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.”


  1. Erica Guardino says

    Thanks for this article, Bill, you read my mind!

  2. I love this article. I celebrate Christmas with all the Christian stuff that goes along with it. But the “war on Christmas” BS is totally stupid. If people had any idea of the history of the actual celebration of Christmas, they would know that it’s only very recently (in terms of the history of EVER) been associated as “deeply religious”. I think Christmas is about the good in humanity. It’s great that we Christians can use it to tie in the Jesus stuff, but I just don’t think that is necessary. I think it’s more about remembering to help our fellow man…no matter what his religious or non-religious affiliation is. It’s about the goodness in all of us. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Larry Polsky says

    Bless You 🙂

  4. Irena Weygold says

    I grew up in post-WWII Germany, the home of the Christmas tree. Our household also was very atheist in that my father did not even want any religious reference in the home and refused to pay church taxes as he was required at that time. He did, however, consent to paying that part of the “church tax” that went towards keeping up monuments even if that was a church.
    We did celebrate Christmas with a tree and gifts and singing Christmas carols, it was traditional and the songs were beautiful. The story was that on Christmas Eve the Christmas Man (not Santa Claus) brought the tree, all lit up, and gifts for the good children and that the bad ones were put in a big sack by the Christmas Man’s servant, a big gruff man with a club, and carried away to who knew where. An elder sibling or relative would take the younger children out after dark, which was usually unheard of, on a walk to see if the Christmas Man was close as you could see it by the lighted trees in the near-by windows. This would give the parents time to bring in the tree which had been kept in the basement or outside in the cold, and get it decorated and put the gifts under the tree. After half an hour or so it was decided that there were enough trees lit up in the neighborhoods’ windows to think that the Christmas man was close and the children were ushered home. Of course they were always too late to catch the Christmas Man in the act which was always a good thing for those children who had been naughty. After a few hours of stuffing themselves with cookies and chocolates and playing with the new toys it was time for bed for the kids. The adults sat around drinking wine, alcoholic punch, nibbling on cookies, nuts and stollen, perhaps visiting the neighbors or receiving the neighbors and exchanging some small gifts with them.
    The big fancy meal was served the next day at noon, usually a goose stuffed with apples and chestnuts, mashed potatoes, sweet and sour red cabbage, wine, including very watered down wine for the kids, a fancy desert afterwards, all made by mom and any older girls or invited aunts and perhaps even dad. Although I had an old father he was very progressive. Older boys had been helping weeks before decorating cookies and making fancy tree decorations out of straw and fancy paper and painting small pine cones with gold and silver paint.
    It was a jolly time and there was nothing religious about it. No, we had no angels on the tree, the tip was a spire and there was no creche.
    I reared my children much the same way.I now have an evangelical, a vaguely christian and a dyed-in-the-wool atheist. My daughter who passed had played with Mormonism but once she got a better look at that decided that all religion was humbug. She died an atheist.
    So Christmas can be celebrated by non-believers without appearing to be hypocrites, it did not start out to be religious holiday anyway but a celebration of the solstice, the reappearance of the light. I like that and perhaps unbelievers should celebrate on the solstice day with all the trimmings of Christmas and then have time (and the stomachs) to celebrate a second time at friends’ houses.