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. Muneef

    Al-Maeda sura05:
    One day will Allah gather the Messengers together, and ask: "What was the response ye received (from men to your teaching)? They will say: "We have no knowledge: it is Thou who knowest in full all that is hidden. (109) Then will Allah say: "O Jesus, the son of Mary! recount my favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold! thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the Clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: `This is nothing but evident magic'. (110) "And behold! I inspired the Disciples to have faith in Me and Mine Messenger: they said `We have faith and do thou bear witness that we bow to Allah as Muslims'." (111) Behold! the Disciples said: "O Jesus the son of Mary! can thy Lord send down to us a table set (with viands) from heaven?" Said Jesus: "Fear Allah if ye have faith." (112) They said: "We only wish to eat thereof and satisfy our hearts, and to know that thou hast indeed told us the truth; and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle. (113) Said Jesus the son of Mary: "O Allah our Lord! send us from heaven a Table set (with viands), that there may be for us― for the first and the last of us a solemn festival and a sign from Thee; and provide for our sustenance, for Thou art the best Sustainer (of our needs). (114) Allah said: "I will send it down unto you: but if any of you after that resisteth faith I will punish him with a penalty such as I have not inflicted on anyone among all the peoples. (115) And behold! Allah will say "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, `worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah"? He will say: "Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. (116) "Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say: to wit, `Worship Allah, my Lord, and your Lord'; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when Thou didst take me upThou wast the Watcher over them and Thou art a Witness to all things. (117) "If Thou dost punish them they are Thy servants: if Thou dost forgive them, Thou art the Exalted in power the Wise. (118).

    December 24, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  2. Muneef

    An-Nisa sura 04:
    O mankind! The Messenger hath come to you in truth from Allah: believe in him: it is best for you. But if ye reject Faith to Allah belongs all things in the heavens and on earth: and Allah is All-Knowing,All-Wise. (170) O people of the Book! commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an Messenger of Allah and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah: glory be to him: (for Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (171) Christ disdaineth not to serve and worship Allah, nor do the angels, those nearest (to Allah): those who disdain His worship and are arrogant― He will gather them all together unto Himself to (answer). (172).

    December 24, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  3. Don

    My view of December is that it's cold and snowy.

    December 24, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  4. Muneef

    Al-E-Imran sura 03:
    "This is what We re-he-ar-se unto thee of the Signs and the Message of Wisdom." (58) This similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam: He created him from dust, then said to him: "Be" and he was. (59) The Truth (comes) from thy Lord alone; so be not of those who doubt. (60).

    An-Nisa sura 04:
    That they rejected Faith: that they ut-te-red against Mary a grave false charge. (156) That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";― but they killed him not, nor cr-uc-if-ied him, but so it was made to appear to them and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.― (157) Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (158).

    December 24, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  5. Muneef

    Read about Jesus in the Quran?

    Al-E-Imran sura03:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful 
    This is part of the tidings of the things unseen, which We reveal unto thee (O Prophet!) by inspiration; thou wast not with them when they cast lots with arrows, as to which of them should be charged with the care of Mary; nor wast thou with them when they disputed (the point). (44) Behold! the angels said "O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah. (45) "He shall speak to the people in childhood And in maturity and he shall be (of the company) of the righteous." (46) She said: "O my Lord! how shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?" He said: "Even so: Allah createth what He willeth; when He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it `Be', and it is! (47) "And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel. (48) "And (appoint him) an Messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay as it were the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave; and I heal those born blind, and the lepers and I quicken the dead by Allah's leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe. (49) "(I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me, and to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah and obey me. (50) "It is Allah who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a way that is straight." (51) When Jesus found unbelief on their part, he said: "Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?" Said the Disciples: "We are Allah's helpers we believe in Allah and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims. (52) "Our Lord! we believe in what thou hast revealed, and we follow the Messenger; then write us down among those who bear witness." (53) And (then unbelievers) plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah. (54) Behold! Allah said: "O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject Faith, to the Day of Resurrection; then shall ye all return unto Me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute. (55).

