Can Atheists celebrate Christmas?
I am an atheist. Not just your average unbeliever either, I’m a borderline militant atheist. I actively dislike religion and not only do I not believe Jesus was the son of God, I am unconvinced any historical figure like Jesus actually existed (there is absolutely no contemporaneous records of him, his miracles, or execution). Fear not though, the subject of this article is not to proselytise the cause of the unbelieving, that it is a battle I shall keep for another day.
The theme of today’s article is Christmas, and what this national holiday should mean to me and my heathen friends. I am often asked if I celebrate Christmas and if so why? It’s remarked upon as though Christmas, like enjoying the gifts of Santa Claus himself, should be a pleasure reserved only for believers. Perhaps it is a fair observation that I appear to embrace a religious holiday despite perpetually condemning the religion to which it owes its origins. This would be a fair observation, if it were factually correct.
You see, Christians didn’t invent Christmas; they simply rebranded it in their honour.
What do Christians celebrate on December 25th? The birth of Jesus right? The awkward fact is though, Christians don’t actually know when Jesus was born (if he was born at all); there is no mention of it in the bible. Christmas is celebrated on different dates in both the Orthodox and Coptic Christian faiths, and Catholics didn’t start celebrating Christmas at all until over 300 years after his apparent death! So why 25th December then?
Well this time of year is extremely important in Europe for a very obvious reason. The winter solstice hits between the 21st and 24th December. The 25th of December is the first day after the three darkest days of the year. For farmers and peasants, this is something to celebrate on its own merits, but because of the celestial significance of this date there are literally countless festivals, gods, and demi-gods that have been worshipped on or around this date for centuries before the Christians had laid claim to the day.
A number of cultures (including the Romans) worshipped the sun, and seeing the Sun God resurrected after three days (sound familiar?) was the inspiration for the Sol Invictus Festival. This coincided with the hugely popular Saturnalia Festival which involved everything from human sacrifice to naked carol singing. There are numerous other Gods preceeding Jesus who find themselves bound to this date. Attis, a Greek God who was miraculously born of a virgin and crucified on a tree on the 25th December is another with a familiar tone. Ever wonder why you worship a tree? You can thank the tree worshipping Roman Asheira Cult for that tradition.
The fact is, the 25th December has since time immemorial been a festival of frivolity and merriment as people optimistically looked forward to brighter days ahead. It has hailed a momentary suspension of the ordinary functions of society, a time where good spirits induced charity and equality to a world that for so many, for so long, has been one of hardship and injustice.
It doesn’t bother me that Christians choose to worship their God on this date any more than it does that the Jews enjoy Hanukkah and the Romans worshipped their Sun God. It is a moment for everyone to rejoice for all that is valuable to them, for these people, there is nothing more valuable to them than their religion and their God.
For me, and my growing fraternity of Godless countrymen, we too take this opportunity to reflect and rejoice for the things that are valuable to us. Our family, our friends, their health and the gift those relationships bring.
The only thing unavoidably Christian about Christmas is its name. The rest just depends on how you celebrate it.
So don’t ask me why I celebrate Christmas, because it’s the same reason as you. We appropriated a European pagan festival that’s been celebrated for thousands of years to continue a tradition of the human experience. For one day we try harder than ever to celebrate love over hate, we reflect on the year that was and believe optimistically in the year that comes, we rejoice in the true gifts of life, we yearn to give more than we receive, we treasure the love of those we have and find a way to make sure they know how much they mean to us… even if only for one day, but it is a day that belongs to all of us.