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Published December 22, 2013

No “Christ” In Christmas: Can Atheists Celebrate The Holidays?

Christmas has evolved. This is the time of year where we’re supposed to embrace our differences and put aside our troubles in celebration. We gather together, drink egg nog and cider, laugh as we catch up on times we miss. Unfortunately, many folks aren’t happy with just good times and family togetherness alone. God needs to be involved.

I’m Atheist. I’ve mentioned this before here on Candid Slice, and I don’t like to bring it up much in my everyday life. It leads to interesting conversations, but Atheism isn’t my whole identity. It’s just a part of who I am. Every now and then, though, I feel I need to present my point of view, and this holiday season is bringing out the wing nuts again.

You may have heard that the folks at Fox News are stirring things up, declaring with all the authority of a walking chamber pot that Santa is definitively white. The “War on Christmas,” as they so love to declare it, is a one-sided battle they’ve already lost. Recent polls are showing that a growing majority view Christmas as a cultural holiday, not a religious one. The strange thing is, and this surprised me as well, Christmas always has been a cultural holiday. It’s just going back to its roots.

RELATED: Atheism Isn’t Empty.

This Tumblr post sums it up nicely, but for the non-clickers out there, I’ll sum it up further: In 320 A.C.E., Pope Julius I declared the 25th of December to be Christmas day after much speculation and no factual evidence to speak of.

Saturnalia, or as the Romans called it, "Saturday."
Saturnalia, or as the Romans called it, “Saturday.”

Nearest we can tell, he was trying to guilt-trip folks into not celebrating the whimsical and disorderly Saturnalia held around the same time. It didn’t work. Christmas remained special, but only in that “Labor Day” kind of way.

The middle ages popularized it as royalty used it as a day for coronations. Christmas became a jovial day of revelry, absorbing traditions from Saturnalia, Yule, and others, until it fizzled during the Enlightenment (interestingly when people started drinking less beer and more coffee). It wasn’t until the turn of the last century that Christmas came back with a vengeance.

"Hurry Al, give them bread and ale before the one in the middle starts singing about that hippopotamus again."
“Hurry Al, give them bread and ale before the one in the middle starts singing about that hippopotamus again.”

The classic Santa (himself an amalgam of multiple characters) was commercialized and popularized just before McCarthyism hit in the 1950’s.

Americans flocked to churches to show the dirty commies just how good and spiritual we were (and avoid getting thrown in jail because of random accusations).

Somehow it’s remained that way to this day. And now, the Cultural Christmas is coming back.

I was talking with an elderly woman, probably in her late fifties or sixties, and we discussed some of our favorite Trader Joe’s products. I mentioned my recipe for Dark Chocolate Orange and Coconut Cashew Bark, told her about the star I put on my tree year after year, and generally got along real well despite the gap in age. But then she said something to me I’ll never forget.

“I have something for you.”

She pulled out a pamphlet from her purse, one of many. Before she said another word I glanced down to her hand and saw the large white lettering proclaiming “JESUS is LORD.” I knew exactly where this was heading.

“Do you believe in the Lord?” she asked me.

I put my hand up and said my next words as politely as I could. She was going to be crushed, I could feel it.

“No, thank you.” I said.

Yep. Crushed. Confused too, as if she’d never gotten that response before (or perhaps, I suspect, never as politely).

“You are aware that Jesus loves you?” she said.

“That’s nice.” I said. “Have a good day, and Merry Christmas.”

She looked absolutely astonished that I’d wished her a Merry Christmas after refusing her pamphlet. She gave me a cold shoulder and walked away as it rained. Poor woman. She just wanted to spread the Word.

RELATED: Is Marriage Religious?

Around this time of year, I hear a lot more about Jesus than I would like. And what I would like is “minimal, with no ulterior motives.” Celebrate the season how you want to celebrate it, but please do not assume your way should be the only way.

Cultural Christmas- An Atheist’s Opinion - 6
The original concepts of a cultural Christmas is slowly returning.

Christmas was, and still is, more about revelry than what to revere; people rather than piety; and quality of the time spent with others rather than the quantity of the folks attending Mass.

Above all, though, Christmas is a celebration. Let’s treat it like one.

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  • Greg Trombley


  • I'm an RDU-based novelist and passionate champion of scientific progression. Nature and science live side-by-side in my heart. I clean dinosaur bones in my spare time, and love reading about local history. All my articles.

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