Ho, Ho, Ho — Merry Christmas!

By Dave, the WM

I'm an ex-Christian and an atheist. This Christmas I have two overly decorated 9’ tall Christmas trees complete with twinkling lights and one tree is circled by a battery powered toy train. Perched in locations all around my house, dozens and dozens of Nutcrackers of every height and description keep vigil while festive smelling candles taint the air. A thick layer of snow currently blankets the ground outside my window, and holly and ivy decorate my neighbor's porches. It's holiday time at an atheist home!

What? An atheist celebrating Christmas?

Christ's Mass. The Catholic Mass held on the eve before Christ's birth. That's what Christmas means, doesn't it? I mean, isn't an atheist who is celebrating Christmas about as hypocritical as one can get? Aren't we always hearing "Keep Christ in Christmas" and "Jesus is the reason for the season?" Isn't there even an atheistic "War on Christmas?"

Well, I suppose this is all just because of ignorance. Not my ignorance — Christian ignorance. You see, when I was a "True Fundie™," there were several years when I refused to celebrate Christmas, and for good reason too! Regardless of the name that's been glued on to the so-called holy day, the roots of this celebration are deeply pagan.

Long before the arrival of the two now famous Jewish peasant cousins who itinerantly preached on the hillsides of Judea for a couple years, the Norse were celebrating Yule from December 21 through January, honoring the return of the sun and in Germany people were celebrating the god Odin.

"Jo Saturnalia" (pronounced yo) would have been the December greeting in Jesus' neighborhood. With Romans marching all over Palestine, Jesus and his band of merry men would have been quite familiar with this idolatrous holiday honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture.

From the History Channel:
Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. [...] For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

Interestingly enough, Mithras was always portrayed as an infant during this festive time.

As a good, Yahweh-fearing Jew, I sincerely doubt Jesus or his cousin would have dared light up a Yule log, or mix a potent batch of eggnog, or whatever the Roman revelers would have used to usher in the traditional holiday season.

Reason for the Season

From the Catholic Encylopedia:
Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, sporadic feasts commemorating Jesus' birth began to crop up in various locations beginning in 200 CE, but the dates assigned to the feasts varied widely, and there was no general consensus on when Jesus might have been born, or even if the event was appropriate for Christians to commemorate.

Christmas celebrations spread to Egypt by 432, to England by the end of the sixth century and to Scandinavia by the end of the eighth century. By the Middle Ages, Christmas had, for the most part, supplanted the older pagan celebrations. But, it was still celebrated in the traditionally pagan way, with raucous Mardi Gras-like drunkenness and partying. Of course, that was after the church service.

During the 17th century, Puritan forces took over England and vowed to rid the land of the decadence of Christmas. Christmas was condemned by Oliver Cromwell and forbidden by an Act of Parliament in 1644. The day was to be a fast and a market day; shops were compelled to be open; plum puddings and mince pies condemned as heathen. Even after Charles I took the thrown and re-legalized Christmas, Yuletide was called "Fooltide" by the faithful.

When the pilgrims arrived on the shores of America, Christmas was not one of their holidays, and in Boston, the celebration of December 25 was outlawed. Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under the new constitution. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

In the 19th century, Americans began to embrace and re-invent Christmas. In 1819 Washington Irving wrote "The Sketchbook of Geoffery Crayon, Gentleman," a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. Irving's fictitious celebrants enjoyed supposed "ancient customs" that in actuality were fictitious inventions from the mind of the author. No such ancient customs existed prior to Irving's book, but because of the popularity of his stories, his invented Christmas "traditions" took hold.

Also around this time Charles Dickens hit the scene with his classic "A Christmas Carol." These two authors, more than any pope, prelate, or peasant preacher, are responsible for what those living in the west have come to regard as a traditional Christmas celebration.

Just as an added point, even with 2,000 years of evangelism, to this day oriental countries do not celebrate Christmas the same way we do. In Japan, people generally work on Christmas, and Christians may or may not attend church that day or on Christmas Eve. Japanese and Chinese more enthusiastically celebrate New Year, which has no Christian connotations whatsoever.

