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War on Christmas, anyone?

Did you think we’d make it to December before this topic came up? I just can’t help myself. Why? Because (hold on, you’re about to get a major confession):

I am an atheist and I love Christmas!

I make my husband hang up lights outside even though he doesn’t want to climb up on the roof and hook the lights onto the gutters, I buy a Christmas tree almost every year even though it drops needles all over my living room floor and orgnaments get broken by my cats, I cook lots of fattening foods and gain five pounds even thought I really should be losing weight, I send presents to all of my family members even though they never say “thank you,” and I even read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke every now and then, even though I don’t think it’s true.

My mother, who is a born-again Christian doesn’t do any of these things. But then she was raised as a secular Jew, so what does she know about Christmas? She didn’t grow up with trees and lights and Santa and the baby Jesus. She doesn’t even go to Church on Christmas because she says they do the same thing every year, and how boring is that? (Although she doesn’t seem to mind the same sermons year after year on non-holidays, I guess because she doesn’t got to a liturgical church, so they vary the schedule of the messages.)

I grew up in a Long Island neighborhood with equal populations of Jews and Christians. We sang Christmas and Hanukkah songs at school and did crafts related to both holidays. Plus, we got all of the Jewish and Christian holidays off from school, so you know we kids weren’t going to complain.

I guess that’s why I see the war on Christmas as being so ridiculous. I’m an atheist with Jewish ancestors, and I celebrate Christmas. I estimate that about 99% of Americans do so, regardless of their regligious affiliation (or lack thereof). Everywhere you go from Halloween to New Years you see Santas and Christmas trees and wrapping paper and Christmas cards, and even a few mangers with the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and a couple of camels and the three wise men looking over him. OK, sometimes there are “Happy Holidays” or even “Happy Hannukah” cards too. I guess that makes the baby Jesus cry.

Please join me, as fellow atheists, skeptics, and unbelievers of all names in celebrating Christmas, even though you think the Chrstian premise for the holiday is bunk! Remember the real reason for the season: It’s to spend time with your family and friends, to eat, drink, and be merry, and to remember that the dark days of winter won’t last forever! If Christmas ever was primarily a Chrstian holiday, it hasn’t been so in a long time so we should be willing to celebrate with abandon.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. I hope this doesn’t get me placed on that Nice list we mentioned the other day. I’d so much rather be Naughty.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. Remember that Chrismas originally was a viking/Scandinavian festival of light, which was incorporated into Christian tradition when Scandinavia became christian (it was obviously too cool a party to get rid of). It gets dark up here in December, so we traditionally celebrate the coming of the light. So Christmas is not originally about christianity and I'm sure the vikings would approve christmas as it is celebrated today.

  2. Well, I'm also an atheist and I love christmas. I guess it has to do with fond memories of my childhood. I never went to church much, not even on Christmas, maybe only 3-4 times. But, I still love to get in the christmas mood… Hearing christmas songs, even the religious ones, just because of the memories…

    I remember as a kid, my parents wanted me to believe in santa… and it was ok, to believe in him… It's fun! I was listening to christmas music on christmas nights and watching through the windows hoping to see him pass in the sky with his sleigh (of course, not all night long but, I remember doing it)…

    The few times that I remember going to church on christmas eve, I remember coming back home and seeing all the christmas presents under the tree… (my father had a sudden urge to go to the bathroom just right at the moment we were leaving for church somehow and it always took him a few min… No wonder why we had to wait for him outside)… But, the magic was there… At other times, me and my brother had to go to bed for a few hours and when we were waking up, at midning, Santa had just left and the gifts were there… Ohh the joy… He even came home once… I was watching TV and someone rang the bell and I'm the one who opened the door… Wow!! Of course, a few years later, looking at photos, I recognized a good friend of my father but, as a kid, it was magic… All those good memories come back to him every year… I'm an atheist, I'm a skeptic, but christmas magic can be great and I hope to give that to my kids.

  3. Hell, I even like going to shopping malls near Christmastime. I'm never buying very much (usually just a couple gifts which I couldn't think to find anywhere else), and in Boston I'm either walking or taking public transportation, so it's basically just a grand people-watching exercise.

    Growing up in a non-observant family in a Protestant section of the U.S. and A., I always thought that "Happy Holidays" was the short way of saying "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

  4. We do it for the kids and gifts from older relations who have no idea we are atheists. I have many names for the holiday depending on my mood:



    Winter Prime Festival

    Credit Card Filling Day

    I just don't use the C word in my house because using it gives it credence.

  5. Well, Stacey, I'm sure we'll be talking about this more later in the season, too! :-) My husband put up the lights this weekend, so it's been on my mind.

    And, wow, you plan your posts in advance? I am such a seat-of-the-pants blogger. I probably would do some better writing if I planned my posts….

  6. We still have Halloween decorations up. I think I'll take them down on Boxing day. One year we did the tree up with halloween lights and every year we put a plastic Yoda at the top of the tree. Annoys the hell out of a few relations I am sure.

