I’ve been reading a lot of atheist blogs that have been trying to give alternatives to celebrating Christmas, plus, the typical questions from Christians about why atheists bother to celebrate Christmas at all. Trust me, that last one is absurdly commonplace, especially on Twitter. However, Christians don’t really want to hear the answer and, in my experience, atheists don’t either.
So I’m going to tell you anyhow.
Christmas is not a religious holiday. Let me say that again to be very clear. Christmas is not a religious holiday. It hasn’t been a religious holiday for a very, very, very, very long time. Yes, there are people who celebrate religiously on that day, but for the vast majority of Americans, and indeed people worldwide, Christmas is a purely secular holiday, filled with Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Christmas carols and giving presents to family and friends. None of those things are religious in nature.
Of course, you get theists and atheists alike who say it has to be religious because it has the word “Christ” in it. I had an extended discussion with an atheist on a forum who was pissed off that Christmas, a “religious holiday”, was nationally recognized in the United States and he didn’t want to listen to all of the explanations about why modern Christmas was a wholly secular celebration. It has “Christ”, it’s got to be religious! For all I know, he’s still ranting on about it.
However, he’s just wrong. Like many other holidays we have that used to be religious, like Thanksgiving and Halloween and Easter, Christmas has managed to filter out most of the religious content and replace it with non-religious fare. Yes, way back in history, Santa Claus was modeled on the Catholic Saint Nicholas, but since then, Santa has been taken over by the Coca Cola company and various other marketing conglomerates and turned entirely secular. All of the most common displays at Christmas are of Santa and Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I’d be hard pressed to find any nativity scenes that I’ve seen this holiday season, certainly not in any public places and, to be honest, not even in front of any private residences. Lots of lights, lots of blow-up animals wearing Santa hats, no sign of Jesus.
And that’s the thing, Christmas isn’t about Jesus anymore, if, in fact, it ever really was. The early Christians stole the pagan celebrations around the winter solstice, specifically as a means of converting the non-Christians. According to the Bible, if you’re going to believe it at all, Jesus was born in late-spring or early-summer. There are no shepherds out with their sheep in the winter, it snows in Palestine. It’s been well recognized by Christians for centuries that Christmas was a sham, that’s why it wasn’t recognized in the United States as a holiday until 1870 when Ulysses S. Grant made a whole pile of holidays official. In fact, prior to that point, Christmas was often viewed as sacrilegious. The Puritans banned Christmas outright as a pagan celebration. It is utterly foolish to claim that Christmas is a religious holiday today, almost all of the religion has been scrubbed from it.
So please, go out and celebrate the wholly secular holiday of Christmas, enjoy time with your friends and family, give gifts and take some well-deserved time off to rest. Stop acting like being an atheist means you have to hate the holidays. Doing that means that the religious zealots win. We just don’t want that, do we?