Answering a Christian about why non-theists celebrate Christmas


A friend on Facebook posed this question last year.  I answered her, but not on Facebook because I didn't want to offend anyone.  Then I wondered why I should be afraid of offending believers by expressing my views when believers feel totally free at any time to send little "inspirational" comments or religious stories, anecdotes, sermonettes to everyone they know. I guess it's because I'm aware  that Christians will think I'm an evil and crude person if I express my views while I only think they are illogical and superstitious when they express theirs.
Here's her question:

Question to an atheist: "Why do you celebrate Christmas?" I just kind of laugh at people who are diehard atheists all year, but have no problem accepting Christmas gifts and "celebrating" the holiday. Yes, I know it's far removed from its original intention, but STILL, it's common knowledge what the Christ in Christmas why don't the non-believers refuse to take part in ANY of it, to honor their own philosophy? Just curious!
And here's my answer:

Well... obviously you have a good point.   However there are many reasons non believers or secular humanists or agnostics or atheists celebrate Christmas.  Just some thoughts here, most not original with me. And of course non believers do ask themselves this same question and struggle, at least a little,. to answer it.  We don't necessarily make public our unorthodox beliefs or go out of our way to distinguish our brand of celebration from yours, partly because we don't want to offend.


1.  Christmas is really pretty much a pagan holiday in origin in the first place.  Christians (I think Constantine had a lot to do with this) adopted pagan customs and superimposed them on a previously unimportant and largely unobserved holiday. At some point winter solstice festival traditions got added to the mix.  Also the actual beliefs of Christian mythology (most of the elements of a virgin birth etc), are patterned after Greek and Roman myths.  Googling the subject will turn up all kinds of examples. Just think of non-believers celebrating the Winter Solstice instead of Christmas, but not bothering to change the name.


2.  Many non believers were themselves brought up with Christmas traditions, so the warmth and happiness of the season are deeply imbedded in our psyches.  We probably know, at some basic level, that a celebration in the "dead of winter" is something that meets very elemental human needs.  And while we might smile wistfully at those who manage to convince themselves that they're going to live forever and don't really have to actually die, we (maybe) believe that comforting and holding close those we love while we DO have life and breath is the best we can do to help all of us keep going.  Christmas doesn't give us hope of eternal life, but it gives us hope that our "brief moment" of consciousness is still worth living-- just because we have each other to share that moment with.  As for materialism, I've always felt that what all of us are really seeking from the holiday season is not the spectacular gift or extravagant wishes that come true in the form of something outrageously expensive, but rather the colorful lights that first thrilled us as children --and the fellowship-- and hopefully a few special moments each season when the family is enjoying just being together, having fun, or snuggling in "by the fire".  I think it is THOSE images and experiences that we are seeking and those moments usually surprise us and happen somewhere during the season.  And obviously one does not need to be religious in the slightest to feel that this is a time of year to do something to help feed the hungry and brighten the lives of others.  I think Christians and non-Christians alike can agree that we don't do anywhere near enough.


3.  We don't believe in Santa and reindeer either, but we still enjoy those symbols.  And we embrace (again, somewhat wistfully) the human sentiments that draw people to a story of a mother and a newborn baby and simplicity and animals and starry skies.  I think that even literal Christians don't believe that the elements of that story happened in quite the way they are described in biblical passages and children's books.  But...   that little donkey, peaceful barn animals,  shepherds following a star around in the middle of the night paint an appealing picture.  We WISH, maybe, that something like that could have happened.  And I believe our instinctive and heartfelt enjoyment of the rural, simple nature of the tale shows something important and lovely about our better natures.


4.  If nothing else, think of Mr. Hooper making sure that Bert and Ernie each had a gift to give each other and that it was exactly what each of them wanted!


Well... that's just a stab at an answer.  I don't know whether the idea that it's all good for the economy is much of an excuse to non believers in choosing to go ahead and celebrate the holiday.  Maybe it is... because the economic boost is undeniable.  I also think that many of us do cut waaaaay back on some of the hoopla and only include those elements that we like.  We skip church and don't send cards (who needs to with Facebook and email) and decorate our houses just enough to please ourselves and nobody else. 


 Also, for what it's worth, I'm pretty sure that even those who DO believe in the religious meaning of Christmas have a very hard time figuring out what in the world gifts of Xboxes and war toys for little boys and Malibu Barbie have to do with anything! 

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Christians 'own' christmas, so why are we butting in on their celebrations?

We have never really had a choice have we? christmas has become a celebration all over the world and the original reason for it has been lost all together. Apparently it has something to do with christ's birth, but he wasn't really born then and blah blah the debate goes on.

The same goes for easter and it infuriates me when christians ask why we celebrate these events. Really? We don't have much of a choice anyway because they are a little hard to avoid, these events are pretty much in your face, besides, buying useless gifts, over stuffing ourselves with food is a religious event?.

And while I am on my soap box, atheists shouldn't celebrate christmas because we don't believe in god or jesus, then do all christians actually think that santa and the easter bunny actually exists?

When the word christmas comes out of my mouth, it has the same meaning as thanksgiving or halloween, just another day to have fun and enjoy family and friends.

On my last note, I don't actually 'celebrate' christmas. I could quite easily live without it - shopping at the grocery store would be much much more of breeze without it :p

If anything, the question should be 'why do Christians celebrate the 24th/25th december'?

I mean, very little of it has any true bearing on Christianity

As mentioned, There's nothing particularly Christian about most of Christmas - even the date isn't correct. It was borrowed from other pre-Christian pagan religions, such as Mithraism.

How dishonest, how ingratiating do you have to be to attempt to slip your own religion into existing festivals by subversion? It only goes to show how ill-defined the early church was to have to do this.

This is how advertising techniques work (and we all know what a rat's nest industry that is!)  - you associate a product with an existing desire or concept so that they become inextricably linked and ultimately synonymous. Manipulative. Would an omnipotent god have to resort to manipulation like this? no!

No one knows - or if - exactly when jesus was born. You'd think if he really was divine someone would have written something like that down.

Christmas trees, evergreen wreaths, yuletide, the 12 days of Christmas are all from Norse paganism.

The winter solstice has been practiced by many pagan religions.

Santa Claus of course has already been pointed out.

Even the giving of presents pre-dates Christianity. Really, all that's left is the story of the nativity. And a lot of that also mirrors earlier non-Christian stories.

i wonder why people are so afraid of talking about the actual origin of these myths...

they didnt start with the norsemen

they didnt start with the greco-romans

they started with the egyptians

the term christ comes from christos, which came from krishna which came from karast which is the phonetical sound of krst

krst was NEVER a person until the grecians misinterpreted the egyptian message.

the whole 3 day ressurection etc has to do with the precessional equinox and the apparent son of god ( ie the sun) not moving for three days...

if someone has an esoteric understanding or grasp of the subject matter, it becomes quite easy to digest and easy to explain.

my 8 yr old can explain it

As my nephew's girlfriend tells me when I go into "seasonal baking mode": "Of course we celebrate Christmas, because YAY FOR DELICIOUS COOKIES!"


My christmas is made up of carols, cookies, cards, and candies. And I enjoy it. Hate the decorations, though.  And I've never had anyone refuse my homemade spritz cookies or peanut brittle because they were made by a non-believer.


"Of course we celebrate Christmas, because YAY FOR DELICIOUS COOKIES!"

Now that is something I can believe in.

B.K., you wrote everything I wished I would've said to my husband last night.

Hi Stacy--I've got to admit it's much easier to express these things when there's time to think it through and find the words.  I wanted to express these thoughts to my husband also, as well as my extended, religious family, and I knew I could do it much better in writing.


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