    December 24, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  6. AQ

    As a former Baptist (still Christian), I have to say that pastor is very wrong... though he is from Texas so they have their own version of facts and history. Yes, Christians DID choose this time of year to counter-act that pagan Winter Solstice (and pagan does not mean Satanist or witch). Jesus, if one really studies the Bible, was most likely born in the Spring sometime – which would be a far warmer time of year to celebrate hehehe. I have no problem with atheists celebrating Christmas but they have to remember THEY are celebrating a holiday that IS based on Christian beliefs. If they hate the religious aspects attached to a religious holiday might I suggest they start celebrating Winter Solstice instead? Make your own holiday and embrace it instead of being offended by Merry Christmas or the religious beliefs surrounding a religious holiday! Atheists also don't seem to complain about getting candy and such on Easter – another religious holiday.

    Get over whining about being offended by everything (and that goes for EVERYONE of any religion or non-religion) and just enjoy things for what they are. I'm sick of all the whiners.

    December 24, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
  7. Bill the Science Guy

    For those who accept science and logic, there is evidence of spiritual reality. It is human free will. As described in the book The Science of the Soul, many prominent scientists agree (in written statements) that free will cannot be explained as a natural phenomenon. These include Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, William Provine and others. The evidence of free will is all around us. We can all freely choose to do (or not do frivolous things. Atheists have a free choice: believe in free will and a spiritual soul or reject free will, in which case atheists are not "free thinkers" as some claim. see ScienceOfSoulsdotcom

    December 24, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  8. Bill

    I can still celebrate the spirit of Christmas, even as an atheist. I can still marvel at the philosophy and teachings of Jesus, without believing in the magic of virgin births, or resurrection. Jesus wasn't really born on Dec 25 anyway. No one knows when he was born. But the Byzantine Emperor Constantine ordered the celebration his birth to coincide with a pagan holiday, as well as the Zoroastrian one, so that non-Christians in the Empire would not object to then rising Christianity. So we can all celebrate this dark winter time (unless you live in the Earth's Southern Hemisphere) with good cheer, no matter what one's beliefs. After all, Jesus was about loving everyone. Surely, he of all persons would have included even us atheist.

    December 24, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  9. CantSilenceUs


    Step on my beliefs, and I'll step on yours.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  10. EricSHarmon

    Get over it people. Christmas is about the birth of Christ Jesus the Lord and Savior. Whether you believe or not, you know. He is in us and we are of Him. If everyone spent the time with Him that they took trying to disprove the only constant in the universe, they would understand. God was, is and will always Be. I'm taking the atheistic point of view and using circular reasoning in saying the God is the reason because He created the reason and because of the Reason, He is the Reason. It's like scientist saying a fossil is a certain age because of the age of the rock they are found in and they know the age of the rock because of the fossils found in them.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  11. Aqaui Foord Hussien

    Wake up America.

    Satan is one smart dude.

    He is now using America’s non-taxable money (church donations) against us too.

    But nothing is as brilliant as The American Government financing two wars against Satan’s people (with what’s left of the American taxpayers money) WHILE the American taxpayer is footing the bill for Satan’s people’s armies by filling up their cars every week with gas imported from Satan’s peoples countries. And this will not end anytime soon because the majority of American taxpayers are against American offshore drilling due to last summers oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

    December 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  12. ApeHanger

    I find Christmas to be a time to endure the excesses of those supposedly-good people who are at each others' throats the rest of the year. Christmas has degenerated into a secular excuse to act like and idiot and spend money that one doesn't have. The only thing worse is New Year's Eve, when all the drunks hit the road.

    December 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  13. cellblock131

    If you truly don't believe that Jesus is the reason, then you should take to heart your belief and work on the 25th for normal pay. Don't get double time or over time pay, just go in like regular and work. That is what a true atheist should do. Just like I go in to work during Ramaadan or Kwanzaa, atheist should do the same.