Cel-e-brate, good times... Come on!

For thousands of years, people have been making merry in December, celebrating with joy their lives, their families, and the change of seasons by gathering together with friends against the cold. Regardless of the name of the holiday or whether the general population is celebrating Marduk, Mithras, or Messiah, all the gods are myth anyway, so why should an atheist miss out on the fun?

So, as far as I'm concerned, the next time someone tells me to remember the reason for the season, I'll point to the sun, raise a full mug of spiced wine, and toast to the health of the ignorant well wisher. If that person joins me in the toast, who knows, maybe he or she will finally understand the real meaning of Christmas.

(Also see "Essay on Christmas" by Robert G. Ingersoll & "Before the Son, the Sun was reason enough" by Eric Zorn)

What do you think?


jimearl said...

You're right, of course. I too will be having a good time with my tree, lights, ornaments, etc. I have the most fun with my nativity scene. I love setting it up somewhere prominent in my home and then after carefully placing the scene in its traditional way, I add a few Star War figures, a Robin figure,(always in his green, red and yellow crime fighting outfit)and then set back and watch the fun. Since it's all fiction anyway, I feel the other figures fit right in. Maybe this year I'll try and find a Cartman figure to go along with the rest. Merry Xmas everyone!! And may the force be with you!!

Anonymous said...

As an atheist, I celebrate Christmas in the same spirit that Christians celebrate Halloween.

Anonymous said...

Christ's Mass. Has no foundation of truth. The Catholic Mass held on the eve before Christ's birth. That's what Christmas is. NOW "Come-on" (thats what tradition Says) which has nothing to do with the Christ, of God. I mean, isn't an atheist who is celebrating Christmas about as hypocritical as one can get? ____"No"___ most actually all, "all" are Hypocrites (the term Hypocrite means is Actor) Aren't we always acting?

"Keep Christ in Christmas"
"why should we?
He really was never in it in the first place,
and "Jesus is the reason for the season?" (a big Joke) Isn't there even an atheistic "War on Christmas?"

"There should be a Christian war against Christmas.

It really is no more than a Heathen Pagan Holiday adapted into what is called the world of Christ-en-dom.
God's Christ, never was in it...


webmdave said...


Thank you. That was the first post you've made that I completely agree with.

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

I'm an agnostic Buddhist pagan of Scandinavian descent. Jesus generally doesn't have anything to do with my Yule celebrations, but if a chap by that name just happens to wander by on the winter solstice he'll get food and mead like all the rest of my guests.

I've also been known to have Shakyamuni meditating under my tree, and various "angels" including teddy bears and octopi. (Makes mental note that daughter's Cthulhu hand puppet would make a great angel, too)

Bring on the munchies and the pretty lights!

Anonymous said...

I am in complete accord with all of you, and I invite you to listen to all of my atheistic Christmas podcasts at Mondo Diablo, for an almost-Christ-free Christmas, the old-fashioned way.

I say "almost," because there are some Christians who are always too funny to leave out of my playlists. The music is generally just too, too good, and stuff you may never have heard. I hope you enjoy, and merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

A great comment, good historical overview. You might enjoy our humorous takes on the "War on Christmas" at http://waroc.wordpress.com

Feel free to leave a link to this or any Christmas-related topic and we'll excerpt it over there!

Happy Holidays!

dead__fish said...

Thanks for the GREAT idea jim earl! My son and I are eagerly awaiting the weekend so that we can dig our old nativity set out of the attic and set it up near the front door under the giant lighted pentagram....ah.....star. He and my other son will be setting up their Star Wars action figures around it! I also have some vintage Star Trek figures that will fit in quite well, especially the Klingons! I'm sure we will come up with all kinds of humerous ways to have the figures interact with each other! And since we just got back from Cancun we will find some strategic spots for the Mayan Gods we picked up down there! Thanks to all of you for breathing new life into our X-Mas holiday!