  7. Oops forgot. I also, when faced with peoples little figurine manger scenes while travelling/visiting during holidays, seek out small action figures and replace characters with them. One year at my brother in laws, baby J-man became a troll doll and his (earthbound carpenter) dad was replaced with Santa. Hilarity ensued. Well, in our car on the way home, not at my brother in laws.

  8. I adore Winter Holiday Celebration. I grew up Catholic, so I'm always tempted to buy cards with Mary & baby Jesus on them – much in the same way I love buying things with pictures of greek gods.

  9. Wait, do you mean to tell me that there is an actual organized war on Christmas going on? Holy crap! (Um…take that however punfully you wish.) Here I thought it was just a fake controversy stirred up by ratings hungry idiots like Bill-O and his ilk.

    But now that I know that there is an actual war on Christmas, sign me the hell up. I hate this holiday. I hated it even as a kid. (And I got pretty good presents so don't think this is sour grapes (present-wise at least.)) I just don't care for this holiday.

  10. OMG! Bill O'Reily (sp?) starts in with his half truths and all out lies about how Christmas is being trampled on by people (like me). Maybe he wont this year. Maybe that will be his Christmas present to us. Maybe I'll flap my arms and fly to the moon.

  11. Personally, I quite like the concept of modern Christmas. I like the giving and receiving of gifts, the idea of family coming together, all of that. And just because my stepmother complains all the time about all the work she has to do (as if none of the rest of us do any!) doesn't make me dislike Christmas itself…she does that for EVERY holiday. As far as this atheist is concerned, there is no war on Christmas.

    Now, if someone were supporting a war on Christmas music, well, I'd be down at my local recruitment office in a heartbeat. Just hearing the opening few notes to "Sleigh Ride" is enough to send me into a berserker blood rage that would make the Scandinavian originators of the holiday proud.

  12. Writerdd, it seems you grew up awfully near where I grew up… I was in Valley Stream, withing earshot of the Gibson station.

    And I tend to agree — while I'm not personally such a huge enthusiast, my family had quite a few "Hannukah Bushes" growing up… heck, so did the aunt who married a Hindu! And yeah, it's all pagan anyway….

  13. Personally, I think of Xmas as Officially Sanctioned Passive-Aggressive day.

    But maybe that's just how it plays out in my family. :D

    I actually don't like all the displays–all I can think of is how much coal is being burned to run those lights and inflate those Santas.

    And after working retail in college, Xmas music makes me homicidal.


    Scrooge McBug

  14. I wholly agree! I have made Christmas my favorite secular holiday, and I'm apologizing to no one. Even my aunt who was a nun. The more lights the better, and I'm sorry, Expatria, I love the music, too.

    So, Merry Christmas all!

  15. David Harmon, Born in Queens, grew up in Port Jefferson Station. One year I decorated a grapefruit tree I'd grown from a seed (earlier) because my mother wouldn't buy a tree, or couldn't afford one.

    bug_girl, The new LED lights burn a lot less, so they're guilt free!

  16. Expatria:

    I take your point on "Sleigh Ride". I should note for completeness that the original version that Leroy Anderson was not intended as a Christmas piece, but just a light orchestral piece without lyrics. It's much better than the version that you are no doubt usually subjected to. (Being in the Southern Hemisphere has its advantages; songs about snow tend to be rare this time of year.)

    However, I disagree with declaring a general war on "Christmas music". Personally, I'm going to be breaking out the Praetorius.

  17. I am with you on this. I do not believe in the bible or any other old text as the guild to my life. But I do enjoy Christmas. Every year we either hunt down a tree or buy one, it gets decorated, lights get strung up and as you said lots of fattening food gets cooked and eaten.

    For me one of my favourate bits is listening to the old christmas songs.

    Christmas is about family, and at this cold and dark time of year a taking joy in the start of the suns long climb back form its trip to the tropic of Capricorn is a rite well worth taking part in.

  18. Jewish grandfather, raised Catholic, long time atheist and celebrator of christmas.

    I'm with you on this one sister. Maybe all us atheists treating christmas as a cultural holiday makes the baby Jesus cry too.

  19. Agnostic, but the winter-solstice (correctly spelled, I hope) is worth celebrating. Too bad it's been hijacked by the major religions.

  20. As a fellow "atheist jew", let me join you in saying screw religion! I love Christmas just the same, and love giving gifts as much as getting them.

    This post was written while some nice christmas music plays in the background.

  21. I completely agree, Christians had taken the pagan rituals and replaced them with newly created (at the time) Christian's ones, why can't we do the same? I don't really care about the xmas it self, but I love the way everyone decorate their houses and buildings. The city gets a new air, it is cool, why stop it? Because some priest more then a thousand years ago said that this is about Jesus? Guess what before that it was about thor or other deity, and we can make it to be about us, people.

