How Will Atheists Spend Christmas? November 24, 2008

How Will Atheists Spend Christmas?

August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists and author of 34 Unconvincing Arguments for God, explains in an opinion piece for the Minnesota Star Tribune how atheists will spend their holiday season:

The cards we will be purchasing will not say “Merry Christmas” (or “Happy Hanukah” or “Happy Eid”) but rather “Season’s Greetings.”

The trees that many of us will have in our homes will have colorful lights, originally symbolic of the postsolstice lengthening of days, but now just a pretty sight.

Of course, we will not have angels on top of our trees. We know this will make us unpatriotic as, in this economy, it is likely to lead the treetop-angel-making industry to seek a federal bailout.

The meals we will share will not have prayers said over them, but we will give thanks to those who provided them and to our families and friends.

The songs we sing will be secular — “Jingle Bells,” etc. But, fear not: Atheists are just as likely to sing them out of tune as religious people, though we will derive no less joy.

Of course, August leaves out the most important part of the atheist agenda:


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  • benjdm

    I’m just trying to keep the Thor in Thursday.

  • I spend Christmas now the exact same way I did when I was born-again except I don’t go to church. I still have the Christmas decorations, and cook the comfort food, and call my relatives to wish them Merry Christmas. I watch Scrooge and I listen to my favorite Christmas music – sacred and secular. I don’t think Christmas is a religious holiday. It’s really a social and commercial holiday in America.

  • RBH

    My cards will say “Reason’s Greetings.”

  • Erik

    Unfortunately, the meal I share with my in-laws will have prayers said over it. I just have to give thanks they’ll be short.

  • Bleatmop

    My tree will have an angel above it. Why not? I have Easter eggs hidden by the Easter Bunny and Leprechauns painted on my face on St. Patty’s day. Engaging in fantasy is fun!

  • I grew up Mormon and was used to celebrating.

    Now as an adult, we still celebrate, but leave bible stories, Jesus and other religious themes out of it. It’s gift giving, good food, time with friends and family that matter the most.

    Seasons Greetings or Happy Holidays are greeting cards we send out.

  • Jesse Gardner

    Plenty of us atheists will be wishing each other a “Merry Christmas.” I’d say the reasons are probably similar to why I say “God damn it!” despite a lack of belief in god.

  • I still like Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season, but that would just give my relatives a heart attack, so I usually buy cards that say Peace on Earth. Anyone who is against those cards, deserves to be slapped upside the head.

  • tamarind

    Christmas is almost exactly the same for me now that I’m an atheist. I’m a Christmas fiend. Carols, the tree, light displays, gingerbread, presents, egg nog, you name it… (Although it will be easier this year, because I’ll be with my boyfriend instead of with my Mormon family.)

    Personally, I’d have no problem putting an angel on the top of my tree, and my cards will say ‘Merry Christmas’, not Season’s Greetings. (I don’t know any Jews or Muslims out here…)

    Maybe I never internalized the religious aspect of Christmas growing up, and that’s why the religious symbolism doesn’t much bother me. My childhood Christmases were very happy; the religious aspects of the holiday remind me a lot more of the happiness of previous Christmases than of Christian doctrine.

    So while I’m certainly not going to attend church or read the nativity story out of the bible, I still like some of the more subtle religious Christmas songs. And I miss seeing the large collection of international nativity sets that are shown every year at the mormon temple visitor’s center in D.C. They’re beautiful.

    The way I see it, I love Christmas too much to forfeit any pleasurable part of to Christian dogma.

  • I always knew that Chrifsmas was the correct spelling. Take that, Microsoft Word spellchecker!

    And there will be no singing on my watch. I’ll be sure of that…[strokes shotgun]

  • Beijingrrl

    We’ll be on a beach in Vietnam this Christmas! I’ll let y’all know what that’s like. 😉

    I only manage to send out cards every 2-3 years and they usually say something like, “Peach and Joy”, but I admit I do like “Reason’s Greetings”. I wonder how many people would even notice. Since we’ve been living in China, I wonder if those who did would assume it was some accidental Chinglish we found amusing.

    We do usually have a fake tree (Beijingdh is very allergic to the real thing) which we decorate with ornaments handmade over the years by his Grandma, so there are lots of religious ones in the lot. No angel on top, though, just a star Beijingdd picked out when she was a baby.

    No prayers at our meals or church services.

    I don’t shelter my kids from religion, so we sing both religious and secular holiday songs. Their favorites tend to involve snowmen or Santa, but I’ve been singing Silent Night to them since they were infants and it’s got a great tempo for putting babies to sleep.

    We really don’t celebrate Christmas in that different of a way then I did as a child except nobody has to dress up in itchy clothes and sit in a hot, stuffy church forever pretending to listen to a boring sermon while mentally unwrapping their presents.

  • PrimeNumbers

    It’s really winter solstice though, isn’t it…

  • RobL

    Roastbaby and Yorkshire pudding. Yum.

  • Hey, I actually like some of the religious Christmas music, and sing it happily and lustily. Some of it’s really pretty, and a suprising amount of it is entertainingly gruesome. (“Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/ Sealed in the stone cold tomb.” And don’t get me started on The Corpus Christi Carol.)

