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. Doug Hackett

    My sister is a "Jesus" person... she believes no one should celebrate Christmas unless they have recently taken sacrament. I see the holiday as a boon for the Christians, many folks at least take a interest in learning about the holiday. And it's a federal holiday, that holiday status must weigh in with "Santa's" over all popularity (due to separation of church & state.)
    It's a real bag of worms when you break it down. Santa and the reindeer, enduring tale of landing on the rooftop. The commercialism of Christmas leads to think of a fundamental difference between western civilization and the middle east... they find it abominable.

    December 26, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  2. Calm Analysis

    I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. However, I do not celebrate Christmas in any commerical or religious way. I grew up doing so, and continued both the "religious" practice and commercial practice well into my adult years. But as I became more serious about following the Lord, I realized that there was no biblical basis for this "celebration." The modern "Christian " clebration of Christmas is mainly tradition. You won't find Paul or Peter (or any other New Testament writer) establishing such a practice. Personally, I seek to celebrate everything (His birth, life, vicarious death, resurrection, ascension, etc.) about Jesus everyday (if not every moment). I do not condemn Christians nor non-Christians who celebrate the day or the season. However, at least in America, I think the traditions that have developed over the years give non-Christians just as much claim over Christmas as Christians have.

    December 26, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  3. o8sys

    Merry Atheists Day.....could be held on Lenin's birthday.

    December 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  4. Muneef

    Al-Shuara sura 26:
    And re-he-ar-se to them (something of) Abraham's story. (69) Behold, he said to his father and his people: "What worship ye?" (70) They said: "We worship idols, and we remain constantly in attendance on them." (71) He said: "Do they listen to you when ye call (on them) (72) "Or do you good or harm?" (73) They said: "Nay, but we found our fathers doing thus (what we do)." (74) He said: "Do ye then see whom ye have been worshipping― (75) "Ye and your fathers before you?― (76) "For they are enemies to me; not so the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds; (77) "Who created me, and it is He Who guides me; (78) "Who gives me food and drink (79) "And when I am ill, it is He Who cures me; (80) "Who will cause me to die, and then to live (again); (81) "And Who, I hope will forgive me my faults on the Day of Judgment… (82) O my Lord! Bestow wisdom on me, and join me with the righteous; (83) "Grant me honourable mention on the tongue of truth among the latest (generations); (84) "Make me one of the inheritors of the Garden of Bliss; (85) "Forgive my father, for that he is among those astray; (86) "And let me not be in disgrace on the Day when (men) will be raised up― (87) The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, (88) "But only he (will prosper) that brings to Allah a sound heart; (89)

    Al-Araf sura 07:
    The companions of the fire will call the companions of the garden; "pour down to us water or anything that Allah doth provide for your sustenance." They will say: "Both these things hath Allah forbidden to those who rejected Him.― (50) "Such as took their religion to be mere amusement and play and were deceived by the life of the world." That day shall We forget them as they forgot the meeting of this day of theirs, and as they were wont to reject Our signs. (51) For We had certainly sent unto them a Book, based on knowledge, which We explained in detail― a guide and a mercy to all who believe. (52) Do they just wait for the final fulfilment, of the event? On the day the event is finally fulfilled those who disregarded it before will say: "The Messengers of our Lord did indeed bring true (tidings). Have we no intercessors now to intercede on our behalf? Or could we be sent back? Then should we behave differently from our behaviour in the past." In fact they will have lost their souls, and the things they invented will leave them in the lurch. (53)Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, then He established Himself on the Throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil O'er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the cherisher and sustainer of the Worlds! (54) Call on your Lord with hu-mi-lity and in private: for Allah loveth not those who t-res-pass beyond bounds. (55) Do no mis-chief on the earth, after it hath been set in order, but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): for the Mercy of Allah is (always) near to those who do good. (56) It is He who sendeth the winds like heralds of glad tidings going before His Mercy: when they have carried the heavy-laden clouds, We drive them to a land that is dead, make rain to descend thereon, and produce every kind of harvest therewith: thus shall We raise up the dead: perchance ye may remember. (57) From the land that is clean and good, by the will of its Cherisher, springs up produce, (rich) after its kind: but from the land that is bad, spring up nothing but that which is n-igg-ardly: thus do We explain the signs by various (symbols) to those who are grateful. (58)

    December 26, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • The Dude

      The article is about X-mas, not random verses from the Quaran.

      January 4, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  5. Ally

    As an Agnostic, I really couldn't care less about this being a "Christian" Holiday. Christmas has been nothing but a consumerist Holiday for years. I've done the tree and presents thing my entire life. Was dragged to church once or twice (my family is kind of Catholic) but aside from that I don't think much of religion when it comes to Christmas. There is no point in complaining about it. Enjoy the ability to be with family and friends and more importantly enjoy a paid day (or days) off from work. I see Atheists these days just as miserable as Christians.

