From Our Readers: Surviving the Holidays and the ‘War’ on Christmas

Dec 16, 2014

Our last two Questions of the Week were about surviving and thriving during the holiday season, a potentially emotionally charged time for most everyone. Readers told us how they celebrate the holidays (if they do), how they deal with family members, friends and colleagues who are believers and when, whether and how they voiced their lack of faith and views on religion.

With Hanukkah under way and Christmas coming next week, we thought everyone might benefit from the wisdom, humor and viewpoints of the RDF community. So we decided to share excerpts of our favorite comments here.

They have been lightly edited for grammar and length.

Michael: “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….”

William: “…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. …”

Katy Cordeth: “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. ”

Lidia: “I usually get in a heated argument and have to leave the room. I regret (it) and promise myself I won’t do it again.

Sharona: “This will be my first Christmas as an atheist! … 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. …

“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!!  …”

Rayhana: “… 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?”

Dee: “… Have a secular party where something natural is celebrated like the winter solstice. People can bring canned goods for a food bank and celebrate their non-faith in the same joyous way that others do in their places of ‘faith’. When friends talk about praying for two hours (true story), I talk about reading Stephen Hawking for two hours. I don’t comment on their practice, I just jump in with enthusiasm for mine. …”

headswapboy: “I don’t think I want to fight for a secular society, but if they’re up for it I’d be more than happy to take on the pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Dalai Lama, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Kim Jong Un and any other current religious leaders in a dance off. …”

Dave: “… 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. …”

Linda: “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!”

Hera2u: “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.

“… if one of the children came to me in years time as a believer … i would be as accommodating to them and their ‘modern’ friends as my nona was to me. ”

Sean W.: “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.

… 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?  …”

SaganTheCat: ” … It’s like saying, is there a way to fight for sexual equality or gay rights without believers getting all self-righteous or jihady. This question was answered long ago by Gregory House: ‘If you could reason with religious people, there’d be no religious people’. anyway must dash, this war on christmas won’t fight itself….Chaaaaaarge!!!”

Michael: “I would suggest an evolutionary approach: To develop a secular society we need to have more children than religious people and teach them to think not believe.”

James: “… Show them we include everyone in our acceptance. … Don’t berate anyone for their opinion, but do gently remind them that we accept them, so they should please accept us.”

Ryan: “it shouldn’t be a goal of secular organizations to try and appease believers and their feelings. We’re fighting for a better future, one free of dogmatic, poisonous and overbearing religions that keep a large portion of our fellow humans in a primeval, archaic and academically dangerous world view. …”



Wishing everyone a Merry Xmas and a Secular New Year. ”


28 comments on “From Our Readers: Surviving the Holidays and the ‘War’ on Christmas

  • After practicing Buddhism for some years now I’ve become more and more anti Christmas, especially regarding the rampant orgy of consumerism, for a pagan day, which was not actually Christ’s birthday. Huge amounts of $$$ are spent on presents which for many, are often not what they wanted in the first place. The main people who score are the Jewish and Islamic big store owners, who don’t even celebrate Christmas. (Except for the $$$ rolling in?:)
    The only good thing about this “silly season” is that it does encourage families etc to get together and be nice to each other, at least for one day of the year! (but why only one day!?)
    I think this ‘annual brain-washing’ of our children, has a lot to do with the rampant materialism and greed that is spoiling today’s world. We’ve all grown up with the expectation that more is better and that the “cover is more important then the book.”
    I still give presents but usually what will be appreciated and used, such as food. Also instead of buying expensive wrapping which is immediately torn up and thrown away on the big day, I’ve have taken to wrapping the gifts in left over newspaper. (!!! some of you say?:) The shiny advert sections work well and look quite pretty. (Just my bit to try to “save the environment,’ save myself some $, and reduce clutter)
    For those who “Celebrate’ enjoy, and for those who don’t…only 9 days left and it will be all over!
    “…Jingle bells and the sound of cash register bells…”

