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Dr. Darrel Ray is an atheist, humanist, and psychologist. He is the author of The God Virus, and specializes in issues relating to religious deconversion. [ more ]
If you have an issue relating to religion but no one to talk to, ask Dr. Ray. He doesn’t promise that he has all the answers, but hopefully he will be able to provide insight and experience that will be beneficial for both you and for the many other young people in similar situations.
Can an atheist still enjoy Christmas?

Dear Darrel,

I’m coming up on my first Christmas as an out and out atheist. I absolutely love Christmas as a holiday for being with family and promoting peace. However I have many religious friends who I normally get along with well who are getting angry at me for saying I like Christmas. They say that you can’t celebrate if you don’t believe in Christ. With all the backlash against me loving Christmas, I’m wondering if I really did give up the right to celebrate my favorite holiday? How do I handle my friends and family in this issue?

From Dr. Ray

You are among many atheists who love Christmas, so your concern is a common one. People love Christmas so much they were celebrating it long before Christ was supposedly born. Winter Solstice celebrations were part of almost every culture in the northern hemisphere long before Christianity appropriated it. A good many of the symbols associated with Christmas are actually pagan in origin: everything from the tree to mistletoe to the virgin birth (there were many virgin births before Jesus). Some atheists are beginning to say, “Lets take the holiday season back from the Christians.” Their answer is to use the same symbols and emphasize their pagan and secular origins.

You could have a lot of fun researching all the Winter Solstice holiday rituals and symbols, then create your own, unique decorations and celebrations. Your friends probably say, “You are taking Christ out of Christmas,” but you can say, “I am putting the Sol back in Solstice.”

Put up your holiday tree (which originated in pagan Northern Europe). Decorate it with a symbol of the god Mithra (whose birth was celebrated on Dec. 25 long before Christmas was established on that date). Put an Anglo-Saxon Pagan Yule log on your fire. You might also remind your religious friends that the Christmas tree was banned in England in 1644 as a pagan symbol, as well as in the first Puritan colonies in North America. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas because they believe it is pagan.

As for your friends and family, they have no more right to tell you what you can and cannot celebrate than what you can and cannot eat. I would keep it low key and not argue with them, but invite them over to your house for a holiday meal or drink and if they ask questions about your unusual decorations, you can give them a little insight into winter Solstice celebrations from around the world.

The beauty of being atheist is that we are not tied to superstitious rituals and beliefs, and we can enjoy and celebrate life and all its abundance in whatever way we choose.


The Examiner has a good essay on this topic.

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