Dec 9, 2010  •  In Christianity, NYC, Personal

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

A few weeks ago, the American Atheists caused quite a stir in the NY/NJ area by placing this billboard at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey:

The Catholic League soon countered with its own billboard, aptly placed at the New York entrance to the tunnel:

Now it is no secret that I am a Christian, so I confess that I was a bit miffed about the Atheist billboard. However, I was no happier with the Catholic League’s response (although it must be noted that the billboard was paid for by a donor who specifically instructed that the money should be used for this purpose).

Christmas has always been a religious holiday for me. When I think of Christmas I immediately associate it with the celebration of the birth of Jesus, not Christmas trees, Santa, or presents.

(Yes, I am well aware that no one is certain of the exact date of Jesus’ birth, and that the Church borrowed the date from pagan holidays in order to make the transition to Christianity easier for early converts.)

So as much as I love this holiday, I do not feel the need to decorate my house or exchange gifts. Do I do so? Yes, but mostly because it has been ingrained in me by the culture that raised me. But with each ornament that is placed on the tree, with each ribbon that is wrapped around a gift, I do my best to remember the reason behind Christmas and be thankful for all that God has given us, especially the gift of His Son.

I know that many of my friends celebrate Christmas but purely in a secular way. Meaning that they put up a tree, exchange gifts, and maybe even play Christmas songs in the house, but they do not associate the holiday with the birth of Jesus.

I do not look down on those who do this. However, with the above billboards in mind, I cannot help but wonder if the non-religious folk who celebrate Christmas ever feel weird that they are celebrating a holiday that is so deeply rooted in Christianity? If so, do they act upon those feelings of guilt/annoyance (whatever they may be), or do they choose to ignore them?

23 Responses to “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

  1. One of Eric's seminary professor's wives was telling me about how they consider Christmas=Giftsmas.
    She said they work hard to teach their kids to celebrate Christmas every day of the year so on Christmas they don't over-spiritualize it. They teach what it is from a Christian perspective, but don't feel bad about also making it about food, family and gifts.
    I thought it was an interesting perspective for a Christian because of how many nominal Christians/Catholics make Christmas a really religious holiday, but don't really celebrate his birth (and life/death/resurrection) the rest of the year.

  2. Anon For this:

    Wow, this post really talked to me!! I am not a Christian and yet I love Christmas because I think a season dedicated to giving can't be really bad. I love picking out gifts for others and love looking at the bright lights every where. So I decided to put up a tree at home. But as soon as I put it up, the guilt started. I felt weird that I was celebrating something so religious and Christian even when I am not one. So I took the tree down the next day and gave it to Goodwill! And I feel so much happier.

    I am not a Scrooge and I still wish everyone a good Christmas and I helped decorate the tree at work. But I think I don't want to keep a symbol of Christianity inside my home when I don't believe in it. And I feel happier!

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  3. Steph:

    I'm Atheist (or Agnostic?). I don't believe in anything, so that's atheist, I think. Anyhow, for me Christmas has functioned as a family holiday and a season of giving. I do put up a Christmas tree, but not nativities or anything quite that overtly Christian. I don't have any guilt about it at all.

    I don't mind the religious side of Christmas either, though. Celebrate your (general you) religion and its holidays in whatever way brings you peace and joy. Hey, we even celebrate Yom Kippur and Hannukah with our very close friends who are Jewish. When my in-law's pray before Christmas dinner I bow my head out of respect and just stay quiet. The only place that I draw a line is that I won't go to mass or any other religious service because I feel that it is disrespectful to those who are actively practicing their religion while there.

    Hope that doesn't bother anybody. I'm a pretty passive atheist. The billboard ads seem very abrasive to me (both of them) but I just tune out anybody who is that in-your-face with their beliefs anyway.

  4. As a practicing Christian, thanks for writing this. I often wonder many of the same things you do. I will say that I don't feel as riled up about the Christmas culture wars and the commercialization of Christmas because while very important, to me it's not the most important holiday of the Christian calendar. Easter/Resurrection Sunday (whatever you want to call it) is pretty important. It really is the crux of Christianity (Jesus resurrection) , yet I am pretty amazed at how many people celebrate Easter as just a regular holiday without even acknowledging its religious/spiritual significance. I think Christmas is bigger in part because of the commercial element involved and who doesn't like getting gifts?:) Thanks again for the interesting post.

  5. Sunny:

    I 'm also not huge on Christmas for the gift-centric commercialized holiday that it has become…and I avoid writing Christmas as "x-mas" b/c that takes the most important part of the word out! :P

  6. Megan:

    I am Agnostic and was raised Agnostic, and we've always celebrated Christmas! My husband and his family is the same way! It's a tradition and a fun time for everyone, especially children who delight in Santa and all the decorations and lights. I have never associated Christmas with religion except when someone else brings it up. There's simply no connection in my mind. The date, December 25th, is from the Pagan holiday Saturnalia. Gift giving is also part of the Saturnalia festival. Even the Christmas tree has it's roots among Pagans, who used to decorate outside trees until the Church forbid them to do so. Then they moved their trees inside! To me, it seems more likely that Christians might feel weird celebrating Jesus' birthday in such a Pagan way than for the non-religious to feel weird about celebrating Christmas!