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  • Full confession here. This atheist f*king LOVES Christmas. I love the noise and the crowds and the music in the department stores, and the trashy sparkly ornaments in the streets or around the houses, and the shopping and the wrapping and the unwrapping. I love cooking and eating and drinking a little too much and giving prezzies and getting prezzies. Yeah, it’s pure consumerism, but I don’t care. My consumerism keeps people working. I DO try to give useful gifts, books, and comestibles where possible. But I have too many lovely memories of big Christmas breakfasts with family in an over-decorated house, going alternately to Messiah concerts or trashy Christmas movies. I don’t believe in baby Jesus, but I do believe in the power of fantasy, and I always get up a good fantasy on Christmas Day. I don’t believe in magic, but Christmas is still magic and there is an electricity in the air all day.

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  • justinesaracen: Full confession here. This atheist f*king LOVES

    No. Speak for yourself. I adore New Year’s day, but not christmass day, it has no meaning for me. And New Year’s day also has sparkling lights, good food, good mood, bolly-stoli, etc. 😉

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  • Jewish and Islamic store owners? I’m sure that there are plenty of Christian, Hindu and even atheist store owners who profit. Not to mention those who make their living working in those stores and those who manufacture the goods that are sold. There are arguments to be made against the consumer society, but no need to single out particular groups.

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  • Count me among the Xmas lovers. I love the decorations, the music, the food, the appalingly schmaltzy American TV movies about some big city type getting stranded in a small town and finding both love and the true meaning of Christmas. Love giving presents, and don’t mind getting them either. My family and friends don’t go mad. Presents are generally modest and either useful, meaningful or just something to amuse. It is as it always was, a celebration to break the winter gloom, to over-indulge in things that are bad for you and laugh in the face of the health fascists, to enjoy family and friends. To those who dislike Christmas I say simply…Bah humbug to you!

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  • I like the idea of a public atheist holiday very much. In fact in Berlin there are some schools that give student a day of on Humanist day ( provided they proof that they humanist e.g. being member of a humanists society. Celebrating such days could have a huge impact if we do it organised and concentrated. At the moment we have a lot of organisations like The Brigths, Richard Dawkins Foundation, Gordiano Bruno Foundation etc. with each having a few thousand members and each thinking about ways for improving society. If we are able to connect all this people and make a concerted effort on 1 or 2 days a year, Atheists would be recognized as major factor besides religion.
    Let’s focus on two events where one could be the World Humanists day. Possible actions for this day: Fund raising for charity, talks about human rights and celebrating with the family. The second could be a scientific day. Possible actions for this day: Scientific talks with experiments, Exhibitions, Hands on Experiments for kids (I not that a lot of universities do things like this already, but only for their own marketing and not all on the same day. ) One could even throw in some gifts on that day, with the focus on technical and scientific stuff (robots, Books etc.)

    tl;dr: Atheist organisations should combine their efforts and show more presents in public.

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  • Let’s focus on two events where one could be the World Humanists day.

    Might I suggest the real Summer and Winter Solstices as the dates determined by the actual length of the day. Close to Xmas, but showing a more experimental scientific determination of the actual day. I like your idea of one being a fundraiser and the other a celebration of science.

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  • Alan, I actually did celebrate a couple of Hogmanays when I was part of a group of Scots in New York City. Most of us wore some kind of tartan (mine is Wallace), and a few of the men were in full kilt-regalia, and of course we had a piper. One such celebration was in a large hall without electricity, so we had only candles, dancing, and good Scotch to keep us warm. (Quaint, but it still comes in a very distant second to a cozy secular xmas.)

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  • justinesaracen Dec 18, 2014 at 5:04 am

    Most of us wore some kind of tartan (mine is Wallace), and a few of the men were in full kilt-regalia, and of course we had a piper.

    My wife is Scottish, so one of my sons indulges in such activities with some Scottish friends.
    He stands out in the crowd of tuxedos at formal doos.

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  • The website
    already has some fixed dates for secular celebrations along with activity suggestions. But as I said, these events will only be recognized if all atheist, humanist, agnostics celebrate this. For me it does not matter if Humanists day is celebrated at the 21. or 22. of June. It would be even possible for different organisations to choose between those 2. Just make it public with as many people as possible.