Anonymous said...

My wife didn't like it, but a couple of years ago I put a Gumby in place of the baby jesus in our nativity scene.
The kids thought it was hilarious!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where I can get one of those Lighted-Boy-Pissing-On-A-Fish Nativity Figures?

Anonymous said...

How DARE those evil Mexican and Cuban Catholics and black Baptists celebrate Christmas in a religious way when we over-educated white atheists know so much better! Oh, how wrong those stupid rednecks in the south are not to open themselves to the enlightenment that we've discovered. They're so inferior to us.

When a tiny percentage of the population complains about what a very large percentage of the population does, it's a waste of emotion. Expecting to be able to do something about it is arogance. We'll never convince a majority of Americans and legal and illegal residents of this country that we're right and they're wrong, and we should never try to impose our atheism on them. We are so vastly outnumbered that it's not even worth the arguments that would ensue.

We often complain about how Christianity was imposed on most of the countries in which it is now practiced, but today's Christians aren't the ones that did it. No one that lives in the United States had anything to do with the spread of Christianity into this hemisphere. So if we try to force people to adopt our way of thinking, we'll be no better than the people that we condemn for forcing Christianity on pagans centuries ago.

Anonymous said...

Ah, free enterprise reinventing Christmas! I love it! Christmas has always been great fun for my family (5 kids) and they were never taught to believe in Santa Claus either! Life is too short not to celebrate and I think the pagans had the right idea!

As usual, a great post! I knew about the Pagan roots of Christmas and the Puritans but didn’t know Boston had outlawed Christmas – bah humbug, indeed!

Merry Christmas to you all including the occasional Grinch in evidence from time to time at this site! Just like all Religions – Can’t you take a joke? Lighten up!

Cheers! John Fraysse

Nvrgoingbk said...

I love this discussion. I'd like to add that in Jeremiah, Chapter Ten, it is specifically warns God's people to not cut a tree out of the forest, deck it with silver and gold and nail it down so it teeter not. The erection of Christmas trees goes on year after year despite God's explicit warning to refrain, but Christians will always find a way to justify blatant disobedience of their god's commands.

Dante, you said:

"We are so vastly outnumbered that it's not even worth the arguments that would ensue."

Don't forget that at one time Christianity was once considered a cult, and its followers were in the minority just as we are now. THanks to Emporer Constantine, it is now recognized as the TRUTH by milliions of Christians everywhere.

Martin Luther King, Jesus, Ghandi, Hitler, Stalin, Oscar Schindler...were all men with a vision and started out ALONE. One man and his thoughts can change the world for either good or bad.
We are not as outnumbered as you might think. People are fed up with the religious Right, including Christians. Many Christians just go through the motions every Sunday, afraid to speak up about the discrepancies and lies of the religion, but fear of Hell or being ostracized overcomes them. I was once discouraged from asking too many questions. Perhaps if more people like us who have had first-hand intimate knowledge of the lie and step out and take the initiative to expose it, many more would follow. Don't ever think that the fight isn't worth fighting. Truth is always worth fighting for.

SpaceMonk said...

Solstice is the Reason for the Season.

It really bugged me last year when my Mum wore her 'Jesus is the Reason for the Season' Tshirt at Xmas - only because I wanted to correct it, but didn't want to start a family argument on Xmas day, so had to keep my mouth shut.

Dante, who said anything about forcing people to do anything anyway?
It's fun having a snigger behind the backs of the ignorants who assume they are so morally superior to us that they look down their ignorant noses at us...
...when we have the knowledge to rock their world at any moment.
Mwahaha, ho ho ho...

CJ Stone said...

Hi thought you might like to look at the following, on a similar theme.

swabby429 said...

Lovely comments.

I discovered some "high tech" tree lights at Target. In the interest of fun I have decked out my artificial palm tree with LED lights. So fun, so modern, so scientific!

It just edged out my old fiber optic tree powered by quartz halogen lighting.

I have placed a statue of my blue colored "Medicine Buddha" underneath the fiber optic tree.