    I usually do cards with a wintry nature theme (the Sierra Club usually has some nice ones). Hard to go wrong with snowy trees. Although I may do some FSM or Axial Tilt ones this year, for the people on my list who would appreciate them.

    Lots of parties, with both friends and family. And although we haven’t done a tree for a long time (no good place to keep it away from our cats), when I did, I always put Gumby on top.

    I love Christmastime, and like to make a big deal about it. I see it as very secular, a human response to an otherwise depressing season. The true message of Christmas, IMO: “It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s going to be dark and cold for a while, and we’re going to be cooped up together for a while. So let’s bond and have some fun. Eat, sing, decorate, give each other presents. Remind ourselves of why we like each other.”

  • I don’t understand people like Berkshire. I send Christmas cards that say, ‘Merry Christmas.’ I had an angel on the top of my tree until it got old and faded. This year we will have a star. The CD player will be host to many Christmas CDs, playing songs like, O Come All Ye Faithful, Angels We Have Heard On High, and Silent Night. Why? Because they are the traditions I grew up with, and to me, they mean Christmas. I am able to intellectually divorce them from their meaning, and just enjoy the season.

  • I still do the whole Christian Christmas thing with my family. I’m okay with it as a tradition. Santa is a cute story. Baby Jesus is a cute story. I don’t have an issue with it, I just enjoy the happiness of the season. I’m not against religious traditions associated with Christmas, because those were some of my favorite memories as a child. I do generally say “Happy Holidays” or if somebody responds with a snide “Merry CHRISTmas!” I give them a “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Festivus!”

  • Grimalkin

    We don’t celebrate Christmas at all – we celebrate New Years. We have our big family get-together, the meal, the tree, the presents, etc. all on New Years. It’s a nice secular holiday for us atheists 😉

    The added benefit – boxing day sales for presents!

  • Sanity

    December 25 – Spend day with parents and siblings (and their spouses and offspring).

    December 26 – Spend day with girlfriend.

    A subtle plan which means we both get to dodge the traditional (read: mandatory) family visits to people I either don’t like or hardly know.

    As for the rest:
    There is never an angel in the tree, because nobody does that in Europe. There are lights and stars and santa’s, but no jesuses (jesii?) or angels. I never gave it much thought though, but now that I do think about it, it’s probably mostly secular.

    I don’t do christmas cards, though I do call people to wish them merry christmas, not happy hollidays (again, because nobody says it, unless you mean to include new year’s day)

    I have no say in the food, but there won’t be a prayer our my home or my parent’s.

    As for music, it’ll be something along the lines of “a very Scary solstice”, because my brain’s capacity for christmas songs will probably have been reached somewhere around december 18th.

  • Teresa Doyle

    Or, as we said in Politically Correct Art School, “Happy non-denominational winter holiday season!”

    (No, seriously, we said that to each other.)

  • I love both sides of Christmas – the religious and the secular. While I have stopped going to church in general, I will attend several services over the Advent season. I love Christmas – the secular/religious music, the secular/religious imagery, the Christmas lights, the family interaction, the tree, the candles, the pagan history, the other religions going on at the same time … I just love it all.

    I think I like Christmas even more after losing my faith since I don’t feel so guilty about loving the secular side of it, too. 🙂

  • I will be going to work in an office and think with jealousy about my western friends and family and their time off. I will bring mini-tourtieres for lunch.

    Then I will have 6 days off to celebrate New Year’s the Japanese way- sprawled before the television watching stupid tv and eating Satsuma oranges and roasted mochi. Japanese New Year’s is way better than Christmas- 6 days long, + sales!

  • Mathew Wilder

    I’m spending Christmas in Cambodia!

    But seriously, though, I think there are plenty of things to like about Christmas. Dickens’ Carol is really a secular morality tale. Plus there is some great music, like Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown music. And of course, don’t forget A Christmas Story, the classic tale of Ralphie and his bb gun. Even It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t really religious. It’s got an angel, but nothing about Jesus, and has an easily identified with existential message.

  • Every year my family picks a day that’s convenient to all of us involved and we ‘do’ Christmas then. This year we’re giving presents to each other and having Christmas dinner on the 5th December 🙂

  • shirky

    This reminded me that growing up my parents used an owl puppet as a tree topper. I thought it was just fun and cute and then we moved next door to a catholic family who thought it was both strange and hilarious! I didn’t know that angels and stars were traditional until then. The owl represented wisdom according to my grandmother, and it was just handy one year, according to my father. On the other hand, my mother also sets out a nativity set. I will do the puppet in my own home but probably not the nativity set.

  • I’m gonna dress up in a Santa suit and dance my ass off, as usual…

    God or no god – December is the season to wear red and move butt!

    You tube vid of dancing santas

  • melissa

    …what does the FSM mean?.. I’m non-denominational christian and the greatest love of my life is Atheist and we share each others views n’ opinions and we get along great! We’re 2 seperate individuals n’ we make each others lives very nteresting!! (He’s in the military n’ across the world, so I’m looking for Christmas pictures to send him & ran across this website.) Thank you for your help!!! *M*

  • melissa

    ..sorry…im an idiot!!!.. i know what it is…*yikes*… *blushes*!!!! He’d love to bust my chops for this one!!!!

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