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  • I’ve decided I am not going to involve myself in the day. I have been telling people for months that they do not need to give me gifts. If they feel like it they can, but they should not expect a gift from me any more than you would from a Buddhist friend or anything like that. I’ve decided to start a new tradition of choosing someone once a month who is important to me and giving them a gift as an expression of my gratitude of them. Not always a material gift, but just taking time to do something special for someone who deserves it.

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  • This year I sent Happy Chrisimyth cards saying how the Crazy “myth” seduces us with lovely songs, and gentle stories, a protective ‘father’, grouping together with friends and relatives to eat and drink; all of which are hi-jacked by religion which immediately claims authority over all these things by thanking ‘God’ for everything. The Archbishops, Bishops and Priests, supported by Kings and Queens, claim the right to lead the worship, give us God’s forgiveness and blessing while the members of the ‘congregation’ obediently kneel down and allow themselves to be told the next step which is accepting the turning of water into wine, walking on water, rising from the dead and meeting Angels with wings, and other unbelievable things! Nice myths, but what happened to the Truth?

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  • Years ago my husband and I decided not to give out presents at Christmas and told everyone not to buy for us. It worked out great I love seeing what everyone got I love Christmas dinner with friends and family. Every year I tell people that I’m of a different religion that doesn’t celebrate Christmas this year I’m telling them I’m an atheist An acquaintance wished me a merry Christmas and I replied “right back at you”

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  • There Is No Santa Claus

    It is a bit of a shock to discover that your parents and adults in general lied you about Santa Claus. They thought of it more as playing a trick on you to get you to behave better.

    How do you know there is no Santa Claus?

    The tags on presents from Santa have the same handwriting as ones from your parents.

    Think how many houses there are on a paper route. A paper boy does not even go in the house, and it takes him about an hour to complete his route. Santa supposedly visits all the houses in the world where kids live in one night, billions of them. No matter how fast he went, he could not complete more than a tiny fraction of them. If you know multiplication and division, you could figure out the percentage. Think how many sleighfuls it would take for everyone. He would have to zip back to the North Pole for every block.

    Santa supposedly gives gifts depending on how well behaved you are, but if you check around the neighbourhood in the days following Christmas, you will discover that is simply not so. The kids who get the best presents are the ones whose parents are rich no matter how they behave. Kids in poor families get nothing or crap. This is because parents buy the presents supposedly from Santa. The cruelest lie is the way parents without enough money for presents trick their kids into thinking the reason for no presents is Santa rejected them.

    Santa supposedly sends out elves to spy on you and report back to Santa how well behaved you were. You can thoroughly search your house. You will find absolutely no sign of these elves. One of my earliest memories is performing such a search. I even checked crannies at the top of Venetian blinds — nothing.

    Some parents are honest and tell their kids that Santa is just a trick that other parents play on their kids.

    If you don’t tell your parents about some gift you want, there is not much chance you will get it because it is your parents who buy the gifts not Santa.

    If you search your house in the days before Christmas, you will probably find the gifts wrapped or unwrapped that later your parents fob off as being from Santa. Even if you discover them on a high shelf where you cannot reach them, you can make note of the look of the wrappings.

    Note that older kids do not believe in Santa. They know something you do not.

    It is pretty obvious the fake Santas are being used to advertise products. If there were a real Santa, do you think he would allow his image to be used in such crass and even pornographic ways?

    You might think if you just stay awake you can find out who is bringing your stocking to your bed. I tried this. It does not work because your parents don’t do it until you are sound asleep.

    What else did your parents lie to you about? Can you ever trust them again? (In their excitement to play this game, parents foolishly forgot that forever after they are undermining your trust in them.) Your parents may also tell you a similar lie about the Santa Claus for adults, known as Jesus, who supposedly brings the gift of eternal bliss (a drug similar to heroin). The difference is, they may well believe the lie themselves.

