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Christmas is for Atheists, Too

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I have a distant family member who’s on Facebook, but I deliberately didn’t “friend” him. I decided to not “friend” him after I saw one of the Facebook groups he belongs to, “Keep the CHRIST in Christmas.”

There are a lot of Christians whom I love; most of them are Catholic, including most of the maternal side of my family, and my live-in boyfriend. If it’s important to you to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, I encourage you to do so. But Christmas means different things to different people.

An Atheist's Christmas Card

I was an only child in a nuclear family until my parents separated when I was 19. My mother is a classic Maltese Catholic, and my father was born into the Church of England but became a passionate atheist before he met my mother. The different attitudes my parents had toward religion didn’t cause the breakup of their marriage, but the cultural differences between the two sides of my family made for interesting situations growing up. Being half-English, half-Maltese isn’t for the fainthearted, folks!

Anyway, I could’ve been baptized into the Catholic Church, but my father put a stop to that. While having a Catholic mother, I was raised as an atheist.

I remember when I was in Grade Five (fifth grade to you ‘mericans!) we had a special Social Studies project for December. We were to create individual presentations to show the rest of the class how our families celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or other December-ish holidays.

I had a very ethnically diverse class, but still, more than half of the kids celebrated Christmas. All of the other kids who celebrated Christmas incorporated Christianity into their presentations. I couldn’t really do that, so my presentation was themed “A Victorian Christmas,” a secular project featuring the traditions my paternal great-grandparents would have had.

Well, the other kids ganged up on me, as they usually did, because I was a severely bullied and ostracized eleven-year-old. The Christian kids, the Jewish kids, the Muslim kids, and the Hindu kids all angrily told me that I have no right to celebrate Christmas if I’m not Christian. My teacher didn’t even defend me. I cried.

Anyone has the right to celebrate Christmas if they want to, Christian or not. My Jewish stepfather is celebrating Hanukkah, but as he’s married to my mother, he’ll be celebrating Christmas, too. And he enjoys it!

There are lots of Christmas traditions that have no link to Christianity, or a very weak link at best. Nothing in the Bible says, “On December 25th, you must have a dead pine tree in your living room, with gift-wrapped presents underneath, waiting for others, purchased from the mall.”

My Druid half-sister and anthropologists alike know that our celebration of Christmas has pagan origins. Years before Christianity spread to northern Europe, my paternal ancestors celebrated Yule to mark the birth of Mithras, the Sun God, around the time of the winter solstice. Northern hemisphere cultures around the world have parties around the darkest time of year, because abbreviated daylight hours could (and can) be damn depressing, especially before Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb.

A lot of prominent Christian scholars don’t believe that Jesus was born on December 25th, or the equivalent day of the pre-Georgian calendar. When Christianity spread to northern Europe hundreds of years ago, Wicca had to be demonized in order to encourage peasants to join the Church. Wiccans worship hooved animals with antlers. So, depictions of Satan began to feature hooves and horns. Yule was an excellent idea for cheering people up, so they made that the day of Jesus’ birth.

Christmas trees aren’t rooted in Christianity. St. Nicholas was the inspiration for modern-day Santa Claus, but he didn’t live at the North Pole with elves and eight tiny reindeer.

I’m pretty sure that Jesus lived, although tales about him in the Bible are obviously greatly exaggerated. He was a great Jew, and inspired the first Christians to create a religion to copycat Judaism.

My preferred label varies depending on my mood. When I’m in a good mood, I’m agnostic, because I don’t feel I can completely rule out the possibility that there are higher powers. But when I see stuff like the Facebook “Keep CHRIST in Christmas” group, I’m as passionate about atheism as my dear old father. If my settling down with a Catholic won’t convert me to Christianity, nothing will.

Many of my fondest memories as a child were of celebrating Christmas. I love giving gifts, and receiving them, too. I enjoy spending time with my family, sometimes. I do love impressing people with how well I know their taste.

