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Old 12-27-2009, 09:44 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Atheism and Christmas

For several years I have wondered about Christmas. I have no religion or superstition of any sort (not implying that the two are related, I am attempting to exclude any kind of belief in external forces guiding the course of my life), so I have trouble fitting in the celebration of Christmas into the normal progression of my life.

I have celebrated Christmas since I was born, or had it celebrated for me, because it’s just what people do. Some of my family has belief in a God of some sort, though I have never had a meaningful in-depth conversation with them about it. Still, it is apparent. My immediate family, my parents, didn’t believe in God though I have to say this also was never openly said, it was just a fact from when I was a child: there is no God, that’s all.

So why have Christmas? There are many possible reasons why my parents always gave me Christmas: because everyone does it (except people from other religions I suppose and even then some make exceptions), because your kids would be sad if they didn’t have Christmas like all their friends, because of the frenzy of presents that seems unavoidable with kids, because the rest of your family wants to and expects you to participate, because it’s really quite beautiful to a child and makes them happy. You had it as a child, so it continues through the generations.

Still, I wonder if I have kids, do I want to give them this. I have to say, there are many nice things about Christmas. I like the decorations, the songs, the greater sense of closeness with people, spending time with family, having a nice meal, giving to others. I definitely don’t like the frenzy surrounding it: excess consumerism, decorations up as early as November, feeling forced to celebrate Christmas, the religious connotations. Sometimes I’m really not in the mood and would rather it passed quickly.

I have been reading a little about it and I feel better to know that Christmas is not just about the Christian holiday. There are many different celebrations surrounding the time of Christmas, including Pagan rituals, and the whole reason behind why Christmas is celebrated around this date actually relates to the Winter Solstice more than it does to Christianity alone.

So it gives me some comfort to think that it’s ok if I want to celebrate Christmas, and give any kids I may have the same, because people have been using this time of year for centuries, as a time to celebrate. Not just as ‘Christ-Mass’ but as a celebration of humanity, of coming together and sharing with others. That isn’t a bad thing, in my eyes.

There is of course no longer a specific reason to celebrate at this time, as the Winter Solstice no longer holds the same practical significance it once may have, but why not join the rest of the world at this time in celebrating? I am saying all this but still debate it in my head.

I suppose I continue to celebrate Christmas because my family want to, and because I don't dislike it entirely. I think I have yet to dig deeper into this.

I am curious to know what other atheists or agnostics think about this topic. What do you think about Christmas? Do you celebrate it? Why or why not?
Whether we write or speak or do but look
We are ever unapparent. What we are
Cannot be transfused into word or book.
Our soul from us is infinitely far.
However much we give our thoughts the will
To be our soul and gesture it abroad,
Our hearts are incommunicable still.
In what we show ourselves we are ignored.
The abyss from soul to soul cannot be bridged
By any skill of thought or trick of seeming.
Unto our very selves we are abridged
When we would utter to our thought our being.
We are our dreams of ourselves, souls by gleams,
And each to each other dreams of others' dreams.

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Old 12-27-2009, 10:37 AM   #2 (permalink)
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For me, it has nothing to do with christ or santa or god. Xmas or Noël is simply about spending time with family, having a few drinks, enjoying good food including a ton of desserts and obviously the gifts. But the gifts are not what make xmas for me. They are only there for the joy of giving/receiving presents.

I will continue to celebrate xmas as long as I have a family that gets together and as long as there are people to give/receive gifts from.

It doesn't have to be anything religious. Do you celebrate anything else in life? halloween, v-day, easter, birthdays, etc... Most are just about either getting something, Giving something or enjoying time with families and friends.
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Old 12-27-2009, 11:17 AM   #3 (permalink)
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You don't have to stretch Christmas very far to pull Christianity out of it. It's already stretched pretty much as thin as it'll get with commercialism.

