An Atheist Christmas

I deal with Christmas differently than most atheists.

I celebrate it. I put up lights and a tree and give gifts and say “Merry Christmas” and mean it. I’ve played Santa Claus on several occasions, with the full costume, enjoyed it, and will probably do it again.

Devout Christians rail against how secular the holiday has become. I’m delighted with it.  There is no Christ in my Christmas. it is a purely secular for me. My decorations don’t include a crèche or a bloody crucifix. There are a couple of angel ornaments in the tree, but there are also unicorns and a swinging Spiderman who are just as real.

I’m sure some psychologist would link my delight in a secular Christmas to my childhood. I was raised in a fundy cult that didn’t celebrate Christmas (or Easter, or birthdays, or any other holiday that might result in some fun or joy). Christmas was a horrible time for my sister and me. All our non-cult friends talked endlessly about the cool toys they got, while we sat silent and dejected. When we were asked “What did you get for Christmas” we had to answer “We don’t celebrate it.” “But don’t you believe in Christ?” “Yes we do, but…” and then we’d try to change the subject, embarrassed more than any little kid should be. My grandparents, on my mother’s side, always gave us presents around then, and we loved them for it. It was a delicious taste of what we were missing.

My wife is more of an agnostic, while I’m a hard core atheist, but there was never any question about raising our kids without Christmas. We never even discussed  it. We relished their anticipation. We loved their excitement as they ripped open their presents. And yes, we did the whole Santa thing with them. She didn’t want to deprive them of the fun and I figured learning the truth would contribute to them developing a mil-spec bullshit detector.

Now they’re adults and we all celebrate and enjoy a Christ-less Christmas.

I don’t like everything that goes with it. I hate the commercials, but I have Tivo and listen to podcasts instead of the radio, so they’re not much of a problem. (There should be a $10,000 fine for every commercial that uses the trite theme “Where Santa Shops.” Anyone who uses the actual phrase should be fined a cool million.) I hate Christmas music too. I worked in retail for years, and hearing the same ten songs blasted in an endless loop all day will do that to you.

But I like most of the other things that go with the holiday. I like looking at decorated houses while driving down the road or walking through the neighborhood. I like the tree full of ornaments and flashing lights. (I’m easily entertained by shiny things.) I love giving and receiving gifts. I like the kids who come caroling at my door. I always tell them I’ll give them more if they sing “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” They always want to, and their parents, standing in the background, always forbid it, which I find entertaining.

To those who would call me a hypocrite, I say, “Fine, call me a hypocrite. I’ve been called much worse, and if I was worried about other people’s opinion of me I wouldn’t be so open about being an atheist.” If some of my fellow atheists are offended by it that’s their problem, not mine. If theists think it’s sacrilegious or a sin, that’s OK too. Sacrilege and sin aren’t real things in my world, so again, it’s not my problem.

One of the great joys of atheism is freedom. I am free to do whatever I like as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else. The way I celebrate Christmas hurts no one, and my non-theistic family enjoys it immensely.

I know many atheists who eschew anything having to do with religious holidays, and that’s fine too. I have the utmost respect for their decision to divorce themselves from the fantasy and nonsense holidays are built around. But I’ve chosen a different approach, one that’s right for me.

I’m writing this late at night, right after celebrating Thanksgiving. There was no giving of thanks, just a big meal we all worked on, then stuffed ourselves with. Just like Christmas, there was no religious component at all, it was simply a chance for us to cook together, then eat together while listening to “Alice’s Restaurant.” It’s not a proper Thanksgiving without Arlo in the background talking about twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one.

Then we vegged out in the living room and watched one of our favorite movies: A Christmas Story.

15 Comment(s)

  1. I also am puzzled why secular people oppose christmas, there is nothing christian about it, it is a pagan festival that was hijacked by the christian church. It is the christians who should have problems with the festival and non-religious should take it back and celebrate it the way it was meant to be celebrated.

    BTW that fundy cult you were raised in sounds a lot like the one I was raised in.

    Mark.V. | Nov 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who reject it for the very reasons you cite.

    Dave Hitt | Nov 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. I thought that was how most atheists handled Christmas. Certainly it is here. Most people I know are openly atheist and as far as I know none of them boycott the festival. We just ignore the religious parts (if we can find any).

    Andrew | Nov 28, 2008 | Reply

  4. Great post. This is how we handle the holidays at our house too. It’s becoming ever more apparent to me that there are a LOT more of us out there than I would have hoped for. Who needs a religious reason to celebrate family anyway?

    Doug | Nov 28, 2008 | Reply

  5. We celebrate the same way. Lots of lights, a big (fake) tree, lots of presents. My household is one atheist (me), one Christian (my wife) and two kids, that are just kids no religion, no atheism.
    We have a wonderful time celebrating with family and friends, even the very religious family members which happen to be her parents.
    I’ve started to feel that Christmas has become more of “commercial” holiday rather than a religious one, but of course I could care less.

