob

    These guys are idiots – almost all of the traditions and symbology of Christmas were either pre-existing Winter festival events appropriated by the early Christian church to help mainstream existing religions into the upstart Christianity, or stuff that was dreamt up within the last 150 years.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  17. dollarsign

    Yeah, I remember all of you atheists from my year in Vietnam. When the crap hit the fan, you were the ones praying the loudest!

    December 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  18. Blue

    I may not be the most religious person in the world, but I think if you get offended when someone wishes you a "Merry Christmas" instead of a "Happy Holiday," you're completely missing the point.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
    • Scott

      Yes and exactly the opposite too

      December 23, 2010 at 7:24 pm |
  19. Charlie

    TheReal- I'm not sure what there is to explain...atheists don't believe in a god. There isn't some unified definition because unlike religion, atheism isn't organized.

    Your tone suggests you're under the impression that most atheists want to shove their beliefs down the throats of others. Don't let the internet deceive you- most of us atheists don't care what others believe whatsoever. I hope you don't come away from this thinking we're all intolerant, rabid idealists or something, because most of us aren't. Have a Merry Christmas!

    December 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  20. ohnoooo!

    Atheist are like dogs in heat. When they get stuck together they tend to yap a lot.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:48 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.