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. Kerianne

    I'm glad some attention is being given to the atheist community, but I have some qualms with this article. Atheists and agnostics represent at least 17% of the nation; I do not know where the statistic 5% came from. Also, I am disappointed that the very poignant argument of how few of the Christmas traditions have anything to do with Christ or Christianity. The history of Christmas as celebrated today is a combination of Pagan celebrations and religious worshipping… the Christians do not own the celebration! Many civilizations and communities celebrated at this time of the year and it had nothing to do with Christ, and yet these celebrations morphed with the religious doctrines of Christianity, and Christians – as they often do decided that the entire holiday was theirs when only a small fraction has anything to do with their beliefs. If you want Christ in YOUR Christmas, that's fine, but I can have my Christmas as I like too; it's not your holiday, Christians.

    September 29, 2012 at 1:40 am |
  2. explonentialdotcom


    January 10, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  3. Jay

    I think its fine for Atheists to celebrate christmas... After all


    Christmas ISNT CHRISTIAN. No TRUE Christian would celebrate it.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Kerianne

      Nicely said.

      September 29, 2012 at 1:41 am |
  4. The Dude

    Doesn't matter if you are christian or atheist...Christmas is a time we can all come together and celebrate sharing time together.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  5. Jamie

    The sad fact is, Christmas has become an extremely commercialized holiday with less and less people actually celebrating the meaning behind it.
    As an agnostic, it's a holiday I'd prefer not to celebrate. I have no qualms against Christianity, but I don't think everyone should feel like they "have" to go out and purchase things for the friends and family members. For those of us who don't make a lot of money, it's honestly just inconvenient.
    I would like to raise any future children with open minds, and no set religion. As they get older, I would love to teach them about all faiths and let them make their own decisions.
    That being said.. One pretty much HAS to celebrate the Christmas/Santa tradition with young children nowadays. Otherwise, those children will most definitely feel left out among peers. It's just sad to me that the holiday has become all about gift giving and receiving.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  6. JB

    Seriously, why does anyone really care. Believe what you want, Aethiest are getting as guilty as Christians forcing their beliefs on others, whining, b****ing, moaning over me me me. Do what you want in your life, but don't expect anyone to care.

    January 1, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  7. Jim Jacobson

    Whether you are an individual of faith or not, Jesus of Nazareth was (is) THE most influential human being who ever existed. His story is the most widely read of all literature, and as it reads, He has been given a "name which is above every name."
    To not have a season, let alone a day, to celebrate His birth would be foolish. No individual has done more for humanity. Can you imagine complaining about M.L.K. day?

    December 29, 2010 at 1:54 am |
  8. G.O.D

    All the comments I'm reading so far is that Atheist knows this and knows that and claim to know more than Christians. So what if you read were historical facts. We no longer are in the past and so far the only comments I'm reading and seeing are only about historical facts. If you took the time to research it, why not take the chance to understand it? Read the Bible and try to understand the meaning behind it. I'm not asking you to believe it, but to understand.

    Matthew 5:44
    Luke 23:34

    December 28, 2010 at 9:18 am |
    • Don

      BT;DT. Found it was a load of myths, fables, and nonsense.

      December 28, 2010 at 9:39 am |
    • G.O.D

      @ Don

      You're not understanding the point Don. Every story has a meaning and a purpose. Your life has a meaning and a purpose...have you figured that out yet? Everything you touch, read, hear, and/or see on TV tells us about life and the things and people around us. The same goes for the Bible. Of course the Bible is going to have fables and stories. It's the hidden message within those stories that you have to figure out. But not the whole Bible is all fables and stories. The Bible also holds the most beautiful sayings ever and the most inspirational messages that have been used in blockbuster movies, million copied sold books, and billboard hit songs.

      So, don't just say that they're all stories/fables, because of the stories and messages from the Bible we have all come to live by it and learn from it...even you...without you knowing.

      If there was no God, life would be like the movie "The Road" starring Viggo Mortensen.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  9. TL

    Does any of this reallymatter in the end? Nobody's right if everybody's wrong. Jesus was just a hippie who lived in an age that wasn't ready for him.

