How Has Becoming an Atheist Affected Your Experience of the Holidays?

I got to thinking, while decorating my house for the holidays tonight.  Here I am, with my second child on the way, putting up Christmas tree.  Here I am, my first year as an "out" atheist (for all intents and purposes), so how does that shift the meaning of the holidays for me?

I wrote a piece about this on my blog.  (  But then I got to wondering, what about other atheists?  How has coming into your own beliefs shifted your view of the holidays?  Has it ruined the fun?  Has it made it better?  Is it exactly the same?  Is it stressful when being around religious family members? 

What's your take on Christmas & the like?

Tags: Atheism, Christmas, Holidays, Maia, Meaning, Releasing, Religion, Stressful, Tree

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Haha. Here is the place to leave it, Park. So you can now see why his blog stemmed a blog entry of my own. By the way... AWESOME comments!! You go where I dare not to. Basically, you said all the stuff I would have liked to say, but I'm too careful not to pick a fight.

As Dawkins points out, you're not going to convert that one uber religious guy. However, if-in the process of discussion-you shed some light for other people... say people who are listening to your radio show (or in this case, reading the same blog) then it's worth it to take issue up with the uber religious guy.

I asked some of my friends on facebook why what they think they believe is valid (same question Dan asked me). I got tons of responses. Interesting to note that the Christians were very vocal about their own devotion to God, but the non-theists were more vague about their beliefs. I think because A. they see it as more of a private thing and B. it's simply not as accepted to state "I am an Atheist".
Thank you, Keely!
My partner and I don't like Xmas at all. We have two teenaged boys and they will be recieving loaded visa check cards for the holiday. That's all it boils down to anymore. They also don't care about celebrating except to accept money and gifts. This is also the second year in a row we won't put up a tree.
Virtually no change. I still call it Christmas out of sheer habit and still do the usual preperations. But maybe I should call it Xmas or Holiday or Winter Solstice to further express my atheism to my parents.
@ Jacob... Well here's how I see it: it's Christmas. That's what it's called. It has it's roots in pagan traditions, but whatever you choose to call it, it doesn't matter. I don't think you need to change the holiday's name to express your atheism to your parents. If you simply know your beliefs, and you're comfortable with them, I'd say that's enough. Just my two cents. Do your parents know you're an atheist?
Hey Maia, long time. I see you are from NE Ohio? My wife is originally from Poland, which is near Youngstown. Her parents still have a summer home there.

RE Christmas, things haven't changed much for our household. Believe it or not, we'll still go to Christmas eve mass at our local Catholic Church (of which we are still officially members)! It will be the only service we go to for the year. It's a family tradition, and I still like to know what is going on in the church. Plus, I get a kick out of listening to the sermon, the music and the prayers.

I'm not sure about taking communion though. On one hand, I know the church thinks it's sacreligious, but on the other hand, so what?

Other than that, we'll enjoy the time off, the food and some extra family time just like everyone else, but without all the jesus stuff. It's a win win.
@ Larry- Yes, I'm originally from Cleveland (specifically Gates Mills, Ohio). I know where Youngstown is! And there is a big Polish population out there!! They are famous for their perogies. I was so disappointed when I left Ohio and no one even knew what perogies were. They didn't know what they were missing.

You still take communion? I know I felt weird about that. But then again yeah... so what? Hahaha... I never thought about it that way.

Do you have family members that are still Catholic? I was raised Catholic, too.
Christmas LY was the last time I attended service. My 16 year old son and I had fun breaking down the sermon when we got home. I really do think it's good to attend once in a while just to keep the experience fresh.

We did take communion last year, simply because it's a part of the tradition and the church experience. Yes, I know the church would take issue with that, but frankly, I don't give a damn.

My sister, who is still in Michigan, is the only one of my family (4 kids) that has remained a devout Catholic. I'm working on her, slowly but surely, but she is pretty committed. Stay tuned.
That is really awesome, Larry, that you still expose your child to church. In that way you're letting him come to his own conclusions. That's absolutely what I want to do for my daughter when she is old enough.
I'm really surprised to read some of the posts, and what a negative experience some of you have had with family and friends. I'm sorry to hear that.

I've never felt hypocrisy surrounding celebrating christmas because as an ethnologist I view this as a custom. Not a religious one, just a human one.

