Should Atheists Ignore Christmas or Celebrate It?

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There is a debate among atheists about whether they should celebrate Christmas or not. Some do so because they aren’t "out" as atheists. Some do so in order not to rock the boat among religious family members. Some do so because they always have and don’t want to change — or simply enjoy the holiday.

Others argue that it should be replaced by a more secular holiday, and still others suggest that all such holidays should be ignored by atheists. While it's a personal decision each atheist needs to make for himself, here are a few points for atheists considering how to handle Christmas.

Christmas Is a Christian Holiday

By definition, Christmas celebrates Jesus' birth, literally, it's Christ’s Mass. Many atheists don’t believe that Jesus existed, and those who do don’t consider him divine. No atheists are Christians, so why participate in such a fundamentally Christian holiday? 

Does Celebrating Christmas Perpetuate Myths About America?

Among the problems created by atheists celebrating Christmas is that conservative evangelical Christians are bolstered in their argument that America is essentially a Christian nation. The more popular and important Christian holidays are in America, the easier it is to claim that there is something about Christianity which is fundamental to America’s culture. 

Elements of Christmas Are Pagan

Although Christmas has traditionally been a Christian holiday, most elements of modern Christmas celebrations are really pagan. But atheists aren’t pagan any more than they are Christian. Atheists don’t uphold other ancient pagan beliefs, so why do so with those which happen to be popular at Christmas time? There’s nothing about ancient paganism which is any more secular than modern Christianity.

Why Not Celebrate Other Religious Holidays?

If an atheist is surprised at the possibility of not celebrating Christmas, they should consider why they don’t celebrate other religious holidays. Few atheists do anything for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan or the Christian holiday of Good Friday. Why make an exception for Christmas? The primary reasons seem to be cultural momentum: everyone does and most people have all their lives, so it’s difficult to change. 

Once the question about celebrating Christmas is introduced, the next logical step is to wonder whether atheists should be celebrating many or any of the holidays traditionally observed. Some atheists have argued that a humane holiday should be global and universal, equally relevant to all humans, regardless of their cultural heritage or where they live.

One possible reason for atheists to celebrate Christmas is that it has become increasingly secularized over time. Atheist participation in Christmas actually helps serve the cause of removing it from its various Christian and pagan roots. 

Future of Atheists and Christmas

The relationship between atheists and Christmas today is complicated. Some atheists will continue to celebrate it fully, some will celebrate only portions, and others will reject it — with some of these creating alternative holidays and the smallest minority not bothering with any holidays at all. 

So long as atheists seek to be accepted and “normal” in America, they will tend to avoid doing things which will cause them to be singled out as different or strange. Today there is nothing more American than celebrating Christmas, so atheists who want to fit in will also at least do something around Christmas time. 

The fact that Christmas has become so secularized will also likely prevent many atheists from abandoning Christmas. If the day retained a significant Christian element, self-conscious atheists would be more sympathetic to anti-Christmas arguments. A secularized holiday is easy for secular people to celebrate.

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Your Citation
Cline, Austin. "Should Atheists Ignore Christmas or Celebrate It?" Learn Religions, Sep. 16, 2021, Cline, Austin. (2021, September 16). Should Atheists Ignore Christmas or Celebrate It? Retrieved from Cline, Austin. "Should Atheists Ignore Christmas or Celebrate It?" Learn Religions. (accessed June 7, 2023).