    December 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  6. AnAtheist'sView

    I agree with most of this article. I am both an Atheist and celebrator of Christmas. I understand that Christmas, as a word, is specific to Christ. However, the holiday as a whole, the social values it embraces, are values we can all take with us. It is convenient that we use the same term "Christmas", not necessarily a reflection of belief in the supernatural. Atheists could start calling it GetTogetherAndShareInTheWarmthOfFriendsAndFamilyWhileExchaningGiftsAndEatingGreatFood day, but I would consider that a bit pretentious. Besides, I have no problem celebrating Christmas with the catholic part of the family. They have religion, self, and friends to bring them closer to meaning, I simply have my self and friends. We can share in the latter two.

    December 26, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  7. rosethornne

    I don't know about anyone else, but I personally am revolted by child sacrifice, vampirism, and cannibalism.

    Have been ever since I was a young child sitting in Sunday school listening to horrible stories of torture and mayhem, and being threatened with peeping-tom ghosts by hypocritical adults.

    The disgusting, illogical, smug, self-contradictory nature of it revolted my eight year old soul, and fortunately I avoided being assimilated by the cult.

    I took the concept of ethics and used that in my own life, without any bs about 'do it or the murdering ghost will get you'.

    A person can be ethical, kind, and generous because such things promote a better society, without needing an external bullwhip. Only the smallminded, cruel, and greedy-natured need threats in order to pretend to be decent human beings.

    Whether you are reasonable & logical or deluded & assimilated, I wish you positive greetings for the winter season and happiness in the new year.

    December 26, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  8. Muneef

    As seems US and Allies have failed to conquer the world as atheists or say seculars although they in every latest wars they were distributing bibles but still they had no morals of their bible as we seen what has been done in the Iraqi prison Abu Gureeb as an example... As since their warriors were not determent or courageous as religious warriors so they thought of changing as a Chameleon to change color and become as good as Crusaders by becoming religious...
    The Vatican and such as Christian Famous are to spread in to the east to recruit warriors as believers for the upcoming religious wars among citizens of one nation and among nations... The fights in Gose, Nigeria is just a start to segregate nations and same being now followed by separating Sudan North and South for the future to come having them to fight against each other as Muslims and Christians.... Minorities of Christians in the East are being supported to rebel against their own to weaken countries frontiers for US and Allies to come with gates open or an excuse to break out fights and wars by the excuse of those minorities?? A secular Allies for their advantage declare wars and fight Muslims in the name of Christianity although they have long left back and rejected it calling it fairytales?!....Dirty Politics over and over again.
    Only because irresponsible acts like these they had created hatred towards Westerns at US or Allies and now the same they will generate for Christians living among other nations and beliefs as a repeated story of the Jews and Israel...

    December 26, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  9. Tony

    I have to give thanks to the athiest – they make me a stronger Christian.

    December 26, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  10. Jeannot

    Delusion? Faith? Words are not important. Whatever one decides to believe becomes real.
    For kids Santa is not just a belief. It is REAL. And they have the proof every year! If kids could organize themselves, there would be Santa churches with posters of Barbie, Wii, XBox and Starcraft and they would go and pray every week.
    Atheists don't have the capacity of delusion, or just refuse swallow their 500mg of Religion. Well They're the ones paying for it.

    December 26, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  11. Muneef

    A New Year Gained or a New Year Lost ?
    by Asma bint Shameem

    December 26, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  12. Muneef

    Bet you the picture above has to Muslim females wearing the Islamic dress?

    December 26, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  13. Kent

    One athiest was quoted as saying – "Christmas is a religious holiday that’s also a U.S. federal holiday." Everyone has the right to believe whatever they choose,but to complain about having a holiday is just plain sour-puss or Scrooge-like.

    December 26, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  14. Very Disappointed

    Wow, I am very disappointed in the accuracy of this article. First, and foremost, would be the ridiculous claim that only 5% "of Americans who say they don’t believe in God". This is VERY misleading. The unaffiliated number (people that have not chosen to follow a religion, agnostics, atheists, ect) is 11%-15% in the US.

    But thats not even the tragic part, the worst part is that this article is about Christmas being a Christian holiday and therefore you can simply take the US population (307,000,000), deduct all the Christians that believe and celebrate Christmas (240,000,000), and you are left with 67,000,000 or almost 22% of the population that does not believe in the Christian god.

    I truly am saddened by how far down hill our public media has fallen over the last 100 years and do not have a great outlook for the future generations of reporters out there.