I live in Iceland and there's great debate in the society regarding the church's to put it.. "interference" with education (christmas visits). And I guess, that's my major strife with christmas. The way the church goes on about the story of Jesus being born in a stable. Sure. It's a nice enough story, nothing wrong with "a" story, but I have a 4 year old, and I think she is way too young for me to have a "why the church is not always trustworthy" discussion with her. With that said, i did in fact have a discussion with her yesterday on there being "a story" about "some guy" called God (to prepare her, before the kindergarten jesus-christmas talk starts), and that some people actually believing it to be true. And then we had a chuckle together. So, maybe she isn't too young. Then again, it usually takes a few days before i know the end results of such talks with her. In hindsight, I just hope she doesn't start disagreeing with any kids in kindergarten because of this, teaching children that it is ok for others to have differing opinions while at the same time reinforcing them to believe in their own morals and not adhere to all the rubbish some kids say/do can be quite difficult especially when one is not able to be present when the kids are talking/playing.

During that same talk I was considering doing the whole "santa" talk while i was at it. When I was a teenager I had the opinion that i didn't want to lie to any potential future offspring of mine, not even about santa. When I became a parent, my thoughts on lies changed dramatically. Telling a 2 year old with no sense of time that the library is closed saves one from a helluva arguement as opposed to the "we can't go there now, we have to go to the store to buy food" statement. A 4 year old on the other hand has a better grasp of priorities.. So yeah, i kind of started on the santa talk, becase for me it doesn't take away any of the magic of it, it's still a wonderful thing for the kid to get stocking/shoe presents (different santa customs over here), irrespective of who is doing the giving.

With all that said, i like christmas. I like it a lot. I like the christmas lights and decorations and the presents under the tree (in particular the gifts i give to others, i love giving my child a gift and seeing her excitement but also that feeling of having found a nice gift for a family member, i usually don't receive many gifts and i prefer it that way) and the great food and all that. And the christmas songs and the baking. To me, it doesn't have anything to do with religion, really. And as has been stated in the thread, it has deep roots, not only "pagan" but also historical and non-religious roots. By non-religious i mean, well, just the way different generations have celebrated christmas for the last decades and the last centuries even. The history of the christmas tree, for example, with some people always have a live tree in their living room, others having a plastic tree, and with previous generations having a decorated coat hanger or whatnot due to lack of resources and poverty. So yeah, to me it is completely a human custom. Not a religious one.
Also, i don't know if this is a sidetrack subject and whether I should make a new thread for this (i'm sorry if i should rather have done so), but I decided to make my own Advent Calendar for my kid this year. A story calendar. The story is all finished, but i've yet to finish all the pictures. I am posting it up at Twitter / it also appears on my Facebook page.

It's 2-3 sentences every day, because she is learning to read and that is quite enough text for her to get through in a setting.
The story is an alternative to religious advent calendars because I wanted to make one explaining the winter solstice (we're sort of high up on the northern hemisphere, globewise) and why it gets darker during winter, around christmas time. But, seeing as that is quite a complex topic for kids, i'm only "sort of" explaining it, and using lots of imagery and symbols to relate to that (which i can use further in conversations with her, in the next months and even years, so i can explain it little by litte). I'm using the concept of elves (yeah, i know, make believe) and talking bunnies, but for me and my kid, well, she is aware that tv and cartoons is make believe, and hence, telling her stories about elves and peter pan and all that works for me. Because, at the end of the day, as she grows older she will become even more aware of "oh yes, Peter Pan is written by A person", so I won't have to explain to her "well, there are those who believe that Peter Pan truly does exists and that the author was just a channel through which Peter spoke, and that you must adhere to the rules of Peter Pan living or you won't be accepted in Neverland"... hmm, yes. Now, come to think of it, that would make up for an interesting religion haha.
@ Skeptlorist: What a great perspective you're coming from. I also have a 3-year old, so it's good to know some of the ideas you have for telling your child about Christmas/Santa/Advent. I'm not sure either how I'm going to approach that one, but right now it's not an issue. All I care about is that she's having fun and enjoying herself. I don't mind if she's excited about "Santa". It's like a game for her.

Christmas was harder before I had a family. Now... my first year "out" as an atheist, I feel as you do. I really enjoy it. And I think your Advent calendar for the Winter solstice is s such a great idea.

I, too, was hoping for more positive experiences from atheists about Christmas, but I imagine it must be a struggle for people to come to terms with what the holiday means for them and for their families. Not a simple issue, and every atheist approaches it differently. All we really have in common is that we believe there is likely no God. Beyond that, it's a free for all.


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