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. Dennis

    When Charles Dickens died, people were afraid Christmas Celebrations would end.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  2. allornothing

    I have a question for anyone. I was standing on the corner of the street and suddenly i watched two rocks appear out of thin air, collide together and suddenly two huge giraffes appeared in the road and caused a huge car wreck. Did this happen?

    December 23, 2010 at 11:19 am |
    • Scott

      Well I seriously doubt it; but, I can’t prove it didn’t

      December 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  3. Buster Bloodvessel

    We watched the Andy Williams Christmas special again last night and enjoyed it, although once again it totally failed to convert me to Christianity. Many cultures celebrate the mid-winter, but Christmas is the most vital and exuberant way. I expect it to become all about Santa Claus and completely drop Jesus in another ten years, and every time some "christian" shrieks "Happy Holidays is a code word for ISLAM!" at me I feel it can't come soon enough. Come on, you're celebrating your god's birthday with hatred and sneers, I can't believe you think it's acceptable as worship.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  4. Dennis

    The Puritans had a war on christmas, they outlawed Christmas for 22 years.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  5. atheistnurse

    I am an atheist who loves Christmas! I treat the Jesus myth just like the Santa myth... we have a little nativity scene in the house as well as Santa decorations.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  6. gladi8tor96

    Wait.... "But how could Christians monopolize a holiday that is based on their beliefs?". The original Christmas was NOT based upon anything related to Jesus at all until around 90 A.D. It was a holiday celebrated by 'Pagans'. Christians Hi-Jacked Christmas, thanks to Constantine! I think it's time those of us that do not drink the cool-aid are allowed to bring back the real reason for the season. The return of the sun and longer days.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  7. Arrogance

    My only problem is that Jesus is NOT "The reason for the season." People celebrated the mid-winter with feasting and gifts well before Jesus was even born. As a matter of fact a stronger argument could be made that the holiday was stolen from the pagans and others especially considering that we KNOW that Jesus wasn't born in December. Regardless, the season is beautiful because it means so much to so many people all over the world of all religions. Call it Saturnalia, Christmas, Solstice, Yule, Hanukkah, or whatever. It's a celebration of humanity.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  8. SuzNC

    The sheep were lowing in the fields that happens in the spring not winter. That being said I guess everyone can celebrate what they want. Just keep it out of secular courthouses and off of government land. As for me I would rather not tell lies to children will they ever fully trust you again, if you tell one lie that could mean you would tell other lies. Because lies beget lies. I would always opt for the truth.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  9. Dwayne S

    Christmas means different things to different people. The holiday has evolved over time and Im sure it will continue to do so. What we now refer to as Christmas borrows many traditions and facets from earlier holiday celebrations. It's not strictly religious or secular. There are bits and pieces of many holidays all rolled into one, and many of our modern Christmas traditions are just that – modern. The image of what we now recognize as Christmas mostly came from the 1822 poem that we now call "Twas the Night Before Christmas", and has been added to or reimagined since.
    The root of Christmas was "Yule", celebrated by the Norse and had nothing to do with Christianity or Jesus at all. In America, the Puritans outlawed Christmas in the 1600s and it wasn't really celebrated except for "underground" parties that resembled something closer to Mardis Gras than Christmas. The modern Christmas didn't come to be until the early 1820's and was only adopted by the Christian churches to counter pagan traditions. Up until that time, the celebration of the season had more to do with the winter solstace than the birth of Jesus, mainly because the church had no idea when Jesus was born, so they adopted December 25th as the date.
    So, there are many, many "Reasons for the Season". If you believe the "Reason" is Jesus, that's fine. That's what Christmas means to you and there's nothing wrong with that. But history tells us that Christmas is as much a secular holiday as it is a religious one. Nobody has a monopoly on it, but one thing that all traditions have in common is that we should all treat each other with love and respect, and look after our less fortunate. We are all, in one way or another, brothers and sisters in humanity. I hope everyone has a safe and Merry Christmas!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • Debbie

      Dwayne S – Nicely put!

      December 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • gifted

      Dwayne, your way of thinking is refreshing to say the least. Your tolerant assment of this holiday amid a hot bed of religious finger pointing has warmed the coclkes of my heart. How ever a person wishes to aknowlege the seasons festivities, is their personal choice. I hope this coming year brings prosperity and peace to all.

      December 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  10. timD

    Duh! Jesus was not born – he was dropped by the stork by Zeus, his father. Everyone knows this. How religulous can you get?