Have a Merry Christmas, whether you’re Christian or not. Have a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Kwanzaa, and a Happy New Year!

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About Kim Crawley

  • Kim, A lot of people celebrate “Festivus, for the rest of us”. As it happens, Festivus often includes decorated trees with many gifts under it. Woo hoo. Turkey, too.
    As a wordsmith I know how important it is to describe everything with as much clarity and precision as possible. As you know, most schools now celebrate ‘The Holiday Season.’ It’s a lot more inclusive, given the diversity of the kids in attendance. I think it’s important to Christians to keep Christ in Christmas, and the actual message of Christ is one that shouldn’t be terrible to contemplate. “The Lord’s Prayer” for example, said to be written by Jesus, is an excellent expression of ideals we might all strive for. Of course, so are the basic messages of the Buddah, Mohammed, and (one of my profits) Bob Marley.
    What’s my point? The true spirit of Christmas is about giving, not receiving, about humility, not arrogance, about rejoicing, not arguing. “Peace on Earth” is something we can all pray for, however we pray, or wish for if we don’t pray at all. If calling it by another name makes it inclusive, why not? If you’re Christian and you want to keep Christ in Christmas, do so! Let’s not descend into bitter arguement, once again proving the main point of atheists: Religion causes dissention, even death, even massacres and wars. I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended, or any of the great prophets of any religion.

  • Larry Linn

    “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, his precepts! O! ’tis easier to keep holidays than commandments.”

    [Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790); American scientist, diplomat and publisher;Poor Richard’s Almanac.

  • Thanks, Stephen!

  • Stephen Armiger

    Kim, I think you are great. You are honest and respectful in a blogworld of meanness where folks hide behind fictious names. I do not often find civility in the blogworld, but you exemplify it. Congratulations. From Dillon, Montana

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “But it doesn’t make sense for one “without fantasy” to go along with a)a very materialistic, consumer-based holiday or b)celebrate the day that commemorates Jesus’ birthday when you don’t believe in Jesus or c)celebrate a man who comes down your chimney with gifts, which is the most fantastic of all or d)need a religious holiday to transfer and be secular so you can give gifts to family and see friends.”

    Well, I try not to go along with any of it but because it is so deep seeded into our society, it is almost impossible not take part in some portion of the holiday especially with my family because they still believe. And, unfortunately, a part of that belief is to accept us “sinners” even though we may have fallen off the righteous path….*ugh* Personally, I think most holidays are a sham to begin with.

    I agree that the “Christ” in Christmas campaign is a call to those that claim to believe. BUT, I also feel that it is a call to families to spend more than just one day a year giving & receiving not the gifts of money or goods but of love & support. Being there for a loved one during a time of trouble,no matter the time of year, is a much better gift than most anything!

  • LC

    Brian, thanks for taking time to respond. I didn’t mean it’s not the day that Christ was born. She referred to the fact that December the 25 may or may not be the real day Jesus was born, and I was commenting on the fact that Christians would agree.

    I am sorry you feel you were brainwashed; I’m sure that you could share many unpleasant stories or disappointing moments from that. I think in an ironic way we are saying the same thing; many “holiday” Christians are obviously not fully devoted to a daily walk of faith. That’s between them and God. That may be the point of the said Facebook club about putting Christ back in Christmas, which means that there are believers who do understand the meaning of it. It is not very apparent that the Christ in Christmas didn’t mean jack shit to begin with. That’s just not factually true. I’m not attacking your beliefs or non-beliefs or whatever your claim is. That was my point; you can give gifts and see friends and family anytime you want, for any reason. If winter’s the best, so be it. But it doesn’t make sense for one “without fantasy” to go along with a)a very materialistic, consumer-based holiday or b)celebrate the day that commemorates Jesus’ birthday when you don’t believe in Jesus or c)celebrate a man who comes down your chimney with gifts, which is the most fantastic of all or d)need a religious holiday to transfer and be secular so you can give gifts to family and see friends. I honestly wish I could speak this; I truly don’t mean to sound combative.

