Question of the Week: November 26, 2014

Nov 25, 2014

The seven tips for helping atheists through Thanksgiving gave us an idea. Turn your heads and thoughts ahead to the Christmas, Hannukkah and Festivus season and let us know how you, as a secular human, deal with the believers in your circle of family and friends. Gifts? No Gifts? (Santa/no Santa?), Go to family dinners where beliefs may come up or perhaps spend holiday occasions with fellow nonbelievers? Frankly discuss your view of the myths behind the holidays with family or just grin and bear it unless you are specifically asked?

The winner will receive a copy of Richard Dawkins’ An Appetite for Wonder. The rest of us will go into the holiday season equipped with new advice and tactics for what is often a tricky time of year.

Congratulations to hera2you for saying she couldn’t stand up her Italian Catholic “nona” for Christmas despite her views — especially since she has begrudgingly accepted her as a vegetarian atheist. Hera doesn’t even mind picking the meat out of Nona’s lasagna. A copy of Richard Dawkins’ “An Appetite for Wonder” is on its way.

We are going to compile a list of the best tips and thoughts about coping with religious family and friends over the holidays soon, so please keep the ideas coming here!

Runners up: Katy Cordeth, Alex.



68 comments on “Question of the Week: November 26, 2014

  • Talk the family into holding festivities at my place, barring that, at a neutral establishment that is neutral themed. If anyone throws a tantrum about the lack of Jesus they would be the asshole wrecking the holiday spirit!

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  • Personally, I celebrate Christmas, and love it. Christmas, (and I use that word without apology, just as I use Labour Day or the name of any other holiday,) has become a cherished family tradition. A few branches of the family still treat is as religious, and they are still welcome to join in our celebration.

    To those of us who have long ago cast off the old myths, December 25th is a mid-winter excuse to meet with family. We sing songs (including Christmas carols, because what other music can a 96 year old sing with her 5 year old great-great-grandson?) We give gifts to children, we have a big meal, and we drink a bit too much wine and we cherish the day as the most special on the calendar.

    No prayers will be spoken in my home, and most of the religious branches of the family accept that. Those that don’t will not be invited. If in another person’s house, I consider that I am not significantly diminished by tolerating a brief ‘Thank you God for this food…‘, especially if a good meal follows, but I will not attend an all day in-home church service.

    Decoration with religious themes doesn’t bother me all that much. If you can display Santa Claus, then why not Jesus? Mythical depictions are examples of art. I even hang a few little ‘angels’ on my tree – they’re made of various shapes of dry pasta, complete with the traditional wings on the back. I owned these long before I ever heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

    A couple of months ago, I visited London and toured the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. A significant percentage of the paintings displayed there have a religious theme, but I decided then that I was not going to allow religion to ruin fine art. I decided that even if a piece is a depiction of a supposedly virgin mother holding a baby with a halo, I will look at it, and if I feel that the quality of the work and skill of the artist is truly exemplary, if the overall style is to my liking, then I am going to bloody well enjoy the painting regardless of religious symbology. By the same token, even if Christmas has roots in Christian (and pre-Christian) mythology, I am going to appreciate the positives that the holiday brings out in people – even if some of those people cling to the belief that Mary was indeed a virgin mother impregnated by a ghost in the sky who takes petty, jealous offence if we don’t say our prayers to praise its supposed greatness.

    The only question remaining – why do I celebrate Christmas and not Hanukkah or some other faith`s holiday? The answer is simply that I have a Christian ancestry. Christmas is family tradition, Hanukkah is not.

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  • 3
    Katy Cordeth says:

    No prayers will be spoken in my home, and most of the religious branches of the family accept that. Those that don’t will not be invited.

    Fundamentalist Christian, fundamentalist atheist. Spot the difference.

    Those invited to spend Yuletide at Casa Cordeth will not be required to display their non-believer credentials on arrival. Any guest who wishes to pray during this festive period is more than welcome to.

    I for one am actually rather fond of Midnight Mass.

    Oh sweet Jesus I think I’ve begun to feel Christmassy.

    God knows what state I’ll be in 28 days later.

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  • For the most part I haven’t dealt with family for the past few years because we’ve lived so far apart (I’ve been living in NY most everyone else is either in the MD/VA/DC area or in NC) so the family aspect has not been much of an issue.

    I see the holidays in general as an opportunity to visit friends and loved ones. Some observe religions, some don’t. But the time is more spent trying to have a good time. That’s what’s it’s about for me in a nutshell: enjoying your time with people you love to celebrate a moment where the only obligation is in doing so. No ceremony, no obligations, just a nice time to be comfortable with faces you don’t see often enough and be content.

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  • My wife and I are hosting this year’s Xmas lunch/dinner at a nearby hotel.
    Three generations of the extended family will be there. Fortunately we do not have any actively religious members, as those with partners chose wisely.
    We will be decorating the house for the mid-winter break, and involved in some musical events. – Mine tend be be centred on parties with bands in pubs.

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  • I am SO lucky! None in my family “does” religion, there are no prayers or grace, there are no thanks to a non-existent deity. We do say “Merry Christmas” to each other but that’s cultural and historical, not theological.

    We give gifts to the kids but don’t exchange among the adults (except this year my brother, sister and I are chipping in to buy Mom something special).

    And… we all get along!

