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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@ Super Fluid: That is a great way of looking at it. I especially like that you don't feel the need to have people respect your beliefs if you respect them yourself.

Has anyone looked into the history of Christmas and how it's evolved?
Yeah, and the freedom from religion foundation's website had a great article on it and easter, explaining the purely Pagan roots. Essentially, the date is derived from classical celebrations on the winter solstice (almost every culture has had a celebration on or near that date), the birth from a virgin story is not unique by any length (last I heard there were about 20 other older religions with almost the same story) the tree comes from the pagan celebration of life through death (winter is a time when crops die, but the Pine tree thrives throughout winter)

Its not hard to search it online, and once you do you find that EVERYTHING, literally EVERYTHING about christmas is unoriginal. there is nothing special about that holiday, the historical basis is incorrect (there is no way that "Jesus" was born on the 25th, it was changed to that date to compete with the roman holiday of Saturnalia~ once the christians gained power in the roman empire, there was a need to incorporate Christianity unilaterally~ Pagans can incorporate as many new gods as they want, a monotheism can't. Saturnalia (also celebrated around the 25th) was a massively popular holiday for the romans, one of renewal and change, and celebration of people (masters and slaves would, for a day, switch their roles) so the church launched a campaign to adopt that holiday, to incorporate more pagans into the fold. Apparently it worked, because the holiday is still the biggest one in the west.

Point being, Christmas is a Pagan holiday, its evolution has grown with culture~ over the last one hundred years its changed drastically with the advent of commercialization~ it is now a massive advertising tool, with built in sales in certain demographics. the personal meaning of the holiday has diminished from its traditional roots following its sterilization to make it more effective in the market~ and now we have the "happy holidays" which will help to further dilute its potency.
I will have to check out that article, Park. Thank you for the suggestion.

So knowing all this information, has it changed how you celebrate Christmas? Does it give you more confidence as an Atheist? Do you enjoy the holiday?
Personally, I don't really enjoy the holiday.. But I can't say whether that is because of its roots, or because of other issues I have (I typically abstain from most holidays/family gatherings, but don't mind seeing my family~ its only when its a holiday)

Knowing the roots of the holiday, It makes me want to celebrate it even less. I see no need, I don't feel that the term "christmas" should be used as a premise to spend time with my family and show appreciation, but I'm the only real atheist in my family, so I don't really have an option in that respect.

I was hoping that since I have my own small family now I could do things the way I thought proper, such as not teaching my son that Santa Claus is a REAL person, and let him know that it is make believe, but something that the family will do anyways~ but no, can't do that. Still forced to celebrate the holiday, even though his mother isn't even christian, but clinging to her childhood memories. [sigh] For me it is a disappointing time of year, simply because it is a time I never get to celebrate the way that I would like to.

Curious what you meant by "does it give you more confidence as an atheist?"
I suppose what I'm referring to is the notion that there are those that would criticize atheists for celebrating such a holiday because of its religious roots. I know that before I knew about Christmas and it's history, I felt a tad hypocritical for celebrating it like I did when I was little. Knowing what I know now, that changes things, of course. Maybe it's just me.

I have a daughter, too, and I'll admit I love watching the magic unfold for her at this time of year. I don't think there's anything wrong with letting your son believe in Santa Claus. I do understand the hesitation. We want to protect our children, not feed them stories. Yet I'm one of those weird atheists that doesn't mind doing so because I think it fuels the imagination. Like Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek (not the same thing of course, except in the sense that he was an atheist and he gave our culture one of its greatest stories). But cultivating that kind of imagination in a child is not-in my opinion-a harmful thing. There will be plenty of time to hit them with reality when they get older.
I've never even thought about being hypocritical in my celebration of the holiday~ probably because I've always thought of everyone else as being hypocritical for celebrating lol. Oh, they love the holiday, but they can't tell you its history or why there are christmas trees~ they love easter, but can't tell you where the easter bunny came from or the easter eggs~ I guess I never thought about my end of it, because I was (personally) never celebrating the "Christmas" part of it to begin with; I was just going along with things, doing what others did, opting out of the religious parts.

Both my parents took me to church for more than half of my life, but I've never believed in god. Its just never clicked with me, I've always been very independent in that respect, so feeling concerned that I'm a poser or not allowed to celebrate (a holiday I know more about than the people who actually believe that bs) just doesn't come up in my mind. Interesting point though.

The thing about santa is just that I really really don't like lying to my son. He's three, and so far I can say that I haven't lied yet, not that I can think of. I am of the "honesty is the best persuasion" school of thought, so to convince him of something otherwise, no matter how innocent or well intended, just makes me uneasy. I don't want to have to face him one day when he is older and tell him that I deliberately lied to him for 5 years or anything like that. But lucky for me, I don't have a choice in the matter...
I have often thought of the connection between believing in old st. nick, realizing that it is all a lie (from your parents no less), and children rebuilding themselves. Perhaps it isn't all bad. It could facilitate the growth of a young skeptic, hopefully in a positive manner.

Maia, I do have a question. What is involved in a proper Lutheran Christmas?
@ Super Fluid: You know that's a very good question. I'm not entirely sure of what the answer is. I was raised Roman Catholic. Anything else seems pretty low key from there. My husband's family is very Lutheran, and from what I can tell, they simply attend church and then do the typical traditions that we all do. I know my Catholic mother likes to attend the midnight mass.

@ Park- I think telling your child about Santa Claus isn't exactly the same as lying to him. I can understand seeing it that way. But that's treating it a little too black and white. Plus, I think there's ways of telling him the story without making you feel guilty about it. I.E. "Son, there are stories about Santa Claus and through the ages the folktale says that if you're a good little boy, he'll come and bring you presents on Christmas Day." It's all the angle you work it. Remember, children love stories and get wrapped up in their imaginations. That's the beautiful thing about children. I think you can find a way to swing it without putting that kind of weight on your shoulders. I wouldn't over think it. I don't think your son will. And there's no reason to believe that he wouldn't do the same for his children. It is what we make of it, I'd say.
Great link, Keely! Thank you!
I dont really have any religious family members so ever since I became an outspoken atheist it haven't really made a difference.

Maybe with the exception that in denmark it is customary to dance around the christmas tree and sing christmas songs that sometimes include hymns about christ. It's weird to do so but in my family is has more to do with tradition than actually celebrating christ. We dont talk about christ, we dont go to church, none of us own a bible. For us christmas is about getting together and have fun.

We dont wake up early. We wake up whenever we want on december 24th when christmas is held, prepare for the evening with good food, presents. We dont celebrate anything on december 25th.
It has very little to do with christianity.
@ Name: I'd say that's fine considering so many Christmas traditions are derived from pre-Christian eras. I still put up a tree, decorate it, and decorate the house. And I enjoy the whole thing, especially since I have children.
Yes, it's a wonderful tradition for kids - I at least remember how much I anticipated christmas, I know my siblings did too. But that probably had more to do with the presents than everything else :P


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