    In any event, I can honestly say I hope that all believers celebrate the meaning of Christmas with Christ and stop focusing on presents and money. Again, I have a feeling that putting the Christ back in Christmas is not just a call to non-believers; it’s also a call to those who claim to believe, those you saw only on holidays. No one has seemed to answer why it’s so offensive to suggest that Christmas is about Christ or why believers should concede that it’s not a religious holiday. We don’t do this to any other religion’s holidays.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “The celebration in the church is not rooted in a firm belief that on December 25 Jesus was born”

    @LC – For as long as I can remember, The Catholic & Christian church has celebrated “Christmas” as the day that Christ was born. So much so, that they even have Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve for the die- hards! But, like so many other stories in that religion, the notion is left to translation from any Christian or Catholic you talk to. And, considering that the majority of people on this planet celebrate that holiday merely for the gift giving & family get-togethers then it is very apparent that the “Christ” in Christmas ,maybe,didn’t really mean jack shit to begin with. Which is fine by this non-believer because even when I was brainwashed, people only showed up to church on the holidays anyways.

    And, one other thing, I’m not an Atheist because that would suggest that Theism has evidence to support its claims and negatively points out that I’m “without god”. On the contrary, I’m only without fantasy.

  • L C

    Kim, I was referring to the copycat statement as ignorant, not you.

    Thank you for the Bible verses. I am well aware of the roots of Christianity, hence my comment on it being an extension of Judaism. Your wording of “copycat” wasn’t harsh; it was just incorrect and irrelevant for your argument. I wasn’t nitpicking; you use it as an argument, so it was appropriate to address that statement.

    I’m not sure I understand how you came to the conclusion that I’m wearing mixed textiles. Could you explain?

    My viewpoint never said that you can’t celebrate Christmas. I asked you why you would want to, given that the word Christmas IS about Christ, in whom you do not believe. The pagan rituals and traditions that you refer to are absolutely not Christian; Christians who truly want to celebrate Christmas need to put Christ back in Christmas themselves. But I’m still not sure you answered my question, which is why you want to celebrate a holiday that is rooted in a religous belief. The ultimate meaning of the word Christmas is Christ’s Mass. The celebration in the church is not rooted in a firm belief that on December 25 Jesus was born; it’s about remembering the birth, the story, the reason for the birth and what that means for believers and how they should live because of that birth. Obviously the holiday has come to be celebrated in ways that have nothing to do with Jesus or his birth. So my question remains, why would you have a desire to claim Christmas so much? Why is it so offensive to you to imagine celebrating your own holiday in whatever way you choose, under a name that does not include Christ? I’m not saying this as an exclusionary statement, or to encourage the bullying of children. I am honestly curious as to why, as a non-believer, you would want to have Christ in the name of something you celebrate. You can celebrate whatever you want; I fully agree with that statement. But surely you can’t use that millions of other atheists celebrate it as a reason for you to claim Christmas; you must have a firmer reason than that, so I’m curious as to what that is. I don’t quite understand your deep resentment of the Facebook friend. Maybe that statement, Put Christ back in Christmas, is more about calling Christians to truly consider what Christmas is instead of being preoccupied with the consumerism and non-Christian symbols that have evolved over time. In public schools they must call it Winter Break, not Christmas break, because that is offensive to non-Christians. So why would non-Christians in turn want to celebrate Christmas?

  • TK

    Not friending someone just because of belonging to a group called KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS seems a very harsh reason, since for many people that is the point of Christmas. They are entitled to their beliefs, as you are yours. They are entitled to write about and share their beliefs, as you are yours. But for that to be the sole reason to not be a friend seems very harsh, especially considering you have a Catholic boyfriend and parent. Perhaps tolerance and discussion would be best or perhaps agreeing to disagree and respect that others can have differences of opinions.

