It’s that time of the year again when, inevitably, I will field the following question: “Since you are atheist, why do you celebrate Christmas?” This is often followed up with “How do you, as an atheist, celebrate Christmas?” I won’t speak for other atheists but I figure my story and reasons for celebrating Christmas are similar to other atheists. I grew up in a Christian culture in Guyana– my family were (is) Catholic. I went to Sunday school as a kid and enjoyed the pop-up books that told the biblical tales; those stories are some of the best fiction around. By the age of 7 I had had enough, and that is the earliest age I remember rejecting religion and belief in god. But of course I still celebrated Christmas with my family, and I continue to do so to this day.
For me, Christmas holds no religious meaning. I celebrate Christmas because of tradition and family. All members of my immediate family (wife and two daughters) are atheists but we maintain a number of traditions at Christmas time. Each year I go out with one or the other of my daughters to purchase a real tree (love the smell of pine) on the first weekend of December. My in-laws come over to our house to help us decorate the tree; we even have a homemade angel that we place on top of the tree (it has been in my wife’s family since forever). After we decorate the tree, we make Christmas (sugar) cookies from my mother-in-law’s recipe. This year my youngest daughter will take over the duties of making the cookie dough.
On Christmas Eve we have our extended family over for dinner. On Christmas morning we get to unload our stockings, eat caramel corn and open our presents. We then have breakfast, with some traditional Guyanese dishes (garlic pork and pepper pot). In the late afternoon we head over to my sister’s where we have a traditional Christmas dinner (usually turkey).
We also listen to Christmas music but only once December begins; my youngest is planning to stay up until midnight on the last day of November so she can start playing Christmas music at the very instant the month changes over into December. We enjoy the music, the non-religious ones such as ‘White Christmas’ but also most of the traditional hymns (‘I Saw Three Ships’ and ‘Little Drummer Boy’ are two of my favourites). As Tim Minchin so wisely put it “Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords but the lyrics are spooky.” This is a lyric from the song “White Wine In The Sun” which has become one of my favourite Christmas songs. This song sums up nicely my approach to Christmas – have a look and listen.
And this is a cover by Kate Miller-Heidke that is my favourite (sorry Tim)
I imagine the way my family celebrates Christmas isn’t very different from most Christians (or atheists). The only difference is that we don’t believe in any supernatural entity, and we don’t attend any religious services. I encourage you, dear reader, to share your particular take on Christmas.