"Oh what fun..."


Anonymous said...

Excellent Article---can we add the ARCHIES to the Nativity Scene?


Anonymous said...

Many years ago, when I billed myself as "The only STR8 guy North of 17th street" I wanted to put out a nativity scene with Mary and Jospehine...

so many possibilities here... Elasti-Girl and Skeletor, with hello Kitty in the manger.. Endless possibilities for Yule Joy... I enjoyed this post!

Epicurienne said...

Hey...great idea for the nativity scene. I just haven't bothered putting mine up at all in the years since I've known I was no longer Christian. Maybe I'll go retrieve it from storage and add a few extra characters. I've got a Japanese Maneko-neko cat....

steamboat_willey said...

Thank you for the history lesson. Do you know anything about a connection to Tammuz or Adonis?

I was taught that December 25 was the birthday of Tammuz. The summer solstice was his supposed funeral date, with a period of mourning as the shortening of the days began. The Hebrews were forbidden to perform the ritual, but did so anyway, as did most residents of Canaan (Ezekiel 8:14).

Tammuz son was associated with the Syrian god, Adonis, who made his way into Greek mythology.

We also celebrate and have fun with all of the make-believe. It's ironic that I am allowed to question, aloud, the empty tomb and other Jesus bullshit in my household, but not Santa Claus. I have a 7 year-old who still believes. Hopefully my 10 year-old will spill the beans soon and my youngest will gain a head start towards a properly functioning mind.

I will try my best to celebrate Christmas in the "traditionally pagan way, with raucous Mardi Gras-like drunkenness and partying."

Aside from that. . .

Reasons Greetings

webmdave said...

Tammuz was also a solstice deity. He would die and resurrect: Click here

Anonymous said...

I celebrate the season of Winter and the end of a calendar year starting December 1st in the morning (though I got started early this year on Nov. 30th) and ending January 1st after dark. It's *my* tradition now (though any and all are welcome to celebrate it that way as well).

I have TWO trees (a 6' and a 2') both lit, decorations on my windows, lights in the larger window, decked the halls of the upper level of the apartment building I live in, put a paper tree in the corner. Baked cookies, sent out cards. All "Happy Holidays". If anyone objects, well, it's because right now this season is celebrated by MANY of MANY different beliefs. Kwanzaa, Hanukah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Winter/End of Year, etc.

I think as for 'reasons', I look at it this way, no adult in their right mind believes in Santa Claus or that ghosts roam around at night on Halloween. If one doesn't take it so seriously and just sits back, relaxes, enjoys the songs and stories, then what's the harm?

Those who take things way too seriously are only robbing themselves of the true joy of a largely social holiday. Just like Marti Graz, or any largely social holiday - it's about making a celebration that people can all enjoy together, even if as a family, a community, or even as a whole nation or whole world.

These bring people together in common joy.

Or they SHOULD anyway...

To those who hollar that "Jesus is the reason for the Season" and "Merry Christmas" MUST be siad and NOTHING else; quit ruining a large social holiday for everyone else.

We have a right to share in the joy and delight, too - no matter HOW we celebrate or WHAT we believe it to be.

Christmas/"The Holidays" can be anything you want it to be. Don't rob someone else of what THEY would like it to be.

Anonymous said...

Get a clue people. Jesus is the reason for the season. You people need to repent! Glory To God. Merry Christmas to all of you and God bless you.

webmdave said...

And a 'Jo Saturnalia' to you Mike!

Oh, and I got a clue. That's why I left your religious cult. Here's hoping you get a clue too.

SpaceMonk said...

Aren't we forgeting the true meaning of Christmas?
You know, the birth of Santa.
- Bart Simpson

Anonymous said...

It's great you have stopped that fundie-nonsense, Dave. But I do applaude your sincerity at the time. I mean not celebrating Christmas as a fundie. That's less hypocritical. Before I turned my back on fundamentalism I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable celebrating Christmas for the same reasons that you outlined.

Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Mike Godfreak you NEED to repent. My soul is heavy that you cannot see the TRUTH, but I have GOOD NEWS. I am a prophet of the Most High Odin.
The Great One has laid it on my heart to minister to you, for Odin truly loves you.
Odin feels great pain that you do not follow HIS one true path Godfreak.
Do you not know that it is written in the Holy Ancient texts that this is the very hallowed time of year that we give thanks to Odin.
I will now lay my hand on you to pray for you: (delivering large slap about the ear hole)
Oh Great Father Odin…Father of all Fathers please have mercy on this foolish Godfreak. May he see the light of your light, the power of your power forever and ever, on earth as it is in Valhalla.
Jo Saturnalia God freak.! You are SAVED. For Odin has anointed you with much mead. Go forth and multiply. Skoll !!!

Happy Yuletide to all!

Anonymous said...

Getafix, I just checked with Dad and he gives you the thumbs-up.

But he also says that Mike G. will have to muck out Sleipnir's quarters for a fortnight to make amends for that "Jesus is the Reason" horse manure.

(Passes a bottle of mead) Skál right back atcha, and Gleðileg Jól!

Astreja K. Odinsdóttir
(Seidkona laureate of Ex-C.net and official Candy Goddess by appointment to the Cute Bunny™)

Roger O'Donnell said...

I have no recollection of believing in Santa... I remember telling my parents I did, but at five, one wants them to get all their pleasure out of the magic of Christmas as they can...

I did have a baroque theory about how the presents arrived, but it involved delivery men, not sleighs...

I think the above mentioned 7 year old may be indulging his parent's in their wishes...

I find children seldom believe in the innocence of childhood until they're old enough to know better

xrayman said...

This will be my first Christmas as an atheist and it will be no different than my first 43. In my family we always celebrated CHRISS MAS as opposed to Christmas. It was never about Jesus in my households, just fun, food, family and presents.

Anonymous said...

I loved this discussion, too. It made me think back to my earliest memories of Christmas. I had no idea it meant anything other than everybody getting together at Dad's parents, lots of good food I never got anywhere else any other time--homemade mashmallows and popcorn balls in the afternoon, chicken and dressing for the main dinner at noon, fruitsalad with purple jello floating in the juice. I did not think anyone except my grandmother could make that kind of food.

I was born into one of the few religious groups that teach their children that Santa Claus is not true and is not appropriate for real Christians. In fact, Santa Claus seemed to be very closely related to Satan. Christmas trees were of the same category along with wrapped presents and Christmas decorations.

I never questioned when we were given plastic building blocks or tinker toys and Dad spent the day playing with us. It was just a wonderful and special time because mom and dad seemed to think so. I didn't really know what was so special. Today I imagine it was Christmas Day.

Anonymous said...

Given that Christmas is not Christian... should we not celebrate it with great indulgence? Laughing all the way to the manger?

I know I will :)

Anonymous said...

This was stated by Ayn Rand during the 1970s and is an excellent articulation as to why athiests should celebrate Christmas.

"The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men... The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: ´Merry Christmas´ – not ´Weep and repent´. And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form – by giving presents to one's friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance…

The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying…stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street-decorations put up by the department stores and other institutions – the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors – provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ´commercial greed´ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle."

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Mike Renzulli

Anonymous said...

i love this topic.
there was a woman on Dr.Phil not too long ago who had been brought on the show by her family members who said she was being a grinch or something because she didn't let her children celebrate christmas. she was a devout christian and knew of all this. all of her christian freinds were condeming her, though-but she was right. she's confused religiously, but she is a guess what a christian really is.

i have to comment on another comment by Dante...
"How DARE those evil Mexican and Cuban Catholics and black Baptists celebrate Christmas in a religious way when we over-educated white atheists know so much better! Oh, how wrong those stupid rednecks in the south are not to open themselves to the enlightenment that we've discovered. They're so inferior to us."

i'm black and i'm an agnostic. its very ignorant of you to sterotype and color-code religions. its has no backing and you're and idiot.

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