As the holiday season has approached, I've been trying to reconcile being an atheist with celebrating Christmas. I have not been successful. The two are mutually exclusive. That being said, I have every intention of celebrating Christmas and no intention of converting (or reverting, maybe?) to Christianity.
I've done a lot of research lately to see if anyone else had been more successful than myself (meaning that a little bit ago, I Googled "why atheists celebrate Christmas"). Maybe I'm naive, but I was a bit shocked by the results. I found a lot of atheists contending that it's okay to celebrate Christmas because it's a "secular, traditional" holiday and not a religious holiday, which is ridiculous. There were also a lot of atheists responding by accusing Christians of stealing the holiday from ancient pagan traditions. Regardless of how true that may or may not be, it has absolutely nothing to do with atheists celebrating Christmas. There were comments from both Christians and atheists saying that us atheists would be better off celebrating Spider-Man Day, or some such nonsense. And there were a lot of surprisingly angry and vitriolic rants from Christians about a slew of issues, including the AUDACITY of atheists to celebrate the birthday of a person who they believe to be a myth and the attempts by some atheist groups to "take Christ out of Christmas". Exactly 0.0% of that was at all helpful, so I'm just going to outline the reasons I continue to celebrate Christmas. Maybe some other conflicted atheist will find it someday, and maybe it will be at least 0.1% helpful.
1. I love the "spirit" of the holiday, for lack of a better word. I love the joy, the warmth, the togetherness. I love hearing my wife happily sing along with the Christmas carols on the radio. I love the disappointment my oldest daughter displayed upon hearing that our little family's celebration would be 2 days later than she thought it would be, in spite of her insistence that Christmas is stupid. (I don't love the disappointment itself, I love the anticipation and excitement that it indicated, betraying her grumpy facade.)
2. Logistics. Yes, maybe the birth of Spider-Man should be just as meaningful to atheists as the birth of Jesus. But it's highly unlikely that I'm going to get the entire family to come over for my Spider-Man Day dinner. Christmas is the perfect opportunity to share time, food, and laughs with family members who I would rarely see otherwise.
3. Food. I mean, come on. Candy canes, gingerbread, Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, eggnog, cider, etc. You think I'm going to miss out on all of that just because I don't believe in God? I'm a heathen, not a lunatic.
4. I don't speak for my wife and kids. My toddler has no concept of a god, and I have no intention of encouraging or discouraging her potential, eventual belief in one. Her lack of a concept of a higher power didn't stop her eyes from lighting up or keep her mouth from spreading into a huge grin when our stupid little Santa Claus decoration started dancing to Jingle Bell Rock. I'm not going to allow my disbelief to make my older kids feel left out when their friends start comparing all the cool new stuff they got for Christmas. And I'm definitely not going to try to take away or even mildly diminish the joy and bliss my wife feels when she absolutely NAILS a gift for someone.
That's just about all I can think of. As unable as I am to come up with a legitimate reason that an atheist should celebrate Christmas, I'm just as unwilling to stop doing it.
I also have no interest in taking Christ out of Christmas. As an atheist on Christmas, I understand that I am a guest in your home, so to speak, and I will treat it and you with the accompanying respect and dignity. Go ahead and say Merry Christmas - I'll smile and say it right back. You want to say a prayer before dinner? Excellent. I will bow my head and take the moment to appreciate the warmth and the friendship and the people who are kind enough to share their holiday with me.
So happy holidays. Season's greetings. Merry Christmas. Thank you for letting me be a part of your celebration.