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  • I have to say I despise Christmas. I just can’t get the fact that people celebrate something (whatever it might be) out of habit. Tradition is never a good argument for doing something. When I strip away the tradition argument part of Christmas celebration, nothing remains. All the social aspects of it can be done all around the year.

    So here I am sitting at home while the rest of the family (all atheists) are in church because “you’re supposed to”. They attend out of habit, and are pretty proud of it, even though at home they make fun of religions and priests. I on the other hand think I’m having a better evening. I’m reading Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, which means I’m learning something while the rest of the family is having their brains melted listening to the priest.

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  • 18
    Katy Cordeth says:

    The heck with you, Roedy Green. There is so a Santa Claus. If there are any young atheionauts out there reading this, pay no attention to the nasty man. God doesn’t love you, but Father Christmas definitely does.

    For shame, Roedy. And on Christmas Eve.

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  • 19
    Katy Cordeth says:

    May not love you, is what I should have said. Or might not. That’s my new year’s resolution for 2015: to find out the grammatical difference between may and might.

    Whatever. Best wishes to all. And a special thank-you for everything they do to the moderators of, those unsung… heroes seems a bit strong… ah God I don’t really do sincerity.

    Feliz Navidad anyway, the mods, and merry Christmas to you and yours.

    The heck with it, here’s a Pacman: 🙂

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  • 25
    Cairsley says:

    Living alone, I have been able to distance myself from traditional observances of Christmas, chiefly by telling kin and kith that I will be elsewhere on the day. Most years I spend Christmas Day alone at home — it is the most peaceful day in the year and I love it. Since I do not attend Christmas dinners and drinks, it has not been difficult to dissuade people from buying me presents. I see everyone at New Year, which is a much more inclusive occasion to celebrate, and I love that too.

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  • I have to say I despise Christmas. I just can’t get the fact that people celebrate something (whatever it might be) out of habit.

    Well distilled. The urban coma. I too dislike christmas. I like to get together with family and I like the concept of American thanks giving, but without the god stuff and the chest beating politics. I would like the December Solstice to be the day when families get together. Replace christmas and leave it where it should be. A stolen pagan festival cloned onto a impossible religion. I cringe when people say “Merry Christmas” to me, out of habit. What does that mean. Merry Christmas??? But I do take secret pleasure in stealing away from the drunken adults and playing with the new Lego sets and the grand children. That is worth celebrating.

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  • I am an atheist, so is my entire family. That doesn’t stop me, or any other of us, from LOVING Christmas.

    I love how the lights everyone put up light up the darkest season. I love the songs (especially the non-religious ones, that are simply about enjoying life with the people you love), I love the food, I love the cheesy Christmas movies, I love the smell of Christmas trees. I am a sucker for tradition, I admit it, so I virtually watch the same movies, eat the same food etc. every year.

    For me, Christmas is not religious. That doesn’t mean I am stupid, I know Christmas is considered a religious holiday, but since no one in my family are religious, to us it’s about family. It’s about love and enjoying your life. I hate the consumerism aspect of it, and the last couple of years we’ve all tried to cut down on the gifts. Even the gifts I give the children in the family are mostly practical, stuff they need, like clothes. But I love everything else. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside me just thinking about it.

    I guess it “helps” that since I am Norwegian, the word for Christmas is jul, a non-religious word, it would be yule in English. We celebrated yule here in Norway long before Christianity arrived, celebrating the winter solstice (which is the 21st, but still) and light returning after two long, cold months. “Halfway to spring”, as some people are undoubtedly thinking about it. It was a festival of light and warmth in the middle of the darkest season, where good food and drink was consumed, the family pig was slaughtered and the ale was not the regular kind, but a spicier brew (this tradition still exists although people don’t make their own beer, mostly, anymore; we still have “juleøl” – or Christmas beer – which is darker and spicier than regular beer sold in the stores). So when someone wishes me “god jul” (“Merry/happy Christmas”) I don’t cringe as there is nothing religious in that statement. Christianity hijacked yule and made it Christmas, that doesn’t mean I won’t celebrate it my own way.

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