Why do Atheist’s Celebrate Christmas?

An Atheist’s Christmas: What I Celebrate on Christmas

I have seen hundreds of tweets that ask why atheists celebrate Christmas.  There seems to be a general confusion by some Christians as to why we would celebrate this holiday.  The most common response by atheists that I see is some version of a response that states Christmas was not always a Christian holiday.  The following two pictures are often posted as responses.

and

Even if the messages in them are true, these reasons for celebration ring hollow to me personally.  I most certainly do not want to speak for all atheist, but I do want to shed some light on why my wife and I (both atheists) celebrate Christmas.

To us, Christmas is a tradition.  We were both raised Catholic and the vast majority of our families are still very devout Catholics.  Our childhoods were happy times for both of us.  Christmas is a time when our families come together and share in these traditions.  While the vast majority of our friends and family celebrate those traditions while celebrating Jesus, we simply omit the latter.

It is important to us to spend time with friends and families during the holiday season.  We have much to be thankful for in those spheres.  We get together, we laugh, we exchange gifts—not to honor the birth of Jesus, but to honor the love and friendship that we share with these people.  This is a worthwhile thing to do.  Expressing gratitude, love, and friendship because these people deserve it is quite noble, at least in my opinion.   We do not need the religious side of the holiday to share in that part of the experience.

We also decorate our house with a tree, stockings, and lights.  This seems insane to some Christians I have encountered.  I am not sure why that is.  Does one need to be a Christian to enjoy the beauty of the Christmas season?  I would argue not.  I love the way our house looks this time of year.  It is fun, it smells great (with a real tree), and is really beautiful with lights and other Christmas decorations.  One need not be a Christian to appreciate these things.

I also very much enjoy some Christmas music.  Does one need to be Christian to appreciate the beauty of Handel’s Messiah or of the Irish Tenors singing their version of Christmas classics?  Again, I would argue no.  In fact, I don’t see this being much different than listening to most other music…often the subjects of songs are fictional, yet we all still enjoy them.  This, at least to me is no different.  While I may reject the message of some of the more religious carols (and to honest, they are my least favorite), I appreciate and recognize great singing and music when I hear it.

I would be foolish to not recognize that Christmas, at least in the U.S., is a Christian holiday.  However, it has become much more than as well.  It is, in a sense part of the fabric of our society.  As a former Catholic it is part of the tradition that I grew up with.  I walk around downtown and enjoy the lighted trees, wreaths, lampposts, and menorahs.  Are these things primarily religious symbols? Yes.  But they are part of our larger culture at this point in time as well.  That is something that I want to celebrate.  If the meaning of Christmas is about love, then I want to share that.  To Christians, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and perhaps about all of the things I mentioned above.  To me, I can omit the Jesus part and very much enjoy the other things that Christmas stands for and has become to so many people.

If you are an atheist do you celebrate Christmas?  If so, I invite you share your reasons why in the comment section.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

—-John

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26 thoughts on “Why do Atheist’s Celebrate Christmas?

  1. Alex Ford from Orem, UT, United States

    Great stuff! And you explained it much more politely than I usually do. I get so sick of being asked why I would celebrate Christmas. Why do theists get so high and mighty when they find out that atheists don't hide under a rock to get away from modern societal influences? Saying an atheist can't enjoy Christmas because they don't believe in Christ is like saying you can't eat french fries unless you're French. It's stupid.

    Reply
    1. Alex Ford from Orem, UT, United States

      Christmas is already a largely secular holiday. It was even banned by the church of England for a brief period because it was too secular. Just driving around my city (Provo Utah, a very Mormon city) I see tons of purely secular decorations. Lights, peppermints, frosty, santa, icicles, reindeer, even a bunch of disney characters are everywhere. I think the number of blow up Mickey Mouse yard decorations outnumbered the nativity scenes at least 4 to 1.

      Reply
        1. Alex Ford from Orem, UT, United States

          Maybe. I wouldn't say there are no religious components though. Of course there are. I'll just post the blurb that I wrote for my Google Plus profile page.

          "But you celebrate Christmas and you say things like "Oh my god!" or "god damn it!" Doesn't that make you a hypocrite?

          If you believe that an atheist celebrating Xmas with his family is hypocritical and/or offends you as a Christian, feel free to keep those opinions to yourself. I use Xmas (and other holidays) as an excuse to take a break from day to day life and spend time with my family and show them how much I care about them. You don't own any holiday; I believe that holidays are like open-source software and I am free to fork your holiday repository and make it my own just like Christianity originally did when they borrowed Christmas from Paganism.

