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. PSH

    One quick question – why is it that atheists only pick on Christianity? If atheists do not beilieve in any 'supreme being', why do we never hear them complain about Ramadan, Hanakkuh or any other major religion's holidays?

    December 24, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  2. recreative

    It seems, from the comments above, that the War on Christmas is still strong. Thanks CNN for posting a rather neutral post regarding both religious and areligious points of view on the winter holiday season. It is appreciated. To everyone else, please feel free to read my response at http://ubuntuspirit.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/whose-holiday-is-it-anyway and hear some thoughts about how everyone contributes to the holiday hostilities these days, and in a myriad of ways.

    December 24, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  3. recreative

    It seems there is still plenty to fight about over Christmas! I am glad that CNN posted this blog and made an attempt at being neutral by presenting both religious and areligious points of view. For more on the "War on Christmas" and its concommitant holiday hostilities check out my blog on the topic – http://ubuntuspirit.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/whose-holiday-is-it-anyway/

    December 24, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  4. Elizabeth

    I've been an atheist since I was about 10 years old and went to confirmation classes only to confirm that I couldn't believe. I spent a good 10 years as an angry atheist, admonishing anything related to Christianity because I perceived Christians as ignorant. Then I studied Anthropology in college and graduate school. I studied ancient philosophy, religion, myth, symbolism, and all facets of human culture. We have always tried to rationalize the human condition; it's what makes us human. I love taking part in rituals that are thousands of years old and find that there is power in participating in maintaining cultural traditions. While I don't believe in a god, I believe there are important things to be learned in attending religious services and reinterpreting the wisdom passed down through the ages. I proudly celebrate Christmas because of the traditions we've passed down through my family. I've also learned that belief is not ignorance. I can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God and I believe the evidence indicates that there is no God, but that's my leap of faith.

    December 24, 2010 at 9:45 am |

    It's amazing to me that every child grows up to realize that Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy etc. are all childish fairy tales, but so many people cling to the ridiculous god fairy tale. Evolve people!

    December 24, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  6. rlhlr2880

    I would not move to India and expect the Indian people to change and move around all their religious beliefs that hindered my life in any way. I would be laughed out of the country. This country was established on Christian beliefs and most of this country still believes that way. The one complaint I have about this country is that we let the minority rule the majority. I'm not about to change anything about the way we celebrate the holidays because a Buddhist can't go to Target on December 25th. As for atheists celebrating Christmas, knock yourselves out.. celebrate. But stop pushing your views on everyone else. Stop your stupid advertising outside the tunnels in New York!! Majority rules!!

    December 24, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  7. Grace

    As a side note....I REALLY wish they'd tell me WHERE the pretty pic on the top of the page was taken.

    December 24, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  8. Luke

    Who cares about athiests thoughts?

    December 24, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  9. Dave

    jesus was an alien, accept it and get over yourself.

    December 24, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  10. affiliatedcontents

    I doesn't matter that Christmas was a Pagan holiday. It is here to stay. I was raised Christian but no longer practice the religion. I am currently in Istanbul, Turkey. Even here, a predominately Muslim country, Christmas decorations are all up (even seen one store owned and operated by Muslims with a full gingerbread town display complete with a Christian cross, a "Merry Christmas" sign, and a Santa Claus). Christmas has become a very marketable holiday.

    Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Years to ALL!

    December 24, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  11. Eileen Arter

    America is a great country. We can freely express our opinions! OO-Rah. I'm working this holiday. Thank you all for making me smile. I love reading your thoughts. Here is a seasonal hug and a smile if you didn't get one. 🙂

    December 24, 2010 at 8:02 am |
  12. Happy Humanists

    Just wanted to register our representation for being another secular family who has no interest in fairy tales. We do take part in the very humanistic character traits of sharing love and enjoying the winter solstice activities.

    December 24, 2010 at 8:02 am |
  13. Caleb

    Christians started this Christmas. Let us keep it.

    December 24, 2010 at 8:00 am |
  14. Sandrine

    The Noel tree (let's use this term so that there is no more argument about the part Christ in Christmas) is originally a pagan tradition.
    In several language the word Christ does not even appear in the word used to label the celebrations tied to the end of the year and the decrease of light. Every culture has had through centuries traditions linked to the solstice and the source of these traditions has nothing to do with religion.
    It is quite sad to hear so many Christians judge others who do not share their beliefs, fight like greedy soldiers for the ownership of a day, and close their hearts to the majority of the inhabitants of this planet... and then then sing Peace on Earth. I feel sorry for them and hope that they will understand that this has become a celebration of family and humanity and that they can rejoice to be part of this without the need for ownership.
    Life is good! I am just glad that this down time gives my family and I extra time to sit in front of the fire place and our tree, play some games, enjoy hot chocolate with marshmallows, open our gift carefully prepared by each of us, and slow down our lives. Joyeux Noel to all!

    December 24, 2010 at 7:44 am |
  15. Faith is a joke

    Religion is responsible for more deaths then communism, facism, democracy, totalianism, and terrorism combined. It's for people that can't accept we're just animals...and who are too scared to deal with facts. Good luck with that, I can't wait for you folks to die and just rot in the ground like everything else. Too bad it's too late for you to wake up by then.

    December 24, 2010 at 7:30 am |
  16. jaytee

    Befo9re we all get too of track remember that an Athiest is "one who vehemently denies teh existence of a god" and an agnostic is one who is not concerned if thee is a god or not. It is interesting to see people posting who are unsure or incorrect about their own belief system. Great book called "The True Believer" may shed some light on this. Think of it this way – one side is telling you that no one should own a gun – the other side is saying we should all own a gun & in the middle some rational people are saying If you want to own a gun go ahead but I am secure enough not to need one.

    December 24, 2010 at 7:11 am |
  17. Ivy

    Happy Festivus everyone. Let the airing of the grievances begin!

    December 24, 2010 at 7:00 am |
  18. Cindy

    If you put up lights and a tree and things associated with Christmas then you are celebrating Christmas no matter what you call it.

    December 24, 2010 at 6:45 am |
  19. LOW LYF


    December 24, 2010 at 6:43 am |
  20. Someone

    As a former Christian and now agnostic, I view Christmas the same as I do now as I did before a secular holiday. The beliefs of values, kindness, and family transcend all religious beliefs and or values. Which is what I celebrate on Christmas. That being said, I really don't like the fact that the Christians have a death grip on the holiday and force just about everything to close on that holiday. If that is such the case, why not close the federal government on Jewish holidays, or Muslim holidays?

    December 24, 2010 at 6:33 am |
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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.