  • John- Wicca is the religion. A Wiccan or witch is someone who practices Wicca. If you read my article carefully, you’d notice I was referring to the religion.

    “When Christianity spread to northern Europe hundreds of years ago, Wicca (the religion) had to be demonized in order to encourage peasants to join the Church. Wiccans (the people who practice Wicca) worship hooved animals with antlers.”

  • John Dale

    Whilst I agree with the sentiment of what you say Kim, I have to point out that you’ve conflated a few points – Yule was a winter solstice celebration, and Mithras was a pre-Christian god/prophet/whatever who a lot of the myths about Jesus were copied from, but the two were not related and were local to different parts of Europe. Also I’m pretty sure, but stand to be corrected, that “Wiccan” is a far more modern name.

  • ME- I don’t see where I made a personal attack. LC called me ignorant. I didn’t call him/her any names, I’m just debating the consistency of LC’s viewpoint. I can’t celebrate Christmas (which actually takes a lot of themes and elements from pagan rituals), but LC can wear mixed textiles, even though the Bible says it’s wrong.

  • doug m.

    Don’t think it says anything about “attacts”

  • ME

    Perhaps Kim you should read that personal attacts are not allowed.

  • LC- I don’t appreciate being called ignorant. What’s your real name, LC? My real name is Kim Crawley, pleased to meet you!

    Anthropologists, Jewish scholars and Christian scholars don’t deny that Judaism came first and Christianity was branched off from Judaism. See:

    The Jewish Roots of Christianity
    The Origins of Christianity, Wikipedia

    Perhaps my way of putting it, that Christianity is a copycat of Judaism, might be a harsh choice of words. But, are we going to nitpick over something that is purely a matter of connotation?

    Leviticus 19:19

    Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

    LC- Have you been wearing mixed textiles lately? Perhaps some sort of polyester/cotton blend?

    Then I will celebrate the upcoming Yuletide Christmas, along with millions of other atheists and agnostics around the world.

  • L C

    You state:
    “I’m pretty sure that Jesus lived, although tales about him in the Bible are obviously greatly exaggerated. He was a great Jew, and inspired the first Christians to create a religion to copycat Judaism.”

    Surely you realize how ignorant this sounds, even to a non-Christian? You are free to write your opinion on anything, but you are stating these as though they are facts. Does it seem logical to you, an atheist, that people would risk their lives, their families, their jobs, their social status, their entire beings just to copycat Judaism? Many of the first Christians were former Jews; they didn’t need to copycat it. Christianity was an extension of their faith, Jesus being the promised Messiah.

    I’m all for people celebrating seasons, festivals, and different cultural celebrations. Christmas has Christ in it; I don’t know why anyone who doesn’t believe in Christ would want to celebrate Christmas. Yule and winter solstice? Those I can understand. But rarely do you see people applying this to other religious holidays. Do you celebrate Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist holidays? I’m the first to agree that Santa, the elves and reindeer are nothing related to the birth of Christ, and the spending and consumerism of the Christmas season is antithetical to the humble beginnings of Jesus, born in a barn. I just don’t understand why atheists, or any non-Christians, would want to make Christmas part of their lives; wouldn’t it seem more appropriate to celebrate what they do or do not believe? If you are celebrating light in the winter or the joy of gifts, then come up with a name for that. It doesn’t seem logical to want to take a religious holiday for the sake of having a holiday; as an atheist, I would think you might advocate the separation from Christmas and encourage those with atheists “beliefs” to claim a name and holiday that is reflective of them.

  • Ron- Why do you dread Christmas as an adult?

  • Looks like I will be spending Christmas in China this year, which is fine with me. When I was a kid I really looked forward to Christmas, but as an adult I kind of dread it. Christmas is not a big holiday in China, but it is interesting to watch the preparations and the pressure as Chinese New Year approaches. There are a lot of similarities.