Atheist Christmas Trees December 8, 2008

Atheist Christmas Trees

Questions inspired by Ask MetaFilter:

As an atheist (or Agnostic/Humanist/what-have-you), are you putting up a Christmas tree this year?

If so, are you making any modifications to it…? What are they?

(Thanks to G for the link!)

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  • We will have a Festivus pole here – an unadorned lusterless metal pole that symbolizes nothing. I might put up an artificial tree as well. I like Margaret Downey’s idea of the Tree of Knowledge but it would take me way too much time to make the book cover ornaments.

  • stephanie

    I put up a Christmas tree each year. The topper is a deer. I believe in deer. They live in the lot across the street and sneak into my yard whenever I buy new plants…

  • astrogal

    I’ve already put up my own tree. I decorated it “normally.” Although most trees aren’t populated by space themed (lunar landers, Enterprise, Mercury capsules, space shuttles…) or Disney themed (I swear I’m not missing any Disney movies on there!) ornaments.

    I do it for a few reasons. 1) It’s my favorite part of the season and 2) my grandmother died a few years ago, and Christmas was *her* holiday, so I do it as a memorial to her.

    I even have a nativity scene on it, although it’s very small. That’s only because my great grandpa made it by hand, and it’s very pretty. Nothing wrong with family heirlooms hanging on the tree. 🙂

  • beckster

    Sure! Trees are pretty and there is nothing like bringing a little bit of nature inside during the cold winter months. (fake works fine for us!) My son is really into throwing anything shaped like a ball so we will probably decorate it with crayon colored construction paper ornaments. I have always loved decorating a tree and I feel like it is a tradition that us atheists can easily adjust to our families by making it into a celebration of nature (or whatever else we want) rather than a deity. I also think I have an old nativity set somewhere and I have to do the FSM nativity scene!

  • Ubi Dubium

    Well we usually put up a tree (artificial). I’ts a nice tribute to our pagan forebears. I have a starburst of tinsel on the top – a little reminiscent of a supernova. The other decorations are spheres, and teardrops, and icicles and snowflakes. And a pickle. I’m considering creating an FSM topper for future years. Oh, and my fundie brother-in-law gave us a set of “Scrabble” lights with interchangable letters. We have it spelling “CHRIFSMAZ” right now.

  • This is actually a piece of contention between me and my wife. Neither of us celebrate Christmas — I’m nontheistic, and she’s basically non-theistic, but also culturally jewish, and so loathes the feel of cultural oppression that goes around.

    The kink is that my wife likes celebrating Winter Solstice, and she loves the visuals of Christmas; she’s a sucker for that kind of ornamentation. So it’s a bit of a push and pull for us. Right now we’re on the side of not getting a tree, because I feel like even though I like the visual of the tree, the smell, and the nostalgia, losing the tree is the price we pay for not celebrating the holidays (add to the fact that we’re not getting anything for each other, and the tree seems doubly dubious).

    So that’s a provisional no, with a but.

  • I usually put up a tree but I am skipping this year because I just don’t feel like it.

  • Ape Toast

    I am most definitely putting up a Christmas tree this year. While I do not believe in magic, I have always enjoyed the “magical” feeling around Christmas each year. I can now experience this vicariously through my five year old daughter.

    The only difference: The not so subtle substitution of a rather large Stewie Griffin, in lieu of Jesus. This one’s my son’s idea; Stewie makes his third appearance this year.

  • Just a normal tree with baubles on. No lights because the bunny chews any loose leads. We’re missing something for the top of the tree. I’m thinking a guinea pig…not a real one…a picture or something. I got an angel a few years ago but it’s so blond and clean looking that it reminds me of Glinda from the Wizard of Oz.

    Now that sounds like a theme.

  • Crux Australis

    We’re getting a tree tomorrow, since today is our son’s birthday, and we don’t like to take anything away from that. We’ll decorate it ‘normally’, mainly because a) the kids like it, and b) my wife likes it, and c) my family always had a Xmas tree.

  • Loren Petrich

    You can call it a Yule tree, after the old Germanic name of the holiday that Scandinavians still use.

  • SarahH

    We put up a Festivus pole (aluminum, for it’s high strength to weight ratio, of course), but no tree, because we have cats who would destroy it (and most of our living room in the process).

    Also: stockings, tin reindeer, holly, and a plain but pretty wooden advent calendar.

  • Sandra

    A neighbor gave my son a small (18″) fake tree. He has lights and some gold bells on it, I place pine cones around the house for decoration, and pretty much anything else we find laying about when we are on our walks. Oh, we celebrate the solstice.

  • ChrisO.