          Xmas is just one example of adopting something because it has become a social normality, but not because I share the beliefs associated with its origins. Saying "oh my god" or "god damn it" in a sentence would be another example. Don't get high and mighty when you find out that I don't hide under a rock to get away from the dominating religions that have great social influences in our world at the present time. It doesn't make me a hypocrite to celebrate Xmas any more than being an atheist who lives in Utah does; it just makes me a rational person who lives in a world heavily influenced by ideology. Rather than run away from all of those influences I choose to take some of them, cut out the fat, and keep the good parts."

          Reply
          1. BadWolf from Milwaukee, WI, United States

            That's brilliant, Alex, and I love the reference to open source.

            I was dragged kicking and screaming into celebrating Xmas by extended family (even the non-churched/not-so-religious) when I had kids because the grandparents were horrified by the thought of the kids growing up "without Xmas" and the family obligation was unavoidable (believe me, I tried!). I eventually just had to go with an "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude about it all and decided to just pick and choose which traditions I found fun or interesting and adapt them to what makes me and my kids happy. My favorite example of this is advent calendars…I never grew up with those, not even among the more religious of my family, but i do them now with my kids because we're chocoholics and I found some awesome ones that actually have awesome chocolate in them!

            On the downside, I now work someplace where I have to endure 4 weeks of Xmas music, all day/every day, and by the end of the first week, I was darn near homicidal. I'm counting down the days until the work radio station goes back to their normal, not-quite-so-annoying crap.

          2. BadWolf from Milwaukee, WI, United States

            Even my co-workers who LIKE Xmas music keep saying if they hear Felis Navidad one more time, they're gonna lose it. LOL.

  2. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

    I celebrate Christmas for the same reason I celebrate any holiday, it's fun and I have a good time doing it. If I didn't, I wouldn't bother. Christmas is a wholly secular holiday, there simply are no religious components inherent in it these days. It's about having fun with family and friends and giving gifts. No reason not to if you want to, no one is forcing you to if you don't.

    Take that advice, it's better than all the drama drama drama.

    Reply
      1. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

        Oh, I'm sure there are lots of Christians who observe a religious component in addition to the secular component. However, that doesn't make it a religious holiday, any more than the fact that some theists celebrate religious elements to Halloween makes Halloween a religious holiday. It's a time for kids to dress up and get candy, just as Christmas is a time to put up trees and give gifts. The addition of elements outside of the mainstream doesn't make those non-mainstream elements suddenly mainstream.

        Reply
  3. Eric from Jacksonville, NC, United States

    I've been an Atheist as far back as I can remember in my life. My parents were a Buddhist
    (now some form of Christian) and an Agnostic (still pretty much Agnostic). They never tried to influence me one way or the other. We celebrated Christmas more as a day to spend together with my grandparents (a Buddhist and an Agnostic again) and to have fun as a family. I honestly never even knew about the religious mumbo jumbo behind it until I got into Junior High. This year is my sons first Christmas and I intend to do the same thing for him that my parents did for me. I will let him enjoy the season as a time to be with his family. If, one day, he decides to pick up the religious side of things or if he chooses to remain free of it. it will be of his own choosing and not because of either his mothers nor my influence.

    Reply
  4. Blratheist from New Delhi, Delhi, India

    Agree with the post in principle, but all of your Krishna facts are wrong.

    Krishna was born without a sexual union, but not necessarily to a virgin.
    He was also never resurrected. He was killed by a hunter, which signified the end of the previous yuga.
    And I've never heard of the star of the east.

    Reply
    1. reasonbeing from Duluth, MN, United States Post author

      I don't have any Krishna facts…I copied the pics & immediately after their placement wrote, "Even if the message in them is true…". I didn't bother to research the veracity of the pics because they were not central to my post. I am glad that you pointed that out though, readers (as well as me) will now know there are problems with those two diagrams—-Thanks.

      Reply
  5. Lesley Jolly from Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

    I’m an atheist, and I enjoy Christmas as a time of being together with friends and family, of giving gifts that I have made or chosen carefully, as a way of showing my love and regard. My mother was a practising Catholic when I was born, and as a child we attended Quaker meetings – but we were NEVER told we had to believe in X, Y or Z – choice was up to us. One brother is married to a Catholic, but is not Catholic himself – much to the interest of his adult children. Our family works on the notion that good people do not need a god to provide them with instruction in being decent.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: What Does An Atheist Do On Christmas? | Reason Being from Columbus, OH, United States

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