As said just let them know it's a time for family, friends, and remembrances. Enjoy the days off from work/school, and make sure they know the tradition around it.
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Old 12-27-2009, 11:43 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Humans have been celebrating the winter solstice for many thousands of years, in fact the celebration dates back to the neolithic era. While it's often adapted to new religions as they pop up, the actual original significance has to do with celebrating survival and life. Be the celebration about Saturn or Jesus or 8 days of burning oil on its surface, these are all momentary additions when taking in the broader history. A few eons from now, it's likely the celebration won't have anything to do with Christianity or Judaism.

At its core, the winter holiday is a celebration of those things we as humans value the most: life, friends and family, home and hearth, and peace. These are all things I personally value and think are worth celebrating, not to mention I absolutely adore giving presents. Put simply, Christmas is not a Christian-exclusive holiday.
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Old 12-27-2009, 12:20 PM   #5 (permalink)
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It's all in Pascal's gamble.

There's a god or there's not.

You observe, or you don't.

The only way to loose is to fail to observe, while there IS a god.

In essence - why make your kids go without presents just because you don't believe in god?

Gifts are fun, and making your kids suffer lack of fun for your own lack of faith seems churlish.
Overhead, the Albatross hangs motionless upon the air,
And deep beneath the rolling waves,
In labyrinths of Coral Caves,
The Echo of a distant time
Comes willowing across the sand;
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Old 12-27-2009, 12:21 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Daniel_ View Post
It's all in Pascal's gamble.

There's a god or there's not.

You observe, or you don't.

The only way to loose is to fail to observe, while there IS a god.

In essence - why make your kids go without presents just because you don't believe in god?

Gifts are fun, and making your kids suffer lack of fun for your own lack of faith seems churlish.
This is assuming the kids aren't fulfilled in any other way.
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Old 12-27-2009, 12:25 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Pascal's wager only works if there is a choice either of either one religion or one lack of religion. Since more than one religion exists, Pascal's wager is a false choice, a fallacy. If you observe Christmas and not Ramadan, you could be wrong, if you celebrate Ramadan and not Christmas, you could be wrong. You could celebrate both and be right, or be wrong. See? Many choices.

Anyway, a lack of gift giving is not necessarily suffering. Eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is fun, but it's certainly not necessary.
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Old 12-27-2009, 12:40 PM   #8 (permalink)
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December 24, 2009
Saying No, No, No to the Ho-Ho-Ho

IT was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. So what was a good, compassionate, environmentally conscious guy like Dan Nainan to do?

The tree was the first problem. “You cut down a tree and you’re going to throw it out in three weeks,” he said. “If you get a plastic tree, you’re wasting petroleum.”

Then there was the whole matter of buying gifts. “I think it’s great that people are going out and buying things and helping the economy,” he said. But when a Wal-Mart employee can be trampled to death in a manic dash for holiday bargains, as happened last year, “that kind of crystallized everything for me.”

The answer: Skip it. The whole holiday. No tree. No stockings, carols or any of the “whole nine yards” of trappings and traditions that Mr. Nainan said his family has always laid on.

“Instead of buying stuff for people who don’t need it and will probably return it anyway, I’m going to take all the money that I would have spent on presents, find some needy people — not a charity — and give the money directly to them,” said Mr. Nainan, 28 years old and single, who, belying his earnestness and world-saving inclinations, is a professional comedian. He planned to spend Christmas Day working on his Web site, trolling Facebook and taking an elderly woman who lives in his Manhattan apartment building out for dinner.

This has been a year for paring back Christmas. Largely by economic necessity, many people have been trimming their gift lists, subduing their celebrations and aiming for a simpler, lower-key holiday.

But some, like Mr. Nainan, are taking that sentiment to the extreme. For them, this is the year of the anti-Christmas, the year when everything — from the pressure to find the perfect present to the prospect of family drama over roast turkey — just got to be too much.

In response, they are opting out of the festivities entirely. This year, they are taking a holiday from the holiday.

“W.W.B.J.D.?” asked Richard Laermer. (That is, What would baby Jesus do?) “Sit it out.”

Mr. Laermer, a media consultant and the author of “2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade,” and his partner of 20 years have long celebrated Christmas elaborately. But 2009 was so disappointing economically, politically and spiritually, he says, that the holidays aren’t worth celebrating. The couple will spend Christmas Day watching “I Dream of Jeannie” episodes on DVD and taking dips in their pool in La Quinta, Calif.