    I will, ’cause the bible says not to. Jeremiah 10:1-4

  • I’m sure you all know trees and greenery aren’t the least bit christian. In the dead of winter, it’s a lovely celebration of nature’s resiliency – been putting one up my whole little atheist life! We used to get a real one when I was growing up, then dad would put it out underneath the bird feeders for the little birdies to hop around in. We got a few months of enjoyment out of it!

  • Jim

    As an atheist, I will definitely have a tree! We godless heathens celebrate the death of animals and plants alike!

    And of course, we will adorn it with dead babies, but that’s a given.

  • David

    I had stopped decorating for Christmas for many, many years ago. Now I’m married with a step-son (age 4), and we put up a tree last year with plans to do so again this year. I really don’t think you have to be religious to enjoy Christmas. For me, it’s an opportunity to acknowledge friends and loved ones with a thoughtful gift. As someone else mentioned, I tend to think of the pagan Germanic origins of decorating a tree. It amuses me that Christians get so defensive about it 😛

  • Paul

    A tree? Not if I can avoid it. My wife likes decorating them (royal pain in the arse if you ask me). She even puts a crappy angel on top. Neither of us are religious, but she just gets her kicks out of the lights and ornaments. I hope she’s too busy at work this year to bother. I won’t miss it one whit.

  • Dallas

    We already have our tree up and decorated. It is a pre-lit artificial tree (a nod to hubby’s allergies) and we decorate it normally except for using few if any religious-themed ornaments, such as angels. I do have an angel kitty on it, but that’s in memory of my late cat, Fang. Our tree topper is a big gold bow with long streamers.

    My company just had a massive layoff; 15% of the employees in my department are now gone. I survived it, but will probably be axed in the next one. I look forward to coming home to a beautiful tree every night–it’s cheerful and welcoming, and helps me forget how crappy things are at work and in my 401K account.

    2009 has GOT to be better! Gobama! And Merry Xmas, y’all!

  • Kwayera

    We get a tree every year. We love the sight and smell, and even though our Christmas celebrations have nothing to do with Christ (there’s a lot of shaking fists at the fact it was appropriated), it’s.. tradition. We top it with this gorgeous angel we’ve had forever, and it’s okay. It’s not oppressing the atheists in the family (myself and my father) because no one in the rest of our family is very religious anyway – it’s pretty, and that’s all that matters 🙂

    Besides, my cat is crazy for it!

  • Zipplenom

    We always put up a traditionally-decorated tree for just that reason…tradition. I love the Christmas season, and I don’t have to believe in a god to celebrate it, any more than I have to believe in ghosts and ghouls to celebrate Halloween.

    The spirit of the season still has meaning, god or no god. ‘Peace on earth and goodwill toward men’ is a sentiment I am happy to celebrate.

  • Jeff

    I plant an evergreen tree every year, but I plant trees all year long.

  • Roe

    Christmas was a winter holiday long before it was a Christian holiday and only became a Christian holiday because most converts didn’t want to give it up. Like those converts I wont give up my tree in December and I will celebrate the cold of winter with family and friends.

  • As an atheist, I will definitely have a tree! We godless heathens celebrate the death of animals and plants alike!

    And of course, we will adorn it with dead babies, but that’s a given.

    A dead baby tree! Why didn’t I think of that? Now that’s something to celebrate.
    I would have a tree if I had the space and manpower to haul it. My apartment is decked out with Chrifsmas lights, garlands and ornaments.

  • Zar

    Until this year I’ve always spent almost all December at home with the folks, so I haven’t personally put up any trees. I don’t think I will this year, but that’s just because my apartment is kind of cramped as it is and I’m very lazy. I do have a stick in the corner, though.

  • Siamang

    We have a tree. We do the whole Christmas thing. We even have a nativity scene that we don’t even make any fun of at all. We listen to religious and non-religious Christmas carols.

    We just don’t believe in God.

    Santa though? We believe in him at our house!

  • I already put up my fake tree, and I topped it with a Mace Windu Taco Bell Cup Topper from The Phantom Menace. It rawks 🙂 I put some pics up on my blog if anyone wants to take a gander 🙂

  • phoenixphire24

    My husband and I (both atheists) have a pre-lit fake Holiday tree decorated with noodle garland and a FSM tree-topper. Each Holiday we buy 1 ornament each to add to the tree.

  • benjdm

    Yes, we’re putting up a (fake) tree, with ornaments and lights. It even has a bear angel at the top. And lots of Santas and snowmen.

  • Joseph R.

    Christmas trees and Santa Claus are secular, so why does it matter? And for the record, we will not have a tree because we are spending the holidays out of town.

  • Yep, we’re putting up a tree. My wife still considers herself a Christian, so we’ve got a nativity scene on the mantle, and a couple of angels and such on the tree. Of course, I have my Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments prominently displayed, along with my Harley ornaments. Christmas trees are cool – even if you’re an atheist like me.

