Being Nonreligious During the Holiday Season
December 8, 2014
“So you’re an atheist…but your family celebrates Christmas! Why would you do that? How can you celebrate that? It’s about Jesus!”
“Well, why do you celebrate Halloween?”
“I…well…you’ve been asked this before, haven’t you?”
Yeah, I’ve been asked that before. Most of us have. The above is an excerpt from an actual, extremely uncomfortable conversation with a former boss. The words might be different, but we all know the exchange. The gasp of disbelief, followed by the possessive horror that you, a godless heathen, would dare celebrate their holiday, the day of Jesus’ birth!
It’s always a little awkward, but I’ve found a couple ways to respond to it, depending on the person asking. I always open with asking about Halloween, though. It tends to stop people short and make them think “Why DO we celebrate that? Huh. Weird.” Of course, there are those people who don’t celebrate Halloween. In which case, it’s doubtful that anything you say will convince them that it’s alright for you to celebrate Christmas. And that’s ok—your differing beliefs hopefully won’t ruin the other’s holiday. But if you’ve gotten them to pause for a moment, you can go two ways: family or history. If they’re interested, talk about the solstice and pagan religions. If they’re staunchly “the-bible-says-this-and-that’s-how-it-went,” I usually wax eloquent on the beauty of family time. The end goal is always the same: give someone a look at a life different from their own. I love Christmas. I celebrate the hell out of it. And I do so for the same reasons as the majority of Americans: family, tradition, and fun. I just take Jesus out of the equation. Many atheists do the same. Being open about why we celebrate the holidays (if we choose to do so) is another way to make us seem more human to the rest of the world. People questioning you might seem ignorant, annoying, or in your face, but try and treat each question like a sincere inquiry and respond as such. Even if someone is trying to put you on the spot and isn’t really looking for an answer, actually giving one may make them think. It might open their mind to other viewpoints. It might even make them genuinely curious about the way you live your life.
So go enjoy your holiday, and don’t be shy about why you celebrate!
About the Author: Rebecca SurrozRebecca Surroz was previously an officer in the Illini Secular Student Alliance. After graduating from UIUC with a Bachelor's in Biology, she's preparing to apply to Accelerated Nursing Programs, which means struggling through class with the help of a lot of free noodles from Noodles and Company. She's always excited to get a chance to write for atheist and skeptic organizations!
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