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  • This will be my first Christmas as an atheist! (Thanks to reading The Greatest Show on Earth earlier this year) I was raised in a traditional Christian family and my parents are devout believers. To be honest, I haven’t “come out” yet, and am not sure how to do so, judging from how I was almost disowned for marrying a non-believer. It’s taken 6 years for my parents to come around, and they still don’t really like my hubby. I think it will take the right timing and this Christmas will probably not be it. I have taken cues from my brothers, however, who also became atheists at the same time (wow, am I ever lucky to have scientifically literate family members). I guess the key is to look at the type of religious person you are dealing with and cater your response accordingly. Crazy, conspiracy-theory-loving, doomsday religious mother? Grin-and-bear it and probably never tell her. Decent, educated christian friends? Heck yeah, tell them the truth and hope to deconvert them!! As for your original question, as much as it pains me to be dishonest, I’m afraid I have no choice but to partake in Christmas traditions this year to keep the peace. (I still love Christmas and am going to do Santa with the kids and presents and trees and Christmas carols – atheist husband actually likes them – and goodwill and kindness and the lot). Admittedly, this could totally backfire as my 5 year old daughter has gotten into religious debates at school and is unabashedly going to tell my mom to her face that there is no God.

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  • From my understanding, at least in the UK, Christmas has roots as a pagan festival, long before Christianity. I have no real bones about it, inasmuch as, having a nice roast and exchanging a few small gifts, voluntarily, is quite pleasant.

    Not interested in the religious aspect and do not approve of people feeling pressured to spend money they don’t have on gifts.

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  • 10
    Andreas says:

    I like the turkey feast and the presents, I even enjoy giving them to loved ones. It’s nice that people occasionally find a way to relax and enjoy life, whatever the reason may be. Even if it is at the expense of reason. Simply put, look man, sometimes you just have to forget why and just pop another bottle open. We have the rest of the year to debate. Am I being a hypocrite? Probably, but no more than an atheist who disbelieves in a god for lack of evidence yet believes so firmly in that very disbelief.

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  • Simon Nov 26, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    From my understanding, at least in the UK, Christmas has roots as a pagan festival, long before Christianity. I have no real bones about it, inasmuch as, having a nice roast and exchanging a few small gifts, voluntarily, is quite pleasant.

    Both Xmas and Easter (or Ostara or Eostre) were hi-jacked by Xtians from other religions.

    The Romans had the mid-winter festival of Saturnalia while the Vikings celebrated the beer-festival of Yule.

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  • Andreas Nov 26, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Probably, but no more than an atheist who disbelieves in a god for lack of evidence yet believes so firmly in that very disbelief.

    This looks very much like the fallacy of “argument from ignorance”! Absence of evidence is the basis for scepticism, not credulity!

    Next time someone suggests this to you, ask if they believe in all the gods which people have ever worshipped, (Thousands of them) or if they reasonably dismiss some of them for lack of evidence, and the fanciful nature of the claims about them.

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  • Although I technically qualify as an Atheist, I don’t like the baggage that comes with this label, especially in the USA. Nonetheless, I urge Atheists, Secularists, or the Non-religious to avoid “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, especially on joyous holiday occasions. There is a visceral tendency to see those outside our own circles as evil or enemies and to condemn all they do. But, then we are guilty of the same black and white thinking that religion so often produces. So, I suggest that It is not wrong to share their experiences and traditions just because they see the world differently. We may abhor the irrational beliefs that religion presents, but we can cherish the beautiful traditions, art, and music they have brought us over the centuries.

    Now I do understand the concern that, if we participate in the religious rituals of others, we are in effect condoning or even embracing their beliefs. And this may be a valid point if we don’t speak up. But, as a psychologist, I would urge atheists around the world to avoid arguing with the religious. Why? Because arguing is usually counter productive. The more they argue their beliefs, the more entrenched and invested their beliefs become. Therefore, it is much more effective for them to see that we atheists are not monsters but rather people who can share, appreciate, and even respect their position without agreeing with their beliefs. They may even become curious as to how we can do this. Once they see how an atheist lifestyle is possible and rewarding, they are more likely to self-assess their own beliefs and to discover alternatives.

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  • I like the feast, the company and strangely enough, the silence of Christmas. The streets are largely deserted, hardly any traffic, and even the planes don’t seem to fly. Luckily I don’t live anywhere near Alan4discussion’s pub, where he will be playing / singing ! The only overtly religious people I spent Christmas with were relations-in-law. They went to church and the rest of us got on with the feast. Nay probs !

    There again, in the northern hemisphere, it is the darkest time of year, and why the bloody hell shouldn’t we have a party ? Yes the “true meaning” of Christmas has all to do with fellowship and nothing to do with baby Jesus.

    Unlike Katy Cordeth, I will only put up with the bullshit at funerals, but horses for courses !