One year ago today, Pepper Hill was preparing to host her annual Christmas Eve open house. Her Atlanta home was decked in lights. Her Christmas tree was beautiful. Twenty minutes before the guests were due, she had a sense of dread in the pit of her stomach.

“Wow,” she said to herself. “I can never do this again.”

Ms. Hill, a 50-year-old voice-over actress, said she had been feeling a spiritual drift away from Christmas for several years. And yet, each December she continued to go through the motions of sending out holiday cards, decorating the house, buying gifts. This year as December approached, she wondered if she’d have the nerve to shun the rituals that had always been a part of her life.

She did. “It was so liberating!” she said.

On Christmas morning, Ms. Hill and her husband were planning to wake up in their Christmas-tree-free home, get in the car, drive to a mountain and go for a hike. They hope they won’t see another soul on the trail. They’ll have breakfast at one of those chains along the Interstate, probably the only culinary option open on Christmas Day in Georgia. In the afternoon, they’ll go to the movies. She wants to see the new Meryl Streep film, “It’s Complicated.” Then — because we all know that, whether you celebrate it or not, Christmas can be a long day — they’ll probably stay for a second movie (“Maybe something heavy like ‘A Single Man,’ ” she said).

Though Ms. Hill’s transformation may be dramatic, there are indicators that Christmas revelry in general may be slipping among the population at large. The Christmas Spirit Foundation, a charity that provides holiday assistance to needy children and sends Christmas trees to military families, has been examining people’s plans for the holidays for the last five years. This year’s survey, conducted by the polling firm Harris Interactive, found that while 95 percent of households plan to celebrate Christmas (about the same as every year), the percentage of families who plan to exchange gifts is dropping: 77 percent this year, down from 85 percent in 2005. Slightly fewer people said they were going to attend parties or listen to Christmas music, too.

Another organization hired Harris to conduct a different type of Christmas poll — this one on holiday stress. The survey, commissioned by Breakthrough at Caron, a residential program for adults suffering from drug and alcohol addiction as well as dysfunctional family situations, found holiday stress to be almost universal — 90 percent of respondents said they suffered from it — but that this year the feeling was amplified. Thirty-eight percent of the people polled said they expected to feel more anxiety this holiday season than last. Most blamed the economy, but 77 percent also cited family conflicts.

“There’s a lot of pain associated with Christmas,” said Hank Stuever, the author of a new book, “Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present,” which follows the Yuletide preparations of three families in a sprawling Dallas suburb over three consecutive years, 2006 to 2008. “There’s a lot of joy, too. You’re supposed to be happy — thank you, Charles Dickens — and when you aren’t, you feel bad.”

Mr. Stuever said he has been struck by how many people approach him after readings of his book asking for advice on “ramping down Christmas.” He said he has counseled many to think about taking a break from the holiday for a year to rethink what it means to them. “Sometimes you need to control-alt-delete Christmas,” he said, to build it back up into something more meaningful. Following his own advice, he and his partner were planning to fly on Christmas from their home in Washington to Los Angeles, and ignore Christmas entirely. “I promised Michael a tinsel-free Christmas,” he said.

Certainly Hollywood has clued in. In recent years the movie industry has saved some of its biggest releases for Christmas Day, recognizing that the classic Jewish practice of going to the movies on Dec. 25 is catching on with gentiles looking for a break from conversing with relatives, assembling toys or consuming the chocolate Santas that happen to be lying around.

Another American Jewish tradition, going out for Chinese food on Christmas, may have crossover appeal as well. A few years ago, Claire Rigodanzo, a lifelong Catholic, took her extended family to Ming’s, a Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif., for its annual Christmas Day comedy show (always a sold-out event) aimed at a Jewish crowd. The name of the show: ChopShticks. “It was really fun,” she said. “We’d definitely do it again.”

But that involves family togetherness — something Krista Rogers is trying to minimize this Christmas.