    December 23, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  11. Ben Dover

    The "God" and the "Jesus" that Christians worship today are actually amalgams formed out of ancient pagan gods. The idea of a "virgin birth", "burial in a rock tomb", "resurrection after 3 days" and "eating of body and drinking of blood" had nothing to do with Jesus. All of the rituals in Christianity are completely man-made. Christianity is a snow ball that rolled over a dozen pagan religions. As the snowball grew, it freely attached pagan rituals in order to be more palatable to converts. You can find accounts like these in popular literature:

    "The vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbology are undeniable. Egyptian sun disks became the halos of Catholic saints. Pictograms of Isis nursing her miraculously conceived son Horus became the blueprint for our modern images of the Virgin Mary nursing Baby Jesus. And virtually all the elements of the Catholic ritual – the miter, the altar, the doxology, and communion, the act of "God-eating" – were taken directly from earlier pagan mystery religions."

    "Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras – called the Son of God and the Light of the World – was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. By the way, December 25 is also the birthday or Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus. The newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Even Christianity's weekly holy day was stolen from the pagans."
    It is extremely hard for a Christian believer to process this data, but nonetheless it is true. All of the "sacred rituals" of Christianity, and all of Christianity's core beliefs (virgin birth, resurrection, etc.) come straight from pagan religions that were popular around the time of Jesus. Articles like this and this can help you learn more. Once you understand the fundamental truth of Christianity's origins, the silliness of this whole thing becomes apparent.
    Obviously the pagan believers, from whom Christianity derived its myths, worshipped gods that were imaginary. And thus our "God" today is just an extension of these imaginary forerunners. All human gods are imaginary.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  12. conoclast

    There was this questionaire a while back regarding some of the details and basic tenets of christianity. It was asked of both athiests and avowed christians; guess which group scored highest? The atheists of course! The point here is that a lot of the avowed religious don't really know much about what they profess to believe in; their need to believe is stronger than their need for intellectual honesty.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  13. POD

    People tend to confuse Christmas....The Christian Holy Day........ with Christmas.....The Secular Holiday. They are not the same thing. Once you get that straight in your mind you should have no problem with either

    December 23, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  14. Brandon B

    There's a difference between Atheism and being Agnostic. David Silverman lists qualities of both when he was describing the "broad" term of Atheism. They are two distingquished beliefs, that are seperated by the exact specifics that he lists under only Atheism... Disgusting that the President of American Atheists doesn't even know the difference. More specifically "and can also include those unwilling to make any sort of decision about what they believe in." This is near a definition for agnosticism. Or, I'm off my rocker...

    December 23, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  15. Eles

    I think atheists are confusing religion with being a believer and follower of Christ. All religions are man made lists of rites and rituals. Many organized religions (churches) are filled with people showing off how good and pious they are but when away from the church building they're lying, sneaky, hypocrites. Open the bible and learn about God from God himself. Don't rely on people.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:10 am |
    • Brian

      But it is only a book written by men not by god.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
    • Scott

      If god wants me to know about him, he can come down here and tell me himself in person.

      I didn’t really become an atheist until I decide to read the bible. Man there is nasty stuff in those first 5 books

      December 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  16. STLBroker

    Nobody talks as much about God as those that claim not to believe in Him. You are seeking God whether you realize it or not.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:10 am |
    • Brian

      Not really, man. If I actually thought god was real, then I would be seeking him, because someone would need to make him answer for everything he has done to humanity. But since I think he is a fairy tale, how could I possibly seek him?

      December 23, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  17. Brian

    I am an atheist, and I love Christmas. People like to talk about the "true meaning or Christmas". Well, to me, the true meaning is enjoying time with your family, and making people happy through the giving of gifts. I am so excited about watching my 4 year old son open his gifts that I feel like I am a little kid again. Christmas rules.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:09 am |
  18. allornothing

    It's amazing to read all of this. This is the breakdown, everyone believes what they want but the difference is, some will try to break others down with their beliefs and some accept the others beliefs and respect them. The point is, I believe in God, if your right and he doesn't exist then I'm no worse off than anyone else, you can just make the point that i wasted my time. Here's the trick, if I'M RIGHT, well, I guess we'll both agree that you wasted your time. I know my place, we'll see in the end.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:08 am |
    • Brian

      Yes we will see at the end and i bet just maybe you are wrong but thats only MY belief.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  19. chris

    the first argument , is that Christians claim something. which means they need to prove. atheists dont claim an will be the first to ask for proof of this claim. faith is not fact . second christians make this debate real for participating in it , if they get offended it is not a atheists fault, nor a christians fault if a atheist gets offended . this is a time of reflection , peace , an good will . jesus wasnt born in dec. an facts do turn to christians stealing the date to wipe out pagans. so the proof remains to be seen to any claims. faith is not fact an should not be used to create laws . an yes i do know more so called atheists that i would consider true christians. cherry picking the bible koran or tora to fit your idealist or over in flatted egos ,, is my opinion extreme , an you need to be treated as a terrorist . not tortured but discredited , just like you to man kind with your lies

    December 23, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  20. ColdInCO

    “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

    You only need to understand this simple quote from Stephen Roberts if you really want to understand where atheists are coming from.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:06 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.