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  • I am from a muslim family and we missed the first few christmases when we moved to the UK. The only reason we got involved was because of my middle sister, who was a child herself, convinced my parents that me and my youngest sister were missing out on presents and decorations that were in our friends homes. We had the tree and presents and even made our own decorations as was the custom in those days. There was nothing religious about it as it would never have been allowed in a muslim home. We can now relate to all the good and bad things that are associated with this event. (i.e. Family arguments and fun times) Throughout the years, we have spent them with Christians, Jews, Sikhs and other Muslims, as friends came and went. I am happy to report there is not a racist cell in either of my two sons who have friends of every denomination going. (Well almost)

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  • 17
    Chrysta says:

    I do not have family members that are so involved in their religion that it becomes a topic of discussion on holidays.
    That being said, I have three children (10,5, and 3). I have explained Santa Claus to all three of them numerous times, because of their ages, they ask every holiday season. The short version of the story I have told my children is that the person we know as Santa Claus existed outside of a small village. He would deliver presents to the children that lived in that village.
    From that, stories of his wonder have developed into what we know Santa Claus as today. I continued by explaining to them that they need not fear dismissal from Santa Claus for not believing. The presents they receive on Christmas come from mom, dad, and other family members and friends.
    They do not need to fear being watched all year by Santa, nor does Santa make judgments on their behavior. Santa Claus is now a wonderful story of magic as is to only be enjoyed for that reason and is often used as a way to make children fearful of misbehaving.
    God and Jesus are nothing more than the adult version of Santa Claus. Naughty/Nice=Good/Evil, Gifts/Coal=Heaven/Hell. I encourage them to use the computer to learn about Santa Claus and to tell me why they think we still use Santa.
    By allowing them to exercise their reasoning skills now, they will avoid the religious traps that will cross their paths in the future, and they will be secure in what they know and be willing to learn and change their minds as evidence provides. If a family member wishes to tell me about the “truth of God”, I also encourage them to go online and through books to learn the truths and find the evidence.
    These are people that were never given reasoning skills and still hunger for the magic of Santa Claus. It is wrong to not encourage these things and it is a terrible disservice that we do to our children to rob them of this key skill and force them to simply believe without question.
    We lie to our children and in turn, the world lies to us, who’s to blame? We break this cycle by raising children to question everything and be open to change and progress. They are the future of our world and with them, the lying and the fantasies will stop.
    I enjoy Christmas, I enjoy being with my family, the lights, the community, the happiness, the outreach to others…the same things I enjoy at every other part of the year.

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  • I am an atheist, raised Catholic (12 years of parochial school in the 60’s and 70’s somewhat explains why I am an atheist), and married to a conservative Jew. Our agreement prior to getting married was that I would never convert, but that I would support raising our kids Jewish. 20 years later I have never backed off that pledge. I attend Jewish services with the family, participate in my kids’ Jewish education and I comply with whatever customs my wife chooses (some kosher guidelines as well as holiday-specific dietary restrictions). I have fasted every year on Yom Kippur for the past 22 years. The rabbis in our synagogue, the Jewish community we associate with and my wife’s family all know I am an atheist, and I am readily accepted by all of them. My kids have yet to ask me about faith and while it is not something I introduce into discussion at home, chances are they already know. My wife understands that when it finally comes up I will be honest with them. I treat holidays much like I am attending someone’s wedding — I am a guest at their celebration. To me, maintaining a sense of family is much more important than guiding my children’s faith or shooting holes in anyone’s beliefs. For the holidays, I try to act like a guest — polite, respectful, and helpful where possible.

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  • For those who have an imaginary friend in their lives, I treat them the same as everyone else, knowing too well that I have been dumped by family & friends for not joining them in their psychotic journey, I live & let live. Their loss for dumping me for their imaginary friend!

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  • 20
    Lorenzo says:

    I’m given to understand that where now it’s Christmas there were once -and for a big amount of time there has been- some other festivity. It’s linked to the days getting longer again. Plus, Isaac Newton was born on that day, unlike Jesus.

    So, merry Newtonmas to everybody and enjoy an occasion to exchange presents and stay together, like humans have probably done for tens millennia and, really, don’t bother with one religion or another.

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  • Travel to Europe during this period. Noone cares about Thankgiving here. Maybe Christmas a little bit, but not religous. Just for the holidays. So: that ‘problem’ is solved too.
    Hanouka, only in the Jewish quarter in Antwerp. Bar-Mitvah, just the same. So, your stay in Central Europe will solve all ‘atheist’ problems.

    Best regards from Brussels,


    P.S.: Looking forward to see R.D. in Antwerp next month.

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  • If you ask your Christian relatives and friends why they celebrate Christmas you’ll get a variety of answers, but none of them will be to do with anything Jesus said, or what the Apostle Paul said, or any of the other Biblical characters, because there’s nothing in the Bible about celebrating the birth of Christ. So I don’t think any atheist should be embarrassed about joining them in their festivities because there’s nothing ‘sacred’ about the season, it’s simply something they like to do for their own enjoyment, and if anything it acts as a reminder to them of Jesus’ birth, but nothing more. If they get uppity about your presence just ask them why it’s so important to them.

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  • So I don’t think any atheist should be embarrassed about joining them in their festivities

    I concur Smithy. I refer to the day as Family Day. I would be hypocritical to refer to it as Christ Mass. It is a wonderful day for all of the family to get together. I suppose a bit like North America’s Thanks Giving. Plus I get to play with the grand children’s new toys.

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  • CumbriaSmithy Nov 26, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    If you ask your Christian relatives and friends why they celebrate Christmas you’ll get a variety of answers,

    It is sometimes surprising how some Christians are quite unaware of the imposition of Xmas on the dates of the Roman Saturnalia celebrations, or the Viking Yule traditions of abundant beer, with a nice reindeer roasting over an open fire!

    By the time Lucian described the festivities, it was a seven-day event. Changes to the Roman calendar moved the climax of Saturnalia to December 25th, around the time of the date of the winter solstice.

