One of the most frequently discussed topics I noticed this year in American atheist communities was how atheists should celebrate Christmas. Should atheists say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Winter Solstice”? Should atheists do anything on Christmas day?
This came off as odd to me because, personally speaking as an atheist, I’ve never really interpreted Christmas as a strictly religious holiday and therefore have never felt a need to rebel against it.
While growing up in a moderate Christian household I did learn Christmas is about the birth of Christ, but at the same time my parents exposed me to so many other non-religious aspects of Christmas. We decorated our house with non-religious decorations, put up a Christmas tree, talked about Santa Claus and opened gifts on Christmas morning. We also watched all kinds of Christmas movies, old and new, featuring story lines that had nothing to do with Jesus.
I actually viewed Christmas more of a secular holiday rather than a religious holiday. Yes, we would go to church to listen to the church choir or go to holiday church events, but most of my family’s time was spent outside of the church not discussing Jesus.
I understand this moderate approach to Christmas is not the case for all religious families. A good number of American atheists were probably raised in a strict Christian household where Jesus was discussed at all times and children were told Santa Claus wasn’t real because the parents considered him to be competition to Jesus. I acknowledge not everyone had a lax upbringing like I had.
But look beyond the household when analyzing the secular aspects of Christmas. It is a major consumer event that has been losing religious significance for some time and has shifted to a more sales-oriented holiday. When I walk through cities in Southwest US during the winter season, it is very rare when I see religious reference in stores. Sometimes I even forget Christmas is about Jesus.
So I question why are American atheists so set on having their own “special” day? What’s up with saying “Happy Winter Solstice“, which I first learned about from Freedom From Religion Foundation
“We humans in the Northern Hemisphere have been celebrating the Winter Solstice, a natural holiday, long before Christmas crashed the party,” says FFRF co-founder and Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Winter Solstice, on Dec. 21 this year, is the real reason for the season — the shortest, darkest day of the year, heralding the rebirth of the sun, the lengthening of days and the natural New Year.”
When I first read this statement I actually interpreted as another form of religion. “We humans in the Northern Hemisphere..”, “heralding the birth of the sun..” Isn’t that what pagans and wiccans say? I actually relate winter solstice to religion and theism more than Christmas itself. At the end of the day there is nothing wrong with this statement, I just take note that it evolved out of rebelling against Christianity and American traditions.
Another reaction I take note of from a segment of American atheists is their harsh response to anyone, atheist or theist, who chooses to say “Merry Christmas.” They consider saying the word Christmas to be catering to Christianity and therefore challenge anyone who says it. This response has frustrated me because, as I mentioned, I tend to view Christmas as a secular holiday, so why should I be charged for simply saying the traditional statement “Merry Christmas”?
I hope the American atheist community will come to terms with Christmas and join the holiday spirit of American tradition.
Lauren Ell is an American blogger born and raised in Southern California and is currently based in Sweden. She discusses Epilepsy, Politics and Fun. Professionally Ell is an Online Marketing Consultant and Virtual Assistant. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.