    December 25, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  15. Donald

    I'm not atheist, I'm Catholic and I can understand their feelings about Christmas. Frankly, the whole holiday tradition has beome to much of a commerical paradigm to care anymore. Everyone wants to control the "message" of the season, turing into a carvinal for fools. I just kick back and enjoy yhr day for what it is as the hypocrites attempt to fleece more flock.

    December 25, 2010 at 10:39 pm |
  16. Friend of JC

    Lets just say this, God is real, Jesus is real, the Holy Spirit is real, Heaven is real and Hell is real , and ALL of you who do not believe in Christ will pay a terrible price for that. God gives you the right to choose not to have any part of him in this world and he will choose to to have no part of you in his heaven. In the name of Christ, Amen

    December 25, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  17. Muneef

    Fatir sura 35:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    Praise be to Allah Who created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth, Who made the angels Messengers with wings― two, or three, or four (Pairs): He adds to Creation as He pleases: for Allah has power over all things. (1) What Allah out of His Mercy doth bestow on mankind there is none can withhold: what He doth withhold there is none can grant apart from Him: and He is the Exalted in Power, Full of Wisdom. (2) O men! call to mind the grace of Allah unto you! Is there a Creator, other than Allah, to give you Sustenance from heaven or earth? There is no god but He: how then are ye deluded away from the Truth? (3) And if they reject thee, so were messengers rejected before thee: to Allah go back for decision all affairs. (4) O men! certainly the promise of Allah is true, Let not then this present life deceive you, nor let the Chief Deceiver deceive you about Allah. (5) Verily Satan is an enemy to you: so treat him as an enemy. He only invites his adherents, that they may become Companions of the Blazing Fire. (6).

    Az-Zumar sura 39:
    Say: "O Allah! Creator of the heavens and the earth! Knower of all that is hidden and open! It is Thou that wilt judge between Thy Servants in those matters about which they have differed." (46) Even if the wrongdoers had all that there is on earth, and as much more, (in vain) would they offer it for ransom from the pain of the Penalty on the Day of Judgement: but something will confront them from Allah, which they could never have counted upon! (47) For the evils of their Deeds will confront them, and they will be (completely) encircled by that which they used to mock at! (48) Now, when trouble touches man, he cries to Us; but when We bestow a favour upon him as from Ourselves, he says "This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge (I have)!" Nay but this is but a trial but most of them understand not! (49) Thus did the (generations) before them say! But all that they did was of no profit to them. (50) Nay, the evil results of their deeds overtook them. And the wrongdoers of this (generation)― the evil results of their deeds will soon overtake them (too), and they will never be able to frustrate (Our Plan)! (51) Know they not that Allah enlarges the provision or restricts it for any He pleases? Verily in this are signs for those who believe! (52).

    Ash-Shura sura 42:
    Ha Mim; (1) `Ain Sin Qaf. (2) Thus doth (He) send Inspiration to thee as (He did) to those before thee― Allah, Exalted in Power, full of Wisdom. (3) To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: and He is Most High, Most Great. (4) The heavens are almost rent asunder from above them (by His Glory): and the angels celebrate the Praises of their Lord, and pray for forgiveness for (all) beings on earth: behold! Verily Allah is He, the Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (5) And those who take as protectors others besides Him― Allah doth watch over them; and thou art not the disposer of their affairs. (6) Thus have We sent by inspiration to thee an Arabic Qur'an: that thou mayest warn the Mother of Cities and all around her― and warn (them) of the Day of Assembly, of which there is no doubt: (when) some will be in the Garden, and some in the Blazing Fire. (7) If Allah had so willed, He could have made them a single people; but He admits whom He will to His Mercy; and the wrongdoers will have no protector nor helper. (8) What! Have they taken (for worship) protectors besides Him? But it is Allah He is the Protector and it is He Who gives life to the dead: it is He Who has power over all things. (9) Whatever it be wherein ye differ, the decision thereof is with Allah: Such is Allah my Lord: in Him I trust, and to Him I turn. (10) (He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves, and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees (all things). (11) To Him belongs the keys of the heavens and the earth: he enlarges and restricts the Sustenance to whom He will: for He knows full well all things. (12).