    December 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
    • Edward Tomchin

      We probably would and many of us do - at the businesses that are open on christmas - but most businesses close for this religious holiday. Personally, I use these "holidays" to take care of many things at home. So I do work on christmas. And easter, good friday and all other religious "holidays" as well. Please get off your high horse and walk with the rest of us folks.

      December 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • Marconi

      Do they have a government holiday for Ramadan in the country you live? If not, you are just doing your job.

      December 25, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
  14. Scott

    What is the point in life without God? How can existence be bearable when you choose to isolate that part of yourself that can behold a sunrise or sunset without feeling the joy of Him? I know there is many good reasons to shun organized religion, people get burned and abused by them all the time, but to deny your own soul and believe that your only a finite organism, how can you find joy in anything like that-let alone Christmas? Not that I don't want you celebrating, the more the merrier. I just want to say that if you, the Atheist, loves someone, to remember that love has no bearing in logic or reason, its source is from a higher power. And its well known that love can penetrate even the most stubborn will.

    Merry Christmas to all!

    December 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • Edward Tomchin

      Atheists are not the dark evil creatures many of you portray. Atheists have beliefs - just not in a god or any other mythical creatures - gods and the like - which people created abundantly out of fear. Consider for a moment - outside the box of your beliefs if you can - that in the span of our known history, human beings have created thousands of different gods. If there were a god, which of those thousands would be the "one true god"? Yet you ask in what, if anything, I believe - implying atheists believe in nothing. The answer is simple and right in front of your nose. I believe in people. The human species.

      We are not where we are due to the intervention or guidance of any god. We have advanced and grown to the point of our current development due solely to our own intelligence, rationale, creativity, perseverance and initiative. We are a very determined and powerful species.

      December 24, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Walpurgis

    I prefer Festivus, especially the Airing of Grievances and pinning the head of the household down as a definitive end to the celebration.

    December 24, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  16. The Solution

    I see people here that seem to believe the way I do. Christians are evil. They need to be exterminated from the face of this earth. They are the root cause of all problems in the world right now and theystarted planting those seeds with the false prophet/saviour of their faith.... Jesus is a myth, he was the "poster child" of a group of people that want nothing less than workd domination. Remove this blight from the face of this earth!

    December 24, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  17. Edward Tomchin

    As a 71 year old man who has seen far too much abuse, fighting and materialism during this season, I've grown to despise the month of December, regardless what religion or belief tries to celebrate the season. Families get together to celebrate and more frequently than not wind up fighting. People flood the streets, parking lots and stores, pushing, shoving, swearing and scowling at each other as everyone jockeys to be first with the most. It's a very disgusting time of year as far as I'm concerned.

    December 24, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  18. The Rogue Scotsman

    Let me clarify things... I have no problems with christianity. The fact that I'm trying to convey here is that christians purposely tried to take one cultures celebrations away from them (Celts) to further their own agenda. Why not celebrate his birthday on his birthday? If that were the case there would be no discussion about this what so ever. I have a problem with a culture, religion, or sect of people that try to subvert another culture's values....especially with malice.

    December 24, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  19. Haime52

    So many comments, so many opinions and so many replies I'd love to make. Christmas is, in its present incarnation, a Christian construct, the dates of which were taken from Roman Saturnalia, to aid and smooth the conversion of pagans to Christianity. In Mithraism, the sun god, Mithra, was born, of a virgin, on 25 Dec. You can see the similarities to Christianity in this story. Satan has his conterfiet for everything of God's.
    I bare atheists no illwill but while there is no hard proof that God exists, in the scientific view, niether can they rule out the possibility that He does exist. The very premise of evolution means that God could, just could, be the only creature of evolution. Even Dawkins acedes to that.

    December 24, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  20. HB

    Christmas is a pagan holiday anyway and to each his own...

    December 24, 2010 at 10:10 am |
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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.