    So on with the “Merry Christmas'” and caroling and the cookies and milk for Santa!

    eric | Nov 28, 2008 | Reply

  6. Both Christmas and Easter are Pagan holidays hi-jacked by the Christians. I often hear people say, “what does hiding colored eggs have to do with Jesus?”, the answer is of course “Nothing”. And a Pagan friend of mine told me that the “Christmas Tree” is specifically mentioned in the Bible as an example of Idol worship which is a sin to Christians. The other complaint I hear lately is that stores and ADs saying “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas. As if Christmas is the ONLY holiday celebrated at that time of year.

    Brian | Nov 29, 2008 | Reply

  7. I can’t imagine anyone would include a bloody crucifix in their Christmas decorations. You’re thinking of Easter.

    Faz | Nov 30, 2008 | Reply

  8. Dead on, Dave!

    That’s my position on Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday, probably in part due to my birthday being on New Year’s Eve. My wife has a hard time understanding how I can celebrate it since I “don’t believe in anything” and she’s a very light Christian.

    I once had a strongly Christian coworker ask me how I could celebrate Christmas if I was an Atheist. I had to explain the whole pagan/secular thing to her. Then our Jehovah’s Witness coworker backed me up on the pagan parts since they actually recognize that.

    The only point we differ on is that I like Christmas music, even the overtly religious ones. I think they are beautiful and love to love to listen to them. I’ve worked retail at Christmas and never got tired of the songs.

    Bryan | Dec 2, 2008 | Reply

  9. Great post.

    You have my sympathy on being raised a Jehovah’s Witness. Glad you escaped!

    Christmas is TONS of fun. I agree with the poster above who stated that the origins Christmas have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Christ was probably born some time in October. Christmas came about when the pagan governments declared the Wintern Soltice (Sun God festival) to be a Christian holiday. A practice condemned by the Bible. So I laugh at Bill O’Reilly and the culture warriors who freak out over the secularization of Christmas. They need to read a history book!

    Merry Christmas!

    Lorraine Grula

    Lorraine Grula | Dec 7, 2008 | Reply

  10. Are there any atheists out there who have made a decision to celebrate New Year’s as a meaningful time to look back and look forward? My extended family has slowly all become atheists (each on his/her own time without any pressure from any of the others) and in addition, we have all begun to be put off by the spend-spend-spend mentality of commercial christmas. We are talking now about celebrating a family time together during this coming new year’s period, just because we all get time off from work at that time and also we can give each other presents, which we love to do. I am struggling with this because as the matriarch of the family, I have many memories of years gone by when we did go to church and did have santa, but the memories are about family times and not about the religious or santa-ness. I think it would be sad, for me that is, not to have the traditions that bring back those memories.

    Kate | Dec 11, 2008 | Reply

  11. I celebrate new years the way it was ment to be celebrated!….i get flat out drunk with my friends and family!

    Jinx | Oct 18, 2009 | Reply

  12. Sounds like you got butthurt as a child, so you rebelled to piss off your parents.

    But anyways, that sounds like the exact same way I celebrate Christmas. I grew up in a devout Southern Baptist home, with pastors on all sides of my family. Only difference is that I got to set up nativity scenes with my mother as a child. It’s one of my most fond moments of mother-son bonding time. Strange, just how “secular” your Christmas really is, isn’t it?

    “Fine, call me a hypocrite. I’ve been called much worse, and if I was worried about other people’s opinion of me I wouldn’t be so open about being an atheist.”
    -Is it lonely up there, on your high horse? If you do decide to descend upon us and bless us with your presence, I’d like to ask you this: Why are you open about being an Atheist? Who gives a damn what you are? Should I start a blog about being a straight, white, Christian male? Hmmm…

    Yet another thoughtless post | Oct 14, 2010 | Reply

  13. Thoughtless: In a perfect world a person’s religious belief would be as trivial as their favorite band or sports team. I honestly don’t care what people believe (or don’t believe) as long as it doesn’t infringe on others. And there’s the rub – religion infringes on everyone, every day, in big and small ways.

    A lot of people are afraid to admit they’re atheists because of the repercussions that can result. That’s why some of us are upfront and yes, sometimes in your face, about it. As more and more people “come out” it will be easier for all of us, and more difficult for the religious to use their beliefs to shape public policy and intimated others who believe (or disbelieve) differently.

    Dave Hitt | Oct 26, 2010 | Reply

  14. I know this is years after your original post, but would like to thank you for it. I was actually surfing the web looking for some secular answer or reason for me to celebrate the holiday season lol! I don’t know why, it doesn’t matter really, but wanted to have some sort of “answer” because I’m always questioned, like you stated, why I’m “celebrating” a christian holiday. I’ve known it’s not in the least bit a christian holiday, but wanted a better answer. What better than “because I’m free to do whatever I want!” I have two children and I don’t want to make them sit out, or divide them from their friends who are all receiving gifts, or decorating their homes, etc. I simply explain it to them as a time of the year to see family and to be thankful for each other. It’s sometimes more difficult being an atheist than it is being christian (or any religion for that matter) because i DON’T have all the answers for them. Thanks for helping out with one of those difficulties! :)

    Jenessa | Dec 5, 2011 | Reply

  15. Some conversations on this blog go on forever. The “Recent Comments” widget at the top of the page is there to encourage that.

    Do you remember what search terms you used to find this article? Knowing that is always helpful when writing future articles.

    Hittman | Dec 7, 2011 | Reply

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