Is it possible for Atheists to celebrate Christmas?

If like me you are non-religious, then the question will be truly draft and silly. However, if you are deeply religious then it is distinctly possible that the question of Christmas and non-belief is quite serious.

Let’s briefly mull over it.

What exactly do we mean by Christmas?

It is of course different things to different people. Around the world there is a vast diversity of detail, but generally there are common themes. Here is a little list of stuff that springs to mind …

  • Having a decorated Christmas Tree in your house
  • Decorating the outside of your house with perhaps lights or other Christmassy stuff
  • Having a family gathering and enjoying a traditional Christmas dinner; Turkey, Brussel Sprouts, Christmas Pudding, etc…
  • Giving gifts
  • Father Christmas. Yes, the guy the the Red outfit that arrives from the North Pole and mysteriously delivers gifts for the kids. Perhaps a Mince Pie is left out for Santa to enjoy before he hops back on his sleigh and flies off to do the next delivery
  • Holly and Ivy, oh and let’s not forget mistletoe
  • etc…

Now here is a question for the religious who are deeply baffled by atheists celebrating Christmas

Please explain, with precise references to bible verses, how any of this is in any way relates to Christianity.

(Sound of tumbleweed)

Well yes, there is the magic baby devotion, but that does not impact any of the above.

What we all know is that the real reason for the season is the winter solstice. The old has past away and is now gone, the days are once again starting to get longer. It is the birth of a new year and with it comes new hope and new possibilities.

A quick bit of History

Long ago people celebrated this time of year.

If you do indeed wish to consider the combination of People exchanging gifts, attending a religious service, then later indulging in a big family meal, and also decorating their houses with green plants such as mistletoe, and doing all this to commemorate the birth of a god, then it may perhaps come as a surprise for some to learn that the name of this god was once Mithra.

This was the Roman festival of Saturnalia. In other words, much of what we do is not only a victorian re-invention, but is also a re-purposed Roman festival under a different badge.

So what do the Non-Religious do at Christmas?

They enjoy it and own it.

Philip Pullman, author

What sort of miserable po-faced self-righteous prig would refuse to celebrate Christmas on the grounds that they didn’t believe in God?

Robin Ince, comedian

I am not sure whether it could be elevated to “celebrate”, but in terms of eating too much and presents for the children near a fir tree, yes, that all happens. For whatever reason, be they religious or secular, approaching the end of a year seems a good time to pause. I like necessary peacefulness, a few days without pointless urban pressures.

Dan Snow, TV presenter

As humans have been celebrating the mid winter since pre-history. Long before Christianity we were decorating trees, eating, drinking, singing, gift giving. Christians nicked and rebranded midwinter, now we’re taking it back. I do what everyone else does, eat, drink, give and receive gifts and make merry.

Atheists can enjoy Christmas. Just as Christians co-opted pagan festivals and gods to make their feast days and saints.

A C Grayling, philosopher

In my grumpy moods, Christmas means an over-long, over-eating, enforcedly social week of interruption to the business of life; in my more laid-back moments it means a way of lightening the darkest days of Winter, the solstice, festival of Jupiter, pagan celebrations of the fat time of year for our ancestors (the salted pork and harvest stores were in, there was little work to do in the fields, it was a time of stories and leisure.) That seems ok. I like giving gifts to my children.

Peter Tatchell, campaigner

it’s just a holiday period; a chance to have good meals with friends, watch films on TV and start preparing my next human rights campaign.

Jim Al-Khalili, physicist and broadcaster

Coffee is my first thing, then present opening (more restrained now that my two children are in their early twenties.) Then it’s my job to make the bacon rolls we always have, leisurely shave and shower. Then late morning is when friends come round. My wife and I sort out Christmas dinner (usually we have chicken in cider and tarragon – for some reason it’s our favourite and it’s now a tradition in the Al-Khalili household). Afternoon is usually a bracing walk along the seafront – we live in Southsea on the south coast of England. Then it’s some rubbish on TV and I usually get my laptop out. Lots of snacking and drinking going on into the evening, My brother and his family usually come round.

Baroness Janet Whitaker, Labour politician

I must admit to enjoying singing carols.

Julian Baggini, philosopher

It is as a matter of simple empirical fact a cultural holiday first now and a religious one only secondly. It is no more strange for atheists to celebrate it than for the majority of Britons, who are not strongly Christian but agnostic or vaguely spiritual.

Baroness Doreen Massey, Labour peer

Christmas is the one time of the year when most people I know are not working so it is a good time to get together with family and friends. 

What is Christmas for you?

It is whatever you want it to be. You don’t need to believe anything at all. It is most certainly not the exclusive preserve of Christianity. That belief system jumped in and claimed what was already there. You can now do exactly the same.

You can pick the traditions you like, enjoy them, and discard any you don’t like or enjoy. The vast bulk of them are not Christian, hence you are not making some sort of Christian statement by doing so and no religious belief is required.

Just jump in and enjoy it in whatever way you wish.

As for the deeply religious thinking that they have an exclusive claim on it all … in one word … Nope.

In fact, given the observation that Christians strongly advise that you should not celebrate Halloween in any shape or form because it is Pagan, I do have to wonder why then celebrate Christmas. Almost everything we associate with it is also Pre-Christian in origin.

Unto Us a Child is Born

We should perhaps not forget that Dec 25th does mark the birth of a very special child.

On this day, Dec 25th, a very long time ago, an amazing child was born. He opened all our eyes and granted us a new understanding of everything. By doing so he changed the world.

Happy Birthday Isaac Newton – born 25th Dec 1642

Meanwhile …

For the religious, here is a traditional painting of baby Jesus for you to enjoy.

It is titled “Adoration of the Magi” and is a painting by Rogier van der Weyden. (Details here).

Merry Christmas everybody.

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