Growing up, her family made a big deal of Christmas. But over the years, she says general “strife and issues” began to get in the way.

Her mother and her three siblings — and their spouses and children — live nearby, in Denver. Ms. Rogers has no children; her husband has two grown sons.

“I feel like we get invited because they feel sorry for us,” she said. “You feel like you’re intruding on their Christmas and I feel bad about that.”

Ms. Rogers, 46, said she would go to a Christmas Eve church service because the religious aspect of the holiday remains important to her, and afterward stop by her mother’s and older sister’s home with some gifts. But for the first time, she’s declined all family invitations for Christmas Day.

Instead, she and her husband plan to drive eight hours to the Grand Canyon, where she’s never been. “We’ll do some hiking and sit in the hot tub.” They’re taking wine and their own wineglasses. “We’ll sit in our room and enjoy the view and have a unique Christmas. And not feel guilty about it.”

For Renata Rafferty, a 53-year-old philanthropy adviser, a life change prompted the decision to sit out Christmas this year. In October, her husband of 21 years died. In this, her first Christmas “as the Widow Rafferty,” she said, “I decided not to stress myself by conforming to some tyranny of the ‘shoulds.’ ”

Ms. Rafferty recently moved to a new home, in Evansville, Ind., and it has “some really hideous wallpaper.” So she’s decided to spend Christmas Day stripping wallpaper and beginning the process of making something new.

Her mother and sister invited her to Florida for Christmas but she politely declined. “My mother is a lovely woman, but she embodies holiday stress,” Ms. Rafferty said.

“Maybe next year I’ll know what I’m ‘supposed’ to do,” she said. “But for now, I’m looking forward to stripping on Christmas.”
I always tell people that I gave up Christmas for Lent a number of years ago, seems like about 15 years or so now.

I used to love it as a kid and as a teen, maybe even as a young adult. After one particular rough year, I think I read Simplify You Life or some such type book, and it suggested giving up a stressful holiday. I picked Christmas as it caused me the most amount of stress and duress.

Back in 2001 or so I believe my wife and I did a couple of Christmases for ourselves. But all in all again, it was more stressful than it was enjoyable.

I really like not celebrating Christmas in some ways. In others, I miss the connection with people because well, the first thing on Christmas people ask is "What did you get for Christmas?"

At times it stings because it's habit, to think about all the massive boxes and presents I've gotten over the years. Mostly though, it's a time I try to give myself permission to buy something I have been waiting for because usually there is a good sale or deal.

I did find though that it works best to just celebrate with those that want to celebrate if you wish to participate. Not being adamant about it, but just being flexible because someone wants to participate in something with you. So from time to time I've gone to Christmas parties on Christmas Eve.

A couple of years ago, we vacationed in Ibiza for Christmas week with my mother in law. Now we didn't plan anything for Christmas, it was just a convenient time to travel. What was amazing is that everything was closed on that island. Not just because it was off season, but more so because it was time to close for the Christmas holiday. The host at the hotel, stated to us on our Saturday arrival, "You'll have today and tomorrow to go to the store, after that it won't be open again until Wednesday." I had gotten used to living in a city that is always open, always moving, even on Christmas day. This was a different time for us. Bones Festes!
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Old 12-27-2009, 12:58 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Cynthetiq View Post

They’ll have breakfast at one of those chains along the Interstate, probably the only culinary option open on Christmas Day in Georgia.
Normally Dave and I dont do a thing on Christmas Day (we celebrate with families on the eve of Christmas eve and on Christmas Eve) so Waffle House is a tradition with us. We both love that place but its extra special to us on Christmas Day
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Old 12-27-2009, 01:21 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Santa isn't really specifically religious. There is also Festivus (or you can make up your own holiday traditions). The native American tribe here had a winter solstice dinner. If you have a birthday in December, you can say that everyone is celebrating your birthday. Or you can just go with the flow and celebrate with everyone else.
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Old 12-27-2009, 02:16 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by little_tippler View Post
and the whole reason behind why Christmas is celebrated around this date actually relates to the Winter Solstice more than it does to Christianity alone.
This is the way I understand it, I may be wrong, who knows.

