In a conversation with a friend, who is also atheist, the topic of holidays came up. Someone questioned why she would have a Christmas Tree. She said “Umm, why not?” I also thought it was a strange question. I said “I’m atheist, but I love the holiday season.” However, when my cousin (who is not atheist) questioned this “…and what exactly do you love about it?,” I started wondering if maybe this wasn’t so obvious to those who don’t understand atheism. Perhaps this question deserves to be fleshed out a bit.
Every atheist has a slightly different definition of atheism. Going into the nuances is outside the scope of this post. Suffice it to say we don’t believe in God and tend to shun the institution of religion in general.
So my desire to celebrate the holidays with family and friends is considered strange behavior for an atheist. First of all, what is Christmas? It’s the celebration of the birth of Christ, although with a little research, I could come up with the names of at least two other non-christian deities who also celebrate their birth around this time (an inexplicable coincidence), but that’s another topic for another day. If you’re Christian, this idea of “birth of Christ” is not lost on you. You may go to Church, but even if you don’t, you recognize that this holiday has the aforementioned religious element to it. I don’t believe in Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ, and I don’t celebrate it any more than I celebrate Hanukkah or Ramadan. Christmas, specifically, holds no significance for me. However, the holiday season in general is a different matter.
If you set aside religion for a moment, do the days in and around November/December feel like normal work days? Of course not. Decorations are up, Christmas trees and Hanukkah bushes are up, people are shopping for gifts and visiting with friends and family, and the atmosphere is just generally more festive and cheerful.
We decorate the house and put up a tree if we’ve got the time. It’s pretty to look at and it helps to create the festive atmosphere that we enjoy as much as anyone else does. We don’t stress out if it doesn’t get done. It’s not about responsibility. It’s about doing what we enjoy doing without losing perspective. After all, what’s the Christmas tree got to do with the religious aspect of Christmas anyway? It’s just another decoration for the house. We exchange gifts just because that’s what’s traditionally done, although we rarely do so on Christmas day. It just happens, frankly, whenever the hell we feel like it.
So, what do I love about the holiday season? Essentially everything that my Christian friends and family do. The only difference is that I don’t recognize it as a celebration of the birth of a man that Christians consider their god. I use it as an opportunity to celebrate the things that are important to me — my family and friends.