    I hope that I worded that well as to offer no offense to anyone. I certainly respect all regions and their traditions, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest that Christmas is seen by most as a Christian holiday. I hope it doesn't bother anyone that I see it more Pagan than anything else. :)

  7. Vee:

    I was raised Catholic but am now an atheist. It does kind of make me feel weird to celebrate Christmas but I consider the celebration to be as much cultural as it is religious, and I am down with celebration of any sort. Also, when you opt out of celebrating holidays because you're atheist, your Christian family and friends tell you to stop being so belligerent by flaunting your differences. Like Megan said, however, the time Christmas is celebrated and many of the ways in which it is celebrated are rooted in Pagan traditions, so I feel like it's definitely a holiday season that each person can celebrate as he or she chooses. I dislike materialism and waste, so I don't particularly like the whole gift-giving thing, but again, it's kind of hard to opt out without pissing people off or looking like a Scrooge. I'm kind of a go-with-it kinda girl, so I just, well, go with it.

    Also, though I do consider myself an atheist, I think the billboards they put up do more harm than good to our cause of being included and considered. I don't like when Christians proselytize to me, so why would I want to do it to them?

  8. eyp:

    I'm agnostic but LOVE Christmas. The period between Thanksgiving and December 26 are my favorite days and something I look forward to every year. I love Christmas decorations and deck my house out with them, tree and all, but honestly never give a second thought to the religious aspect of the holiday. For my family, Christmas has always been about giving and spending time with each other, so I never associated the day with Christ and religion. One commenter said that she doesn't go to church or mass, but I do on occasion if it's important to those I'm with (friends and extended family).

    Also I'm not a fan of either billboard. I hate when people try to push their ideas, religious or otherwise, onto others.

  9. this post reminded me of the advent conspiracy. it's a movement that one of my students shared with me a couple years ago. i think it does more justice to responding to the atheist billboard than the catholic one does. youtube clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVqqj1v-ZBU website here: http://www.adventconspiracy.org/

  10. T:

    I go to church with my family Christmas eve, but thats about the only association I have with it being really Christian, its more of a time for family to get together and family traditions for me. Plus only about half the family goes to church. Never felt guilty. Its the same way I feel when I go to Buddhist/Taoist temples in Asia or conduct different prayers for holidays or Taiwanese traditions. In both cases I enjoy it even though the traditions are for totally separate religions that conflict with each other. I enjoy it because I find it an important and interesting way to understand and connect with people from different cultures. Having no strong religious beliefs I don't mind celebrating all religions!

    More importantly I would not be married if I was not open to traditions from another culture, which clash with strict Christian beliefs. So no don't feel guilty at all :)

  11. I was an agnostic for most of my life until I accepted Jesus and got baptized at age 26. I find that first billboard offensive. WHAT IS THE POINT? I mean, why would an organization feel the need to poke at people, to tell people they are wrong? I don't get it. What are they hoping to acheive? Do they think they are going to convert someone by posting that? It just makes no sense to me. The bottom line is that the basis of Christmas as we celebrate it now DOES stem from the story of Christ. That's why it's called CHRISTmas. A lot of people who are not religious celebrate Christmas, but telling the people who do believe that their belief is a myth just seems WAY far off from the Christmas spirit.

  12. Holley:

    Yeah, as an atheist, I don't really support stuff like that billboard. I mean, I support it in the first amendment way, of course, but I'm very much against imposing ones beliefs on others. So I can't really get behind the message. But as to your question, I am an atheist who celebrates Christmas, but I don't really feel weird or guilty about it. I love Christmas. It's fun and special, and for me it's about spending time with the ones you love and celebrating life and giving. And the religious aspects of the holiday don't really annoy me either. It does annoy me when I hear people talking about how Christmas is losing its meaning, or the secular world is trying to take it over, or whatever. I mean, isn't Christmas really about what it means to each individual person? In my mind, it shouldn't matter how other people see Christmas, as long as your happy with celebrating it the way that makes sense to you.
    Interesting post. Thanks for pointing this out!

  13. Lillian:

    I think it's odd (though not untypical of you) that you would make this comment: "I do not look down on those who do this."

    Atheists and Agnostics and Buddhists view Christmas as a happy occasion perhaps because of merry spirit
    and holiday mood. Why should this be looked down upon? Isn't it the spirit for loving and peace, or is this reserved only
    for Christians?

  14. Geek in Heels:

    @Lillian — I think it's odd (though not untypical of you) that whenever I write about anything remotely religious, or regarding my faith, you have to come and make a not-so-friendly comment about it.

  15. Rhey:

    I clicked through to post a comment only to find that others have stated my opinion already very eloquently, especially Megan. In addition, I would like to say that though I may not believe in the specifics of Christianity, I absolutely believe in living life by the golden rule and love the spirit of generosity that this season fosters. Giving warm clothes and treats to those who could not otherwise afford to celebrate, and bringing joy to family members by gathering together to visit, eat, and yes, exchange thoughtful gifts, could not possibly make me feel guilty about celebrating a season and a reason that is as old as humanity itself.

