The “Christ” in Christmas means about as much to me as does the “Thor” in Thursday, the “Atlas” in the Atlantic Ocean, and the “Vulcan” in vulcanized rubber. Belief in the existence of each of these things’ namesakes is not a requirement if one wishes to use (or celebrate) them. I will continue to celebrate Christmas in my own happy, secular way just as I will continue to appreciate Saturdays without worshiping the Roman god Saturn.
Christmas is, as any atheist is always happy to point out this time of year, a conglomeration of multiple different Pagan, Roman, German, Babylonian, and Nordic traditions. The Bible itself tells every good Christian not to adopt “the way of the heathen” by erecting and decorating a tree with gold and silver (Jeremiah 10:2-4); yet I would wager a very large number of Christians adorn Christmas trees with garlands and ornaments every year.
I’m okay with that – you ought to know by now that I don’t care one way or the other how you choose to celebrate the Winter Solstice or Saturnalia. Heck, you can even go ahead and give it a different name if you want to! Name it after the god your ancestors invented who shares many similar (or same) attributes as the various gods and heroes which were invented before it. I’m just saying, if you really cared about what your god wanted you to do or not do, you wouldn’t be putting all your presents under a tree.
But that’s all beside the point. I’m writing this post to answer a very simple question: Why do [some] atheists celebrate Christmas, and how?
I can’t speak for all atheists, and I know many atheists do not celebrate Christmas, but I can absolutely answer the question(s) for myself.
The why is simple enough: it’s a festivity and I love festivities, whether or not they’re celebrated today for the same reasons they were originally celebrated. Let’s pretend for a moment that the story of the Nativity and Jesus’s birth in a manger on December 25th and the subsequent visit from and gifts presented by the three wise men isn’t blatantly and obviously borrowing from other folklore. Let’s pretend the whole Christmas story is entirely original and true. That being said, who cares?
Oktoberfest was originally the celebration of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria’s marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghasen. Did you know that? Do you care? When you celebrate Oktoberfest every year do you raise a glass and toast to the marriage of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghasen? You probably don’t. I don’t. But I celebrate it nevertheless because there’s always a fun time to be had.
Let’s face it; Oktoberfest’s origins of a marriage (and a horse race) don’t mean much to anybody other than diehard Bavarian historians, and I’d wager that most people celebrate it because it’s just plain fun. This is why I and an awful lot of non-Christians still celebrate Christmas. We’re not celebrating the birth of the mythological Christian hero Jesus; we’re just having a good time.
Many atheists will say this is hypocritical of those of us who celebrate Christmas. I say, cheekily, to Hell with them! Christmas is, for me, not about the birth of baby Jesus. It is religious in name only, and that’s not enough for me to want to call it something else.
So that’s the simple answer to why, but doesn’t so much answer how other than to say “without Jesus.” So here’s how I celebrate Christmas, and what Christmas means to me:
Christmas is a time for togetherness. It’s a time for sharing, hugging, and family. It’s a time for love. It’s a time to smile and make other people smile. Christmas is about laughter. It’s about making your loved ones happy. It’s about anonymous charity. It’s about drinking and feasting. Christmas is about wearing sweaters, playing games, and watching football. It’s about taking a nap at my parents’ house. It’s about sneaking yet another copy of The Princess Bride into my wife’s stocking and addressing it to her from Santa. It’s about curling up on the couch with my wife and reminiscing with my family about previous Christmases. It’s about coffee and hot chocolate. It’s about staying up late laughing and listening to music and not caring about how early I have to be up for work the next day. It’s about remembering everything that happened over the last year, and it’s about taking photographs that we can share with our children in the future. Christmas is for everyone.
Christmas used to be about Jesus, then it was all about Santa. Growing up it was the other way around for me, but now it’s just about having a wonderful time with my family and it’s a great way to wrap up the year.
- An Atheist Christmas Poem (ronscoffeeandchocolates.wordpress.com)
- Yes, I do celebrate Christmas – only I call it Giftmas. (monicks.net)
- Woody Allen Jesus! (arthurandtamie.com)
- The War on Christmas is real, and the atheist barbarians are winning it (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- The Christ in Christmas (godless.biz)