  22. tigerhawkvok, Isn't it so cool that you can be an "atheist Jew"? Too bad there's no way to be an atheist Christian or an atheist Muslim. I think a lot of people might make that choice if it were an option.

    VBdSL, I really like the idea of making Christmas about us, people. That's my least favorite part of Chrsitainty — that credit for good goes to God and blame for bad goes to Satan, and people are not given the credit or blame they deserve for their own actions.

  23. My tree is still in the same spot it was last X-mas. I did take the decorations out around February.

    X-mas hasn't been a religious holiday for me for over 15 years I'd say …

    I'm not gonna care if some christians think X-mas is about jeebus. Screw them.

  24. I'm an atheist and Christmas is awesome. I love the decorations, I love the food, I love buying, wrapping and getting presents and I love the day itself.

    I'm even going to the local church this year for carol singing. I'm going with friends and none of them are religious either.

  25. Jenn Y. Long time Catholic and recent conversion into Agnostic/Humanist.

    Despite 28 years in the Catholic Church, Midnight Masses, etc. The nicest thing about Christmas for me this year is holding the door open for folks as they are exiting Barnes and Noble. I get more of a feeling of goodwill there vs. any church service I've ever attended.

  26. I know that it has a long pagan ancestry, but you can't deny that Christmas is nowadays a religious holiday. I boycott it out of principle. If I want to buy presents for someone, I do it on their birthdays. (I refer to my own birthday as "Timmas," Tim being my real name.) And the family gathering just happened Thanksgiving. (Which I know is also widely regarded as a religious holiday. "Who are you thanking, hmm?")

    Hey, bug_girl, maybe you should be "humbug_girl" for the season. :)

  27. Thanksgiving a religious holiday? WTF?

    To the question "Who are you thanking" I'd just respond with the names of those people I'd like to thank. Duhh! (God not being one of them for the simple reason that he doesn't exist and has never done anything for me worth thanking for).

  28. Careful, Monika! Once you start going to a church for carol singing, there's no telling what might happen! I joined a church choir as a dedicated, lifelong agnostic simply because I discovered that I loved to sing. Now just look at me: an ordained (albeit fairly heretical) Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Talk about your slippery slopes!

  29. SteveT, Why? Do you actually believe?

    But you're right, putting yourself into the environment of the (sometimes multiple) weekly brainwashing sessions is dangerous.

  30. exarch:

    From the Wikipedia article on Thanksgiving in the US:

    "Giving thanks

    Thanksgiving was originally a religious observance for all the members of the community to give thanks to God for a common purpose."

    On another note, being a stereotypical Canadian who holds doors for people and says t"sorry" even when it isn't my fault, I say thank you enough all day long, we all do. Isn't setting a whole day aside to thank people etc a little silly?

  31. Well, I suppose that all depends on what you mean by "believe." I'm not trying to be cagey here, it's just that there is no short answer to the question you ask. When some people use the word "believe," they mean something like "have 100% trust that something is true." Others use a less black-and-white version of the word. So it really depends on who is asking and who is answering.

    For me, life is one big set of probabilities, with precious little certainty about anything. I can usually see so many sides to an argument, that I have been accused of being unable to take my own side in one! I always strive to be open minded enough to change my world-view if the situation or my experiences indicate that I should. I once was a firmly neutral agnostic. I still maintain much of my agnostic perspective, but now lean strongly to the "yes" side of the fence. Some would argue that I have actually fallen off the fence completely, but that is yet another question of semantics that I don't have the time to address.

    I often like to put myself into situations that challenge my current world-view, so that I always have something to test my ideas against. It's like standing on the bow of a ship heading into a stiff wind. I like that feeling. Starting to attend church was an example of that. So is participating in this blog, by the way! I reject your description of my church attendance as being brainwashed (although given your experience, I can see why you view it that way). Instead, it challenged me to mentally defend my "beliefs" about the existence and nature of God. What I found was that some of those beliefs were not well founded, instead being based on unexamined personal biases. In the end, the balance was tipped by personal experiences and I came to the point of believing that a universe with a loving God was more likely than one without. I may someday change my mind about that, as I seek to continue the mental challenges, but that's where I am right now in the journey.

    So maybe I should ask you: do I "believe" according to your definition of the word?

    Lastly, I would say that putting yourself into an environment that RESPECTFULLY challenges your belief system (atheist OR Christian) is only "dangerous" for those who fear change.

  32. Thanks Steve. I don't know if I think you believe or not, but thank you for explaining that.

    I do, however, stick by my idea that attending churches that preach the same thing over and over and over again year after year after year and listening to sermons based on what is written in an ancient book with absolutely no concrete evidence to support the doctrines and beliefs that are promoted, is definitely submitting yourself to a form of brainwashing — even when it is voluntary on the part of most of the participants (the adults that is).

    Not knowing anything about your church, I couldn't say for sure if that's the case. But it certainly has been in almost every church I've ever set foot in.

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