  • 1stmakearoux

    No tree, but I’d like to have an old Lionel electric train running thru the creche!

  • pip

    Even though we’re all atheists and agnostics in my family we always put up a tree to be part of the social Christmas celebrations and to celebrate the winter solstice. Instead of a star or an angel at the top we put up a small brown owl. Sadly, he’s become so feather-bare that he was retired last winter. So this year I’m suprising the family with a very poofy, feathery robin. It’ll be fun. I’m hoping to see my (as-yet-unborn) grandchildren putting him on the top in years to come.

  • The Great Corbini

    I’ve not been christian for ages, but have young children so I still do the who xmas decorating. I always go with pagan themes (one year we did star wars) or anything really that’s not religious. This year dragons hang on my tree and they rock!

  • Emily

    At my house, we have a tree, but only for the fact it’s pretty and such. We don’t celebrate Christmas in the terms of the birth of Jesus and a religious holiday, but a celebration of family and the whole commercial holiday thing.
    No one in my home is religious and I’m an atheist. So the “christmas tree” only holds to tradition. We put birds on our tree with snowflakes and feathers. The star is more of a pendant with peacock feathers. Out cats have a blast with it unfourtunatley.

  • We’ve usually left it to the grandparents since we would spend most of the holidays at their house anyway. Now that we’re settled in at our new place, we decided to have a tree this year. We have a star topper from many years ago and only a few angel ornaments; they all have sentimental value, but are on the back of the tree. Many of the ornaments are family hand-me-downs, and it’s a cheery thing to have in the living room.

    Growing up with a Jewish atheist as a father, we still had a tree every year, so it’s as much family tradition as anything else.

  • The rest of my family’s still Catholic, so duh, we celebrate Christmas. We usually have a large (real!) Christmas tree decorated with a ridiculous number of ornaments which we’ve accumulated over the years. Even on a large tree, there just aren’t enough branches to fit more than half of the ornaments. Add to that a string or two of Christmas lights and tinsel. And an angel doll on top.

    Personally, I find the ornaments to be kind of tacky when there’s so many of them on the same tree. The Christmas lights that continually beep out Christmas tunes are even worse! However, I have only positive things to say about that evergreen smell.

  • Doog
  • Julie

    My roommates and I are gonna get a very small tree on Wednesday and decorate it together. None of us are religious (2/4 of us are atheists and the other 2 are pretty apathetic), and we all agree that you don’t have to believe in miracles in order to celebrate your friends and family.

    It’s all of our first christmas away from our parents, so we have no tree or ornaments. We’ll get a really small tree and decorate it nice and simple (white lights, strings of cranberries and popcorn). Gotta find something nice for the top still.

  • Amy G.

    I have a simple 3 ft tall white tree which I decorate in a different theme/color every year. Other than it providing me a creative outlet, I could live without it. This year it’s just clear lights with bright red and green balls and garland.

  • stephanie

    It’s all of our first christmas away from our parents, so we have no tree or ornaments. We’ll get a really small tree and decorate it nice and simple (white lights, strings of cranberries and popcorn). Gotta find something nice for the top still.

    Try salt dough ornaments! That’s what I used when I first moved out. They’re really easy and cheap to make and fun, too.

  • This year I haven’t been able to, but I did put one up last year… and then I forgot to take it down and it stayed up until the end of March. And, of course, if there’s enough frozenish snow in the ground to keep it propped up I’ll stick a Festivus pole out front.

    Say whatever you will about how the origins of Christmas is probably a myth and I’ll agree. Same with how you’ll point out to me that Thanksgiving might easily be appropriately named “Take-Land-From-the-Indians Day”.

    Nobody, however, on Thanksgiving is consciously celebrating it because they want to cause harm to the Indians. All they’re really doing is gorging themselves on food and being thankful.

    There’s enough unhappiness in the world that I’m all for celebrating just because it’s that time of the year, and I really don’t care much for why we chose that time of the year. It’s fun putting up Christmas trees, giving and receiving gifts, fooding with family and friends. You don’t need to consciously spend your time thinking about its origins in order to partake in harmless traditions.

  • tamarind

    Oh yes, we will have a real, tall, beautifully-smelling tree. It’s an absolute must for me. Not sure what we’ll put on top though. I still really like the look of an angel on top.

  • snoozebar

    Heck yeah. I love Christmas trees! I love blinky lights. I love crazy ornaments. I love holiday music. I love wrapping presents. I love the whole dang holiday.

    Just because I don’t buy into the whole silly myth doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the trappings. It is entirely possible to have a secular Christmas.

    This is the Christmas I’ve celebrated my whole life: no religious icons, no angels, no going to church, no nothing. Just good food, family, and presents. What’s not to like about that?