    December 27, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  10. Fred

    For every year that I grow older, I am gaining the strength to know and love
    the fact that life is beautiful, bounteous. loving and fulfilling, but that mother nature will
    eventually call me home…I have come to embrace the fact that I do want separtation from the dictates
    of my biblical youth which would have my body and soul leave and go to a different place…
    I want my family to know that it’s not the calling of the cathedral that I hear or care about, but the
    humble garden, woods or stream to which I love and desire the remnants of my body be returned.

    December 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  11. Fred

    For every year that I grow older, I am gaining the strength to know and love
    the fact that life is beautiful, bounteous and fulfilling, but that mother nature will
    eventually call me home…I have come to embrace the fact that I do want separtation from the dictates
    of my biblical youth which would have my body and soul leave and go go a different place…
    I want my family to know that it’s not the calling of the cathedral that I hear or care about, but the
    humble garden, woods or stream to which I care about and desire the remnants of my body be returned.

    December 27, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  12. Leo

    Really simple: Most of the "Christmas" traditions are ancient pagan traditions stemming from the celebration of the Winter Solstice. The decorated trees, holly sprigs, shiny ornaments, bells, singing, red and green decor, candles, Yule logs, and so on... are all "pagan," which means essentially that it's of the common folks. In other words, the traditions belong to everyone. They're NOT Christian in origin!

    So, let the good cheer continue, let's go wassailing, light the Yule log, and have a merry, rational holiday.

    December 27, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  13. Michael Rae

    People step on your neck all year then expect you to smile and spend all your money on them. then you get hit with the increase and llight bill after the first of the year and think why was I such a sucker again. Christmas for me is just a fairy tail. Christmas always assumes you have family and friends and some folks just dont have that and just caring a fewweeks out of the yeaar just doent cut it with me thankyou.

    December 26, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
  14. Oren

    To all my athiests friends, keep up your wishful thinking because it's just wishful thinking on your part. Takes faith to believe you came from nothing, exist here and return to the same. Takes more faith than I'll ever have to believe something like that. Met the head kahuna athiest years ago, Madalyn Murray O'Hair by name. She hoped to be eaten by worms per her own words. Ended up in a vat of acid instead. Bummer. Appparently not enough faith in her athiest co-worker.

    December 26, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
  15. RightTurnClyde

    So ... if April 30th was a big Christian Holiday and for decades was a major retail event .. the athiests would feel like the Christians stole April? Or what about the Jewish High Holidays .. did they steal October and November? Does the same logic say the blacks stole MLK day? It does not make sense to me that if group A has a special date then non-members by choice have been slighted because they do not believe in whatever the holiday is about. That's merely contentious which is something atheists make an effort to be.

    December 26, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  16. Bill

    Why the labels?

    Enjoy the holidays. Give love. Why do we have to make sure that you are in the right category or not?

    God (of any religion), is love. Right? Or just Love as you define it? Loosen up. Love each other. I love you.

    December 26, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      God (of any religion) is NOT love! God does not exist, therefore all cults with a supernatural god (or more than 1) is " silly"...

      December 26, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  17. Erik

    I just posted something and it didn't show

    December 26, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  18. Muneef

    The love message of the West to the world;


    December 26, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  19. travis

    Quit whining and go invent your own holiday. Crybabies.

    December 26, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  20. ljames

    I'm praying for atheists on this blog that deny Christ. I pray that you discover the truth, power, and love of God. We will all be judged by God and you will not escape His judgement. Mocking God, denying Christ, or rationalizing your unbelief will not save you. "Every knee will bow, every tongue confess. . ." If you tag the Bible as a 'storybook' you're blind and lost. There are plenty of authors who can help you see your unbelief if you're willing to soften your heart and search them out. Lee Strobel's 'The Case for Christ' or Phillip Yancey's 'The Jesus I Never Knew' may help you. God bless.

    December 26, 2010 at 6:07 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.