  16. Lillian:

    Your answer confirmed my question

  17. Geek in Heels:

    @Lillian — Since you so greatly desire an answer I will give you one. Christmas was CREATED to be a Christian holiday. Hence the name, CHRISTmas. Sure, many people may not view it that way these days, but you can't deny the fact that it is rooted in Christianity. Do I believe that Christians have a monopoly on the holiday? No. But I do know that many Christians are saddened by the commercialization of the holiday and the fact that its original meaning is lost to so many people who celebrate it. (So perhaps my using the words "look down upon" was not the best decision. "Saddened by" is probably better.) But to me, I am fine with ANYONE celebrating any sort of Christian holiday because I am sure that every year, at least one person questions their faith and attends a church service or talks to a Christian about it, eventually accepting Jesus into his/her heart.

    You seem to have a lot of hatred toward Christians and Christianity. I wonder what it is that made you this way, to continue to read the blog of a person whose faith you so strongly disagree with and purposely make the time to make it known that you don't agree with Christianity, that you do not agree with me and obviously think that I am an idiot for being a Christian. What is the purpose in this? At this point I don't get angered by your comments (and they have never swayed me from my faith either); I am just tired of them.

    Since I WILL be writing more about Christianity and my faith in the future, I suggest that you stop reading my blog if it bothers you that much. And as much as I hate to do this, I will be making an exception in my comment policy and will be deleting all future comments from you that go along this vein of hatred. There is a line between healthy debate and malicious attacks, and you have been crossing it for far too long. (And I know that I'm not being extra sensitive here, as even my atheist friends agree that you are being unreasonable.)

  18. Since you are Christian, I understand why you're not a fan of the atheist poster. Help me understand why you don't like the Catholic one since it encourages peeps to "Celebrate Jesus" as opposed to "Buy presents and decorate a tree". Or is your point that we'd just all get along better if both sides just didn't say anything?

  19. Geek in Heels:

    @Lauren — The latter. I wish neither side has said anything. And personally, while I agree with the message of the Catholic billboard, it also comes across like they only did it in response to the atheist billboard (perhaps a bit like tit for tat), which may overshadow the message they were trying to convey.

  20. I have to support the billboard in that same 'first amendment' way too even though, as a fellow atheist, I don't condone this kind of provoking. However, I also HATE that I'm confronted by hundreds (literally, yes) of billboards along America's interstate highways proclaiming that "Jesus Christ is your ONLY way to God" and that "The LORD is the WAY" and all that jazz.
    I really didn't think religions (or nonbelievers) needed advertisements but I guess I was wrong. It's one thing to put your views out there in an informative or an inviting way or to encourage others to maybe take a moment to think on your point. It's entirely different to yell and admonish through media.

    Also, I celebrate xmas and am a nonbeliever. I don't attend mass, I don't sing religious songs, I don't say prayers aloud at the table with everyone, and I don't feel weird about celebrating this holiday without being a Christian. There are a lot of little things I do to actively opt-out of the religious nature of everything, but I do those in my normal life too. Like not saying the 'under God' part of the pledge whenever I recite it. I do totally feel weird about Easter though (as someone mentioned above a little) and usually try to celebrate the spring equinox around the same time instead.

  21. Megan:

    I just wanted to add, because based on some of the comments, it sounds like some people did not read the link provided, but according to the article, the billboard saying "You KNOW it's a Myth…" was supposedly directed towards other athiests, encouraging them not to celebrate Christmas because of it's religious roots. It supposedly was NOT directed towards religious members to encourage them to convert.

  22. Jen:

    I never feel weird celebrating Christmas. It's really important to me with its traditions and time spent with family. It gives me warm fuzzies. I would never feel guilty about celebrating the holiday because I have grown up celebrating it.

    I'm not sure what the reasoning behind the atheist billboard is. It's not like it's going to convert anyone to atheism. I think the whole point was probably just to create a stir and get people talking. I guess there are plenty of religious billboards in existence and I'm not sure how many people embrace religion because of them.

  23. Thanks Jane,this clarifies a lot for me.I have speokn to my son and he has now decided to continue with classes in religion and to opt out of homework and any study.As a sixteen year old boy he is very sure of what he believes and does not believe but hates any focus on him and feels that because everyone else in his school has to do religion he has to too.For me that is the sorriest part of all this is that he wasn’t asked, as a person with rights he should have been asked if he would like to do religious studies or not.I would love to send a letter to the Headmaster as I feel we are really getting somewhere on lots of issues pertaining to catholicism and the more parents who opt out the more normal it will become and before we know it everyone will understand their rights and more importantly the rights of others.My two boys 16 and 18 have just finished reading Dawkins the god delusion’,they are streets ahead of my husband and I and therein lies our future , with tongue firmly in cheek ‘Praise the Lord’,great to be having this discussion,THANKS.

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