    The conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in AD 312 ended Roman persecution of Christians and began imperial patronage of the Christian churches. But Christianity did not become the Roman Empire’s official religion overnight. Dr David Gwynn, lecturer in ancient and late antique history at Royal Holloway, University of London, says that, alongside Christian and other pagan festivals, ‘the Saturnalia continued to be celebrated in the century afterward’.

    The poet Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius wrote another Saturnalia, describing a banquet of pagan literary celebrities in Rome during the festival. Classicists date the work to between AD 383 and 430, so it describes a Saturnalia alive and well under Christian emperors. The Christian calendar of Polemius Silvus, written around AD 449, mentions Saturnalia, recording that ‘it used to honour the god Saturn’. This suggests it had by then become just another popular carnival.

    Christmas apparently started – like Saturnalia – in Rome, and spread to the eastern Mediterranean. The earliest known reference to it commemorating the birth of Christ on December 25th is in the Roman Philocalian calendar of AD 354. Provincial schisms soon resulted in different Christian calendars. The Orthodox Church in the Eastern (Byzantine) half of the Roman Empire fixed the date of Christmas at January 6th, commemorating simultaneously Christ’s birth, baptism and first miracle.

    As to if Xmas was introduced on those dates as a substitute, that remains controversial, but the dates match and the birthday seems to have been invented around the AD 300s.

    This should make an interesting conversation subject.

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  • I’ve learned to treat religious rituals as hobbies or indulgences of nostalgia for juvenile magical thinking, like petty superstitions and the Tooth Fairy. Just as I don’t believe that being an agnostic or atheist means that one has to sternly disabuse a child of his belief that Santa or the Tooth Fairy exist, I see no reason to “rain on others’ parades,” as long as their parades don’t trample over mine.

    If I feel too lazy or impatient to take part in a religious celebration, I simply excuse myself and go for a walk or find someplace to read or meditate.

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  • Enjoy “end of year celebrations with friends and family,.seasonal happenings, food wine,.fun. is all that matters. We are here now.. Appreciating this present time,. is really all we have. So everyone just get along!

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  • 28
    Katy Cordeth says:

    I wonder if some people here object to other religious aspects of these festive periods besides prayer. Are you perhaps one of those who insist there should be no star atop the town Christmas tree? Do you smile warmly as rosy-cheeked Carol singers regale you on your doorstep with Jingle Bells or Deck the Halls but slam the door in disgust when they launch into their version of Silent Night? Would you organize a picket of the taxpayer-funded local elementary school if you found out it had a Nativity scene on its property?

    I’m beginning to think the good folks at Fox News are correct when they say atheists are engaged in a war on Christmas. If you love this holiday, as I do, you have to accept that a lot of what makes it special is the Jesus stuff, even if you don’t realize it is Jesus stuff.

    Refusing to extend an invitation to religious relatives, work colleagues or neighbors because you object to their faith is the height of rudeness, and as anti the spirit of Christmas as it’s possible to be without actually buying a dog, naming it Max and going to live on a mountaintop. Tolerating their presence because you didn’t get to decide who received an invite to a particular soirée but ridiculing them or even storming when they give thanks to their god at Thanksgiving is similarly unpleasant and plays into the notion that atheists are a nasty, bigoted bunch.

    Holiday prayers can’t hurt you, anymore than hotel or hospital room Bibles can. If a neighbor at Christmas dinner asks others to join him in praying that God will kill every abortion doctor and homosexual, take issue with that by all means. If all he asks is that they pray with him as he says Grace and you do anything other than smile politely, sneak a chipolata, and wink at your hot atheist cousin as your table-mates lower their head in worship, you are the one ruining a pleasant occasion with religion.

    Ask yourself: are you a George Bailey or a Henry F. Potter?

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  • 29
    Katy Cordeth says:

    Presumably you don’t use the words holiday or goodbye either. Christmas as a word is fine, you needn’t dispense with it.

    Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II.

    If the Bard doesn’t float your boat, there’s always this infinite monkey:

    “Hello, I’m Robin Ince, and happy Christmas. Or, as we atheists say, happy Christmas.”

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  • My family is all atheist. We manage to pack in lots of tradition.
    I hate squash, but my favourite tradition is squash casserole, laden with cream, onions and other incredibly delicious things. I am not permitted to post the URL of the recipe here, but I will send it if you email me.
    There is turkey, or occasionally a goose or ham. Feasting is universal. . My three sisters each contribute a desert, a sort of cooking competition. There is usually flaming plum pudding (Dickension) and several kinds of wine. We have a decorated tree. This is a pre-Christian German. We have gifts (a Roman tradition). We exchange them using a competitive game. We have a fire, a Norse tradition. We have Christmas crackers that snap when you pull them. They contain silly hats and trinkets. I don’t know where that comes from. I have accumulated an online collection of the lyrics of over 100 Christmas carols. There are plenty of Christian, schmalz, and atheist to choose from. I will send you the URL if you email me. We sing all three types of song. We sing the Christian ones as gibberish/scat, focussing mainly on harmonies. There are no statues, or creches or execution or torture devices. There is always a Kotex hidden somewhere on the Christmas tree. This is a family tradition my baby brother started. There is just such richness, you don’t see any lack from the missing overtly Christian traditions.