  • We put up a Flying Spaghetti Monster flag instead of a tree. You can see pictures here.

  • AxeGrrl

    Zipplenom said:

    The spirit of the season still has meaning, god or no god. ‘Peace on earth and goodwill toward men’ is a sentiment I am happy to celebrate.

    That says it all, as far as I’m concerned 🙂

  • Yes, we have a Christmas tree. My family has always had a Christmas tree and it has always been about celebrating the joy and happiness of the season.

    My parents, though they would never admit it, raised me and my younger brother non-religious. They had done the whole “Catholic school” bit with our two older siblings, then something changed, they put them in public school and I never remember ever going to church or anything myself, other than for funerals.

    Christmas has NEVER been about religion for me. It has been family, gifts, sharing, spending time together, TV specials, good food and Santa Claus. Still is and always will be.

    With my family now, the ‘Jesus Christmas’ is treated as something other people celebrate, much like others celebrate Hannukah, Kwanzaa or whatever. It is totally seperate and different from our Christmastime.

  • timplausible

    I love secular Christmas. Trees and presents. Decorating the tree with my young kids is a tradition both I and the kids love.

    The only thing of note about our tree is the absence of religious symbols, and the fact that it is topped with a Santa figure instead of a star or an angel.

  • EdinA2

    We always put up a Christmas tree! In my mind, Christmas basically has become a secular holiday, so I’m all about the trees, the decorations, and the fat man giving out presents! We do have a nice angel that we put on top of the tree, but we call it a “Christmas Fairy” instead. I love secular spin!

  • Lyz

    My husband and I traditionally put up a “capitalism shrub.” We (almost always) gladly participate in the gluttinous extravagant celebration of capitalism that culminates on 12/25, but somehow we’ve never gotten around to buying an actual tree to replace the “most of an artificial tree that remains rather more shrublike in appearance.” It has lights and shiny objects, including many of the ornaments from when I was a child. It also goes out on the porch so the cats don’t eat the light bulbs. (idiot cat)

    This year, however, it might not go up. Having your life and well-being tossed idly aside so that some greedy jerkwad can screw over his company while getting a large bonus on top of a large raise somewhat taints the idea of capitalism.

    I sincerely hope that everyone else out here still has their job and is in no danger of losing it.

  • If it was up to me, I’d delay putting up the tree until it was too late, and lie to myself that I meant to all along. As it is, the kids put it up and decorated it. Lovely job, too.

    We even have an angel on the top! It fits right in with the flying reindeer and other mythological creatures.

    If Christmas trees and LCD lights were featured in the bible, I’d be less willing. Since most of that stuff comes from Victorian, Dickensian England and after, I remain philosophically pure! Pure as the driven slush, as they say.

  • Mikko

    No tree

  • We have a fairly traditional Christmas tree, just like my family had when I was growing up. We celebrated friends and family at Christmas, like I suspect a lot of vaguely Christian non-religious families do, and my wife and I are continuing that with our kids. The tree has lots of cheesy ornaments including more than a few Star Trek ones.

    My wife and I had a disagreement over the topper though. I wanted a William Shatner as James Kirk action figure on top, and she wanted a lighted angel, so we compromised and put up a lighted angel.

  • Zach, let me just say that the Mace Windu tree topper is made of awesome.

    We have a tree decorated only with penguins. And stuffed penguins under it. (Santa and Penguins are polar opposites. Get it? Get it? Yeah, nobody else does either.)

    As others pointed out, Solstice is a winter holiday, not a Christian one. We have no Xian symbols, but we also have no Santa Claus symbols. No mythical people/creatures at all. Not for any special reason except we just don’t feel like we need them.

  • vivian

    We have two little kids, so we do it for them. We tell them it’s a Winter Solistice tree and we decorate it the normal way, only without anything religious. We focus on winter things like snowflakes and snowmen. We still have lots of fun and I don’t feel like I’m corrupting my kids.

  • Peter

    I don’t, but that’s because I’m just a grouch that doesn’t buy into the holidays (or birthdays). I just happen to be an atheist as well.

  • Love all the wonderful ways to celebrate. Yes, Winter Solistice (fake, lighted) tree here decorated primarily with crocheted snowflakes that I made and a crocheted & beaded garland. My 4 y/o is starting to make ornaments so bought her a table top tree for her room to decorate herself. It’s just fun – presents, Santa, decorations, songs.

  • Maria

    definitely. I love putting up trees and lights. I call it a holiday tree

  • We do a pretty standard (for around here) tree.

    My only rule is, no angel on top of the tree. (If the kids want to make an angel and hang it off the side of the tree or on a wall or whatever, they can. No crosses or garish nativity scenes, etc either, but they’re not trying to do that. If they decided they wanted that stuff, they’re welcome to decorate their own room.)

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