    December 25, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  18. Muneef

    Al-Anaam sura03:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    "To Him belongeth all that dwelleth (or lurketh) in the Night and the Day. For He is the One Who heareth and knoweth all things. (13) Say: "Shall I take for my protector any other than Allah, the Maker of the heavens and the earth? And He is that feedeth but is not fed." Say: "Nay! but I am commanded to be the first of those who bow to Allah (in Islam), and be not thou of the company of those who join gods with Allah." (14) Say: "I would if I disobeyed my Lord, indeed have fear of the penalty of a Mighty Day. (15) "On that day, if the penalty is averted from any, it is due to Allah's Mercy; and that would be (Salvation), the obvious fulfillment of all desire. (16) "If Allah touch thee with affliction, none can remove it but He; if He touch thee with happiness, He hath power over all things. (17) "He is the Irresistible, (watching) from above over His worshippers; and He is the Wise acquainted with all things." (18) Say: "What thing is most weighty in evidence?" Say: "Allah is Witness between me and you: this Qur'an hath been revealed to me by inspiration That I may warn you and all whom it reaches. Can ye possibly bear witness that besides Allah there are other gods?" Say: "Nay! I cannot bear witness!" Say: "But in truth He is the One God and I truly am innocent of (your blasphemy of) joining others with Him. (19) Those to whom We have given the Book know this as they know their own sons. Those who have lost their own souls refuse therefore to believe. (20) Who doth more wrong than he who inventeth a lie against Allah or rejecteth His Signs? But verily the wrong-doers never shall prosper. (21).

    Yusuf sura 12:
    "O my Lord! Thou hast indeed bestowed on me some power, and taught me something of the interpretation of dreams and events― O Thou Creator of the heavens and the earth! Thou art my Protector in this world and in the Hereafter Take thou my soul (at death) as one submitting to Thy Will (as a Muslim), and unite me with the righteous." (101) Such is one of the stories of what happened unseen, which We reveal by inspiration unto thee: nor wast thou (present) with them when they concerted their plans together in the process of weaving their plots. (102) Yet no faith will the greater part of mankind have, however ardently thou dost desire it. (103) And no reward dost thou ask of them for this: it is no less than a Message for all creatures. (104) And how many Signs in the heavens and the earth do they pass by? Yet they turn (their faces) away from them! (105) And most of them believe not in Allah without associating (others as partners) with Him! (106) Do they then feel secure from the coming against them of the covering veil of the wrath of Allah― Or of the coming against them of the (final) Hour all of a sudden while they perceive not? (107) Say thou: "This my way: I do invite unto Allah― on evidence clear as the seeing with one's eyes I and whoever follows me: Glory to Allah! and never will I join gods with Allah!" (108) Nor did We send before thee (as Messengers) any but men, whom We did inspire― (men) living in human habitations. Do they not travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those before them? But the home of the Hereafter is best, for those who do right. Will ye not then understand? (109) (Respite will be granted) until, when the messengers give up hope (of their people) and (come to ) think that they were treated as liars, there reaches them Our help. And those whom We will are delivered into safety. But never will be warded off Our punishment from those who are in sin. (110) There is, in their stories instruction for men endued with understanding. It is not a tale invented, but a confirmation of what went before it a detailed exposition of all things, and a Guide and a Mercy to any such as believe. (111).

    Ibrahim sura 14:
    Their messengers said: "Is there a doubt about Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth? It is He Who invites you, in order that He may forgive you your sins and give you respite for a term appointed!" They said: "Ah! ye are no more than human like ourselves! Ye wish to turn us away from the (gods) our fathers used to worship: then bring us some clear authority." (10) Their messengers said to them: "True, we are human like yourselves, but Allah doth grant His grace to such of His servants as He pleases. It is not for us to bring you an authority except as Allah permits. And on Allah let all men of faith put their trust. (11) "No reason have we why we should not put our trust on Allah. Indeed He has guided us to the Ways we (follow). We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us: for those who put their trust should put their trust on Allah." (12) And the Unbelievers said to their messengers: "Be sure we shall drive you out of our land, or ye shall return to our religion." But their Lord inspired (this Message) to them: "Verily We shall cause the wrongdoers to perish! (13) "And verily, We shall cause you to abide in the land, and succeed them. This for such as fear the time when they shall stand before My tribunal― such as fear the punishment denounced." (14) But they sought victory and decision (there and then), and frustration was the lot of every powerful obstinate transgressor. (15).

    December 25, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  19. reyalpeleluku

    It seems to me that the Bible says we all are atheists until Jesus rescues us. Ephesians 2:12 says to Christians that "[formerly] you were without Christ .. having no hope and without God in the world". The words "without God" are a translation of a Greek word "atheoi" - Atheists. The Good News is that Jesus Christ brings hope to atheists.

    December 25, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  20. MatterOfFact

    Christmas has always been a big party. Even before Christians were invented. People come to a party for a myriad of reasons. Some to get laid. Some to get high. Some to just have fun. Or drink the punch. Merry Christmas to everyone!

    December 25, 2010 at 4:15 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.