Atheists Can Enjoy Christmas Too

Let’s get this out of the way first—I’m basically an atheist. And yes, I like Christmas. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense at first glance but allow me to explain.

An Illustration of the Ghost of Christmas Present from Charles Dickens’ novel “A Christmas Carol.”

I hate winter, more than any of the other seasons. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s depressing. Winter holidays like Christmas allow us excuses to organize events with friends and family, where our minds are taken off of the bitter cold and limited sunlight around us. I’ve always held the unsubstantiated belief that winter holidays were created as a means of keeping people from going full-blown Howard-Hughes-psycho during the serotonin –deficient winter months.

I also don’t like people in general. People can be vain, greedy, inhumane. But during Christmas time, people are encouraged to be universally good to one another and show appreciation to neighbors and loved ones around them. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.

Now the only downside for me is the whole religious aspect. I don’t believe that the bible and its stories (or any religious texts for that matter) hold much merit compared to other less supernatural moral stories and philosophies. The whole Jesus story doesn’t hold particular significance for me. Sure there are aspects of it that I find attractive—unconditional love, forgiveness, the devaluation of material wealth. But I don’t need to believe in the Jesus story or any other religious thought to appreciate these mentalities.

So in that case I guess I’m excluded from Christmas in the religious sense.

However, in the United States, Christmas has taken on a more national, secular aspect that I can get behind. The Christian Christmas tradition—gift giving, the decoration of evergreen trees, the lights—itself has borrowed heavily from other pre-Christian winter celebrations, and many of those aspects are highlighted in TV shows, movies, song, advertisements, etc. with scant reference to Jesus or Christianity. This is often lamented as a degradation of the holiday by some of the religious persuasion. But as someone in support of making Christmas both a religious holiday and secular celebration, I find it comforting.

This is why the whole “War On Christmas” tripe drives me nuts. As Penn Jillette recently explained, the usage of the term “Happy Holidays” or “Holiday Tree” is merely a means of being more inclusive towards non-Christians during the winter holidays. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with having a festive time during winter—stupid dark, cold, depressing winter—where everyone can come together with a sense of, as Charles Dickens put it, “laughter and good humor?”

So I say bring on a more secular Christmas. It’s not a devolution of the holiday but rather a progression—an attempt at being more exclusive. The religious can celebrate the religious aspects of the holiday while the less religious can celebrate the secular aspects of the winter celebration. Everyone wins really.

But I’m not the first to point out this dual aspect to the winter holiday. As Dickens explained through the character of Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew in A Christmas Carol, “if anything belonging to [Christmas] can be apart from” its religious aspects, it would be “as a good time; a kind of forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”