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  • 31
    PetasMusik says:

    Move to Australia (done) we don’t have Thanksgiving here problem solved. As for Christmas as it’s a public holiday I use it as an excuse to go camping with my immediate family . (also problem solved aint no Christmas bother in the Australian outback!)

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  • Sure, anyone who won’t hang out with someone just because they are religious is being a bit stupid.

    However many people probably just don’t want to listen to the politics of their deeply religious family.

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  • I love your sentiment Katy and we need to be adult about the whole thing. But I am one of those that will not have a star at the top of the tree. I also want to destroy christmas but not the holidays. I also want to destroy Ramadan but not the fasting. I would rather the winter holidays were about the family. The giving and the receiving and all that mushy stuff. I would rather Ramadan was about thinking about the starving and the giving of food to the poor in human terms and not on some religious theme. I would rather we tolerated our family, and friends, because we are adults and have come to realise the world doesn’t revolve around the individual.

    Prayers can hurt because even though my eldest born-again muslim sister knows how I feel about god, she gets that silly look on her face when I even mention some truth in religion for practical reasons. It is disrespectful of her to think that I might see the light any moment now and I don’t want to give her that false feeling. Others have looked on me with pity also and although I speak of tolerance, it has its limits. I refused to join the men in prayer at my youngest sisters funeral for many reasons. Atheism being the obvious one but also sexism, as the women weren’t allowed, and a sense of some misplaced loyalty to a sister who knew I was atheist but was dead so it didn’t really matter. If I am to be respectful to family who believe in god then I expect the same in return. We can fall out for many reasons and I see no reason to make an extra effort for religion if the sentiment is not returned. A quite prayer to your god is quite different from a call to prayer, to all around the table, from the highest minaret.

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  • I do love Christmas and I’m even prepared to acknowledge the role religion played in shaping the festival as I know it, whatever its roots. It’s at least arguable that the old mid-winter festivals might not have survived to modern day without Christian hi-jacking (also arguable that they would have survived and be better but we can never know). Music is, of course, incredibly evocative and Christmas carols give me the warm fuzzies because of their memory association with good times.

    Luckily, none of my family does religion (I’m not even sure what most of them believe, so irrelevant is it to our lives) so our xmas is almost entirely secular. My Mum does like watching Carols from Kings on Christmas Eve but I’ll happily watch that with her for the songs.

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  • paulmcuk Nov 28, 2014 at 3:54 am

    I do love Christmas and I’m even prepared to acknowledge the role religion played in shaping the festival as I know it, whatever its roots. It’s at least arguable that the old mid-winter festivals might not have survived to modern day without Christian hi-jacking (also arguable that they would have survived and be better but we can never know). Music is, of course, incredibly evocative and Christmas carols give me the warm fuzzies because of their memory association with good times.

    I am a little surprised at the lack of much reference to the traditional COMMERCIALISM of recent decades in this discussion!

    It’s at least arguable that the old mid-winter festivals might not have survived to modern day without Christian hi-jacking (also arguable that they would have survived and be better but we can never know).

    Actually it was royalists who preserved Xmas celebrations in Britain, while the Puritan Xtians did all they could to abolish Xmas and its celebrations!

    …. . . . the Puritan assault on Christmas during the 1640s and 1650s.

    Nevertheless, recent scholarship has shown that, as time went by, Christmas effectively ceased to be celebrated in the great majority of churches. It was ironic, to say the least, that while the godly had failed to suppress the secular Yuletide festivities which had vexed them for so long, they had succeeded in ending the religious observance of Christmas!

    Following Cromwell’s installation as lord protector in 1653, the celebration of Christmas continued to be proscribed. While he had not been personally responsible for ‘cancelling Christmas’ in the first place, it is evident that both Cromwell and the other senior members of his regime were behind the ban, frequently transacting government business on 25 December as if it were a day just like any other.

    Only with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 was ‘old Christmas Day’ finally brought back in from the cold, to widespread popular joy.

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  • Alan4discussion Nov 28, 2014 at 5:07 am

    . . . . So next time those fundamentalist descendants of those “poor persecuted pilgrim fathers”, accuse atheists of “wars on Xmas”, people should bring them up to speed, to have them catch up on their education on historical records! (Well Yes! . . . I know facts are offensive to the delusions of faith-thinkers!)

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  • 39
    Katy Cordeth says:

    I am a little surprised at the lack of much reference to the traditional COMMERCIALISM of recent decades in this discussion!

    It isn’t really clear from this whether the commercialization of Christmas is something you object to. If you strip Jesus away from Christmas and remove gift-giving, what you’re going to be left with is this sort of thing.

    Actually it was royalists who preserved Xmas celebrations in Britain, while the Puritan Xtians did all they could to abolish Xmas and its celebrations.

    …Only with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 was ‘old Christmas Day’ finally brought back in from the cold, to widespread popular joy!

    Which is why all Britons should give thanks that the monarchy exists unto this day. Here’s hoping the current Fidei Defensor has had an annus in no way horribilis. We salute you, Ma’am, and all your successors whoever they may be. Rest assured British atheists will not question your family’s divine right to rule over them.

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  • 40
    Katy Cordeth says:

    Move to Australia…

    Get rid of Chihuahua-sized spiders and I might consider it. I’m fond of Tim Minchin too, but drinking white wine in the sun isn’t my idea of a traditional Christmas day.