It's a little more complicated than just relating to the winter solstice.

Saturnalia was a celebration for the Sun God, Saturn. It started as a day long celebration and became longer and longer until the celebration was a week, ending around December 23 depending on what source you read.

Mitra, or Mithras was considered the King of Light or the God of Heavenly Light. Mithras birthday was celebrated on December 25th. Mithraism was prominent religion of Rome and Persia at the time. This is widely acknowledged.

Where is gets muddy is when Constatine enters the picture.

In his effort to convert ancient Rome to Christianity, and supposedly during the Council of Nicea (but reports vary), it was decided to declare December 25th as the birthdate of Jesus, even though prominent sources of the time said it was January 3, some said March 21, there was many opinions. Mithraisn was abandoned and replaced with Christianity, including the birthdate of Mithras being replaced as the birthdate of Jesus.

The reason for this was Constatine needed a way to blend already highly popular pagan celebrations with Christianity so the people would convert more easily and basically not put up such a fuss.

So, December 25th was chosen, the Saturnalia traditions of hanging wreaths, lighting candles and exchanging gifts were kept, and the date of December 25th was kept to appease the Mithraism.

It's also my understanding that it's widely acknowledged that December 25th is known to not be Jesus' birthday.

So, you can actually celebrate Christmas in any way you want. It's the date set aside for the observance, but it's not actually the date. Commercialism has taken so much of the religion out of it anyway. It's like if your birthday was in April, but you celebrated it in September. Just not the same.

As agnostics, yes we celebrate Christmas for what we see it as. A wonderful excuse and time to gather family and friends for get togethers. To partake of the traditions, putting up a tree, giving gifts, having parties really has nothing to do with religion or Jesus in our eyes.
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Old 12-27-2009, 02:42 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Daniel_ View Post
... why make your kids go without presents just because you don't believe in god?

Gifts are fun, and making your kids suffer lack of fun for your own lack of faith seems churlish.
no one in my family believes in a god, not even the grandparents. we all give gifts. we always have.

it's more of a family thing.
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Old 12-27-2009, 03:59 PM   #13 (permalink)
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There is no religion in our Christmas other than the trappings that are inherent in things like certain Christmas carols or the mentions god gets in TV specials like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (it's actually one of the reasons I prefer The Grinch... no religion).

To me it is about Family. Even without the gifts and the tree and food, it would be about Family getting together... purposefully.
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Old 12-28-2009, 02:54 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by SSJTWIZTA View Post
no one in my family believes in a god, not even the grandparents. we all give gifts. we always have.

it's more of a family thing.
This was my point, really. The observation of Christmas in most households I know is not religious. My wife is an active member of the congregation of the local Church of England parish (and has belief), my daughter serves at altar (and I have no idea if she believes or not - it's hard to tell with this particular 9 year old); but even in this house, Christmas is not really a religious thing.
Overhead, the Albatross hangs motionless upon the air,
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In labyrinths of Coral Caves,
The Echo of a distant time
Comes willowing across the sand;
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Old 12-28-2009, 12:43 PM   #15 (permalink)
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As a Dawkins-esque atheist myself, I celebrate Christmas to the T. There is nothing in the current Christmas tradition, including presents, Santa, Christmas Trees, ornaments, Egg Nog, et. al that requires or even hints at Christ himself.

The value of presents, and time with family, and cozing up to the fire and all is far too positive a force to disregard simply because some religious idiots think the date coincides in any way, shape or form with the birth of Christ of Nazareth. Christmas was a co-opted pagan holiday, and still is a far more secular than religious holiday.

EDIT : to add this link; I'm not sure if you're familiar with the "Friendly Atheist" blog, but it's one of my favorites and it was the one I was thinking of when I saw this post. It does a good job of addressing why Atheists and Humanists and Freethinkers, etc., can celebrate Christmas.. http://friendlyatheist.com/2009/12/2...-the-holidays/

On an unrelated note, this is amusing for those of you with religious family: http://friendlyatheist.com/2009/12/2...-the-holidays/

EDIT2: Links were broken
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