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  • No such thing as a fundamentalist atheist……No real religious angle to my xmas – just get pissed as a fart on xmas-day – have fun and eat far-too-much and fall-asleep. if somebody wanted to pray before they ate – they could do – just as I would probably be simultaneously leading the toast to good health with my tankard of good British Ale…….

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  • Fundamentalist Christian, fundamentalist atheist. Spot the difference.

    Pretty easy to spot by anyone educated in science or history!

    “Fundamentalist scientist”, “fundamentalist atheist”, – uses evidenced reasoning and is sceptical, and dismissive, of magic nonsense and long refuted assertions!

    “Fundamentalist faith-head”, – believes whatever their religious leaders tell them, without evidence, reasoning, or consistency!

    “Fundamentalist fudgist” – has no idea about the subject matter, but sits on an imaginary fence between viewpoints!

    It’s a bit like spotting an elephant in the room, – or a prominent half-brick on a diamond necklace – mixed in among the sparkling gems of scientific knowledge!

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  • “Tis understandable ~

    Here, in the northern hemisphere, there’s an attraction my atheist heart cannot deny. Snow dusted evergreen wreaths adorn doors, candles glow in windows, knowing there is physical warmth and fellow sapiens cloistered against the dark and cold.

    Then again, if earthy, pagan solstice rituals were available (gatherings with bonfires and drink, etc.), I’d feel more drawn to those.

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  • Your problem with your parents reminds me of the one I had with my parents coming out as gay.

    I was firm (which is not the same thing as angry). I said that everything they had told me about gays were lies, malicious slanders. I was the same person I always was. They knew my friends whom I had brought to family dinners. They knew those lies did not apply to us.

    My mother was typically dramatic. She grabbed the curtains and fell to the floor saying “Where have I failed?”.

    Mom had a problem. She believed her son was destined to become the first president of the world, and he was gay, and gay people were the worst imaginable kind of people. Something had to give. A couple of weeks later she flipped pi radians and started doing gay lib work.

    You have to make clear to Mom that rejecting Christianity is not the same as joining the devil-worshipping coven in Rosemary’s Baby.

    Your mom will likely try to discount you by saying “You are just going through a phase. You will soon grow out of it.” You can cut her off by saying something like this, “I have spent years researching this. I have come to the conclusion Christianity is just like all the other religions, a myth. Further, if you read the bible cover to cover, most of it is shameful. It is not something even you would sign on for.”
    You can say something like “I have thoroughly researched this. You have not. You just believed as you were told without thinking.” That is a bit harsh to use unmodified.

    You can use emotional leverage like this, “If you want, I will drop out of your life, but there is absolutely no way I am going to continue to pretend to believe the bible’s tall tales. There is no evidence to support them and a ton to discount them. I am not going to lie to the world, or lie to myself. You simply believed as you were told without even reading the bible cover to cover or reading any of the evidence for and against its truth. In your willful ignorance, you have no right to try to impose your opinions on me, even if you are my mother.”

    You would probably want to tone the language down a bit to make it more diplomatic, but you must be adamant. Mom must come away sure there is absolutely no way she can sell Christianity to you. If Mom does some study to debate you, she will end up breaking her own faith. Christianity requires willful ignorance.

    It can take time for a parent to absorb the new state of affairs. Don’t demand instant change.

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  • Katy and Bonnie.
    I spent Xmas in the northern hemisphere once and it just wasn’t the same. I would have attended a midnight service as well had the roads not been covered with black ice . This year I’ll probably be spending Xmas in the back-of-beyond.

    Unfortunately Tim Minchin spends most of his time in the UK but that’s okay, there are plenty more just like him who grace our shores.

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  • Actually it was royalists who preserved Xmas celebrations in Britain,
    while the Puritan Xtians did all they could to abolish Xmas and its

    True, but the Royalists were also Christians, just less bonkers and a bit more laid back. And the hi-jacking of Yule took place 1000 years before the Puritans.

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  • Nitya Nov 27, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    And…we don’t feel culturally obliged to do anything ‘churchy’ .

    Just because some ancient worshippers stuck a name on a day, does not means we celebrate their gods during the mid-winter/mid-summer festlvals!

    We do not need to be Saturn worshippers or Sun worshippers to enjoy weekends! (although some beach loving individuals seem to be!) – Nor do we need to be Moon worshippers to enjoy long weekends!
    We do not need to become Vikings to work on Woden’s day Thor’s day, or Freya’s day!

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  • My very first memory was in my mothers womb. I clearly remember waking up (presumably caused by a surge of adrenaline from my mother at I presume 8 or 9 months of gestation) opening my eyelids for a few moments, then closing my eyes and drifting off to sleep again.

    My second memory was caused again by a surge of adrenaline (my own this time). I remember being in a diaper with little or no control over my limbs yet. My mother had purchased a “Jack in the Box” believing this is just the kind of toy for a baby. I’ll let you figure out what happened next. Ahhh…

    My third memory involves Christmas. I’m still wearing diapers, my grandmother picks me up and wants me to look out of the living room window. She is pointing outside to the first snow blizzard of the year. I on the other hand can only see the reflection of my grandmother and I in the window as well as the reflection of the Christmas tree and its beautiful coloured lights. The memory is vivid to this day. In the windows reflection I can see my grandmother pointing with her right hand outside. I’m on her left with my right arm on her left shoulder and with my left arm and hand, I’m pointing to the reflection of the colored lights of the Christmas tree.

    I’m 56 now, so many of the people that have made my existence a joy, have passed away. I can barely endure the existential angst.

    When i was young, paradise was like waking up at the top of a mountain with a beautiful young woman, two bicycles and a picnic basket… Now as i get older and realize the effort, pain and sacrifice that will be required for humanity to establish a second home… I just want to die in a state of drunken stupor.

    I hope you realise that if the very first property of matter is tensorial memory, then existence is eternal. Life may not be eternal but existence is… and since you don’t perceive the passage of time when your dead… you died yesterday and you are reborn today. That’s reality… all I have ever known is existence!

    And if God loves you, well… if God loves you then surely you’ll be back in the blink of an eye.


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  • 52
    hera2you says:

    As an italian american atheist and vegetarian, if my nona disallowed me my chance to go to her house to pick the meat out of her lasagna and play copious amounts of canasta on christmas, i would be very hurt and am glad she accepted me and my “modern” choices. she and my mother created a particular family buzz at christmastime. my children aren’t baptized, so what does christmastime mean to them? the same type buzz with a lot of fuss directed their way, i hope, and a big, smelly tree in the middle of the living room with soft lights, sparkles and presents. if one of the children came to me in years time as a believer, the meaning of christmas would change for him or her, not for the rest of us, and i would be as accommodating to them and their “modern” friends as my nona was to me.

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  • [ ] the meaning of Christmas…

    Like. Proof that a “goldilocks” tableau can be had – a recipe of effort, cooperation, and a dash of good will.

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  • One of our major high-street stores usually puts on splendid themed Xmas multi-window displays.

    This year it is themed as “Alice in Wonderland”!
    Do you think they have rumbled the nature of religious mythology?

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  • I was actually thinking about this, and i thought “Hey! We atheist should have a holiday/day, week, or month, to acknowledge atheism and/or science” but maybe that it is just wishful thinking, i haven’t completely thought it through.
    As for i, a fellow atheist during the holidays, i just simply say “Happy holidays” and i come from a latin/hispanic family (christianity & catholicism) we “celebrate” christmas, but we have are own traditions, somewhat, and usually when my dad tries to get me to pray or something, i just say “no thanks/no gracias”.

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  • David Dec 2, 2014 at 6:21 am

    I was actually thinking about this, and i thought “Hey! We atheist should have a holiday/day, week, or month, to acknowledge atheism and/or science” but maybe that it is just wishful thinking, i haven’t completely thought it through.

    You could try one of these! – But the media don’t make the same fuss about things which matter – unless they can be sensationalised!

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  • I’m sure we are all aware of what I’m about to say. But I still feel the need to defend somewhat at least the idea of not inviting people or not going to see them just because they are family.

    There’s nothing necessarily wrong with hurting nana or anyone else’s feelings.

    If a family is largely homophobic, racist, or generally unpleasant, then the fact
    they make a great lasagna really means squat. If they aren’t, then what exactly do we imagine
    we’ve overcome by tolerating their company? More importantly how would our experience
    relate to people who do have truly unpleasant family?

    Of course even people with unpleasant family can and probably do often still manage
    to enjoy the holidays with them. A homosexual growing up around homophobes -not
    unheard of in the religious US- may have still found the lasagna delicious and the punch
    drunk laughter worthwhile. But everyone has to weigh that up and decide for themselves, and if they decide nana’s hatred of te gays is too much to listen to this year then they can avoid nana.


    I haven’t read all the posts regarding not inviting or avoiding people. I assume
    they don’t give out a lot of detail. I’m also assuming that avoiding the deeply
    religious relates more to the consequences of their faith in places like the South than to
    the fact they happen to be religious.

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  • Hi Katy, I agree with everything you said up until the pretend to pray part. In a situation where someone at my house would ask if it was OK to say a prayer, I would say yeah, no problem. But in a situation at someone else’s house who asked me to say a prayer with them, I would simply say I’m not religious. I wouldn’t pretend to believe something I don’t believe. Just like I wouldn’t expect them to pretend to believe something they didn’t just because we’re in the same room.

    I have a relative, who is a bit older then me that I respect very much that disagrees with me on the prayer thing. He puts it this way…..If you were in Africa, with some cool tribe out in the middle of no where, and they wanted to say a prayer to the god of whatever (it doesn’t matter) so that the party tonight would be awesome, would you join in the prayer? I have to admit that I think I would. I would say hey, it’s their tradition and it doesn’t hurt anyone. But maybe it does. Maybe if so many people, especially in the states, didn’t pretend to believe what everybody is supposed to believe, people of faith wouldn’t think everyone around them feels exactly like they do. That’s it’s more than fifty people in the whole state that disagrees with them, and non-religious people would feel such a need to hide how they actually feel about things.

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  • 60
    Michael says:

    Get them out of the house. This year, I’m taking my parents to New Orleans for Christmas. Get them out of their comfort zone and in the mindset (ahead of time) to accept new things with the excitement of traveling. It’s easier to be yourself when you’re not in their environment, and feel like you’re imposing.

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  • 61
    gcoldham says:

    I was struck by the sheer absurdity of “Ulf Ekman, leader of the Pentecostal church in Sweden converting to Catholicism. Is this a new era of “faith shopping”—-pick up a free faith along with your Xmas gift basket????????—-Hmm it sounds a bit like switching deckchairs on the Hesperus.
    Maybe Mr. Ekman ought to try converting to being an evolutionary biologist next, and drop the whole charade about denomination-hopping…and the search for the “just-right” divinity. Should someone recommend that option to him?

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  • 62
    Zinzuni says:

    Winter Break: an opportunity to give presents that expose us to the wonders of science

    My parents are both atheist. My dad grew up in a Catholic family in Mexico and my mother went to a religious boarding school in Cuba (before the revolution). In our household in Mexico, religion was simply not in the conversation. When I asked why all my friends believed in god and we did not they told me that I needed to decide for myself.

    I married an atheist man from California that comes from a Jewish family. We have a son that just turned 13 yrs old. We would perhaps not talk about religion if it was not for the fact that our son thinks that is important to become militant atheists to save science*

    How did this happen? Well I think exposing our son to science trough play from an early age really shaped his view of the world. The things we do during the holidays have a lot to do with it.

    I resented not having any kind of celebration when I was a kid and my husband did not enjoyed the Jewish celebrations when he was growing up. So for our son we decided to borrow the Christmas Holiday but with some modifications.

    Instead of buying pre made Christmas cards that have already something written on them, If we send cards we make them ourselves. My son makes a drawing (eg. portrait of Bach, a cat, a violin etc) on a piece of linoleum, he carves the image and then makes the prints. Each card would have a personalized hand written note that would include Happy Winter Break! and so on. Some times we have gone overboard and made our own paper from recycled materials.

    Instead of killing a tree each year my son has made one with different materials each time. He has made them from wooden blocks, news paper, wire etc. But now the idea is getting old. Our son openly admitted three years ago that he did not believe in Santa Claus (after making us believe for several years that he did in order to get presents). So it is high time to do something new. Perhaps we will put the presents around a paint of Galileo, Newton, Einstein? Darwin?

    Instead of buying wrapping paper we use paper bags from the grocery store, magazine pages or news paper. We try to wrap each present with different adornments made also from the same paper.

    For presents, we give items that make him think, learn, wonder and be creative. We usually give him such massive amount of presents that keep him busy all year long. We have enjoyed every single stage of his development. For example when he was a baby one of the things we got him were transparent acrylic cylinders filled with colorful substances with different densities and a marble inside. He passed endless hours turning them upside down. Later he got into wooden blocks (that followed mathematical proportions) that we complemented with geometrical tiles, wooden levers, prisms, transparent shits of acrylic, mirrors, lights, catapults, roman arches etc. There were also science kits, a microscope, books, dvd’s, materials for painting, drawing and sculpting, field guides (clouds, insects, plants, mushrooms, etc) that we took with us on field trips.

    The point here is that the presents we give specially to the kids (because of their vulnerable age) make a big difference on the way they perceive the world. They are by nature very curious and are marveled by science. The problem is that with most of the toys that are out there kill that innate interest and deprive them from having the opportunity of getting exposed to it. Interesting toys that expose you to the wonders of science are also good for adults. They don’t have an age limit, in fact, they make great additions to your house. My dad loves to have his Newton colors disk on his desk and my son plays everyday with the swinging balls of the Newtonian demonstrator that is on the dining table. Also adults and kids could work together on little projects. Yesterday for example we put together a model of a DNA molecule.

    Although I share his point of view, it worries me that he is so open about it. We live in NY city and I feel he could get into an unsafe situation some day.

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  • 63
    Zinzuni says:

    I agree with you. It would be nice to have our own Holiday. I also used to say “Happy Holidays” but now I changed it for “Happy Winter Break” Perhaps during this long Winter brake we could choose our own day. It would be great to not do the same thing each time. We could start a “tradition” of doing something different each time. Perhaps we could celebrate each year a different person that has made a contribution to the advances in humanity?

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  • Zinzuni Dec 3, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    I agree with you. It would be nice to have our own Holiday.

    There was a bit of over-kill on this in our family – with the birthdays of my father-in-law and myself being between Xmas and new year!

    Also in earlier years, my father my brother and I, used to go away for a short break and join the Scots for “Hogmanay” New Year celebrations.

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  • 65
    Rayhana says:

    On a different note, why can’t we have holidays like Newton Day? Merry Gravity? Happy Faraday? On Michael Faraday’s Birthday? Also, why not Relativity Day? On Einstein’s birthday?

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  • 66
    Tricia says:

    As atheists who merrily celebrate Christmas, this is what we’ve sent out in our cards:

    We may not conceive of a virgin birth
    or believe in a holy ghost,
    but we hope this Christmas brings to you
    the things you value most.

    Hopefully none of the people we sent it to valued politeness above all else.

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  • What is so impolite about expressing how you feel in such a manner, I do not see any personal attack here? No need to genuflect to such an unreasonable social expectation that forbids you from merely expressing your thoughts.

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  • My antidote to a “Christian Christmas” was to attend the “Carols on Campus” at my alma mater. Plenty of good traditional Religious Carols, I just had to let the words go “through to the ‘keeper”. Blended with secular readings and songs from non traditional sources including a Nigerian Carol. A highlight was learning that Tim Minchin would “rather break bread with Dawkins than Tutu” in a reading of “White wine in the sun”, where we also learnt that “some of their hymns